Producer: Jeff Hermann Director: Tom McGrath Screenplay: Michael McCullers Cast: Alec Baldwin, James Marsden, Amy Sedaris, Ariana Greenblatt, Jeff Goldblum, Eva Longoria, James McGrath, Molly K. Gray, Reyn Doi, Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow Distributor: Universal
A few years ago director Tom McGrath and writer Michael McCullers made “The Boss Baby,” based on the children’s books by Marla Frazee, about Baby Corp., a celestial baby-producing company that sent one of their top executives to earth as a supposedly ordinary infant to disrupt growing human devotion to puppies, which threatened their business model. Ted (voiced by Alec Baldwin), the baby spy, became the object of suspicion on the part of his older brother Tim (Miles Christopher Bakshi, though the narration was by his older self, Tobey Maguire), but eventually the two cooperated to bring down the nefarious Poppy Corp.
This sequel, which builds on not only its predecessor but the seemingly inevitable Netflix series spin-off, is set some years later. Tim (James Marsden this time around) is a goofy stay-at-home dad, his wife Carol (Eva Longoria) the breadwinner of the family. Ted (Baldwin again) is now a pompous Wall Street bigwig, adored by Tim’s serious older daughter Tabitha (Ariana Greenblatt).
The plot kicks in when Tim and Carol’s infant daughter Tina (Amy Sedaris) is revealed to be—you guessed it—another Baby Corp. agent, tasked with undermining the scheme of Dr. Erwin Armstrong (Jeff Goldblum), the principal of Tabitha’s cutting-edge school, to lead a baby revolution that will put his brainwashed army of students in charge of the world and relegate adults to irrelevance.
Tina enlists her dad and uncle in the mission, returning Ted to infancy and Tim to adolescence so that they can infiltrate Armstrong’s Acorn Academy as new students and ruin his plans for a global takeover. Tim joins Tabitha’s class as a distinct underachiever and immediately attracts the attention of a nasty fellow student and a distinctly creepy girl, while Ted is warehoused with other infants and must engineer a jailbreak. (There are shades of Maggie’s “great escape” from the Ayn Rand School for Tots in the “A Streetcar Named Marge” episode of “The Simpsons”—which was cleverer and funnier.) Everything culminates during a big assembly at the Academy, to which the parents are brought to meet their fate.
There are amusing bits of dialogue and some nimble sight gags scattered throughout “Family Business,” but it replicates the formula of the first installment slavishly while ramping up the decibel level and frenetic pacing: the movie is almost incredibly noisy, busy and garish, which might appeal to young kids but will probably leave adults more dazed than enchanted. Charm, on the other hand, is in extremely short supply.
That said, if you like breakneck action, eye-splitting volume and dazzling colors in your animated fare, this movie certainly provides them, though not much magic. Raymond Zibach’s production design is a virtual assault on the eyes, and Mary Blee and Mark A. Hester’s editing keeps things moving at super-speed, apparently fearful that any slowdown will lose the viewer’s attention. The score by Hans Zimmer and Steve Mazzaro works hard to pump things up, too.
Among the voice artists, Baldwin again takes pride of place, and Goldblum, effectively taking over the role of mad scientist that Steve Buscemi played in the first installment, certainly holds nothing back. Amy Sedaris doesn’t bring the same degree of incongruous imperiousness to a baby spy that Baldwin does, but she’s okay, and Marsden is genially over-the-top as grown-up Tim. The rest of the cast is adequate, with Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow repeating their now-attenuated roles as Tim and Ted’s parents and James McGrath returning as fan favorite Wizzie, Tim’s Gandalf-inspired alarm clock, though he hasn’t much to do.
“Family Business” closes with Tim and Ted bonding again, as they did in the first movie, and they’ll probably do so a third time in what’s likely to be another installment in what’s become a “Boss Baby” franchise. That’s alright—the importance of family is an inevitable part of such pictures nowadays. Let’s just hope that the next time McCullers can come up with a more imaginative story, and McGrath can tone down the raucousness in the telling.