Pity the kids movie that follows Pixar's act.
The Walt Disney Co.'s animation studio has long been a standard bearer that can be tough to match. But even knowing the inevitable drop-off to come, “The Boss Baby: Family Business” is still an awfully steep slide from the splendid, shimmering “Luca.”
The Dreamworks sequel to 2017's (checks notes) Oscar-nominated “The Boss Baby" again pushes a simple, funny but difficult to elaborate on image — a baby in suit — to zany extremes. It was a good enough conceit for Marla Frazee's original children's book; toddlers can indeed be tyrants. But each movie has hyperactively swaddled that thin premise with a frenetic, over-plotted, off-the-wall cartoon blitz.
Director Tom McGrath (the “Madagascar” movies) returns for “The Boss Baby: Family Business” (in theaters and streaming on Peacock today), and fast forwards to adulthood. Older brother Tim (James Marsden, taking over for Tobey Maguire) has grown up to be a stay-at-home dad married to the high-powered Carol (Eva Longoria), with their science-obsessed, high-achieving daughter, Tabitha (Ariana Greenblatt), and infant Tina (Amy Sedaris).
Boss Baby Ted (Alec Baldwin, adding to his closet of suits, including Donald Trump, Jack Donaghy and Blake in “Glengarry Glen Ross”) has, naturally, turned into a hedge fund CEO. The brothers have drifted apart, while still harboring Ted's secret that he was an agent for Baby Corp., a conglomerate that makes an adult-intelligence-giving baby formula. The movie opens with Tim lamenting that childhood only comes once, but “Boss Baby” is a totem to the truism that adults and children aren't really so different, and are sometimes even interchangeable.
Tina turns out to be a Baby Corp. agent, too, and she summons Tim and Ted back to the conglomerate for a new mission — shrinking back to their ages in the last movie to go undercover and investigate the principal, Dr. Armstrong (Jeff Goldblum, spookily clownish) of Tabitha's school. Dr. Armstrong is cooking up a baby revolution that's completely absurd yet not without its merits. The school pageant, which Tabitha is anxiously preparing for, bluntly lays climate change at the feet of an older generation. In a bit that recalls the similarly colorful but much better “The Mitchells vs. the Machines," Dr. Armstrong's plot preys on parents' addiction to smart phones. The young, of course, have good reason to think they could do better with the world.
The plot is so madcap, with running gags tossed in along the way, that “Family Business” feels designed to prompt dizzied parents to plea for plot pointers from their diminutive movie companions. It's a manic movie in a familiarly corporate kind of way that provides kids with a computer-generated candy rush. The movie's own business imperatives occasionally show through like a leaky diaper.
But I will say, “Boss Baby” grows on you a little. There's a dazzlingly animated scene shared between kid-sized Tim and his daughter Tabitha on creativity and being yourself set to Cat Stevens' “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out." It's a good enough moment to redeem “Family Business," even if you're still tempted to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
"Boss Baby: Family Business,” a Universal release, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for rude humor, mild language and some action. Running time: 107 minutes. Two stars out of four.