Review: ‘The Boss Baby: Family Business,’ starring the voices of Alec Baldwin, James Marsden, Jeff Goldblum, Amy Sedaris, Ariana Greenblatt, Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow

July 1, 2021

by Carla Hay

Tina Templeton (voiced by Amy Sedaris), The Boss Baby/Ted Templeton (voiced by Alec Baldwin) and young Tim Templeton (voiced  by James Marsden) in “The Boss Baby: Family Business” (Image courtesy of DreamWorks Animation)

“The Boss Baby: Family Business”

Directed by Tom McGrath 

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the animated film “The Boss Baby: Family Business” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A laid-back man and his workaholic brother are physically transformed back to being children, and they team up with one of the brother’s two daughters to thwart an inventor’s plot to make parents into mind-controlled zombies and to have super-smart babies take over the world.

Culture Audience: “The Boss Baby: Family Business” will appeal primarily to “Boss Baby” fans and people who don’t mind watching a mediocre and overly busy animated family film.

The Boss Baby/Ted Templeton (voiced by Alec Baldwin) and Dr. Erwin Armstrong (voiced by Jeff Goldblum) in “The Boss Baby: Family Business” (Image courtesy of DreamWorks Animation)

“The Boss Baby: Family Business” is the equivalent of people promising to tell a good story, but they end up wasting your time with a lot of hyper rambling. This overly cluttered animated movie buries any attempt at clear and concise storytelling. It’s a sequel that tries to have multiple storylines going at the same time and does none of those storylines very well. And it’s also does a terrible job at world building and explaining what happened in the first “Boss Baby” movie, in order for viewers to fully understand “The Bossy Baby: Family Business.”

“The Boss Baby: Family Business” is the sequel to 2017’s Oscar-nominated “The Boss Baby,” which were both directed by Tom McGrath and written by Michael McCullers. “The Boss Baby” (based on Marla Frazee’s 2010 book of the same name) was about sibling rivalry between two brothers: 7-year-old Timothy “Tim” Templeton (voiced by Miles Bakshi) and infant Theodore “Ted” Templeton (voiced by Alec Baldwin), who had the voice and intelligence of an ambitious business-minded adult because Ted came from a place called BabyCorp that manufactures adults in baby bodies. Ted behaves like a corporate executive, so he’s the Boss Baby in the movie’s title, but Tim is the only other person in the family who knows that Ted has this unusually mature mind.

Without rehashing the plot of “Boss Baby” too much, it’s enough to say that things worked out where Ted ended up having a “normal” childhood with Tim. “The Boss Baby” ends about 30 years later, with Tim now a married father. His 7-year-old daughter Tabitha has concerns over her baby sister Tina, who is revealed to be a Boss Baby too. In order to best understand “The Boss Baby: Family Business,” it’s necessary to know what happened in “The Boss Baby.”

And because it’s the type of sequel where much of the comedy depends on people seeing the previous movie, it can be even more confusing than it needs to be to newcomers to “The Boss Baby” series. “The Boss Baby: Family Business,” which picks up right where “The Boss Baby” ended, rushes through an explanation of what happened in “The Boss Baby.” Unfortunately, “The Boss Baby: Family Business,” has three different storylines, which make the plot a convoluted mess.

In the first storyline, Tim (voiced by James Marsden) and Ted (voiced by Baldwin), who are now adults, still have a sibling rivalry with each other. Ted is a hedge fund CEO who is a bachelor with no children. Tim is a stay-at-home father to daughters Tabitha (voiced by Ariana Greenblatt) and Tina (voiced by Amy Sedaris), and he knows that Tina is a Boss Baby, just like her Uncle Ted was. Tim’s wife Carol (voiced by Eva Longoria) is the family’s breadwinner (she works in a high-powered corporate job), while Tim is feeling a little down on himself because Tabitha seems to admire and respect Ted more than she admires and respects Tim.

And so, the second storyline is how Tim can find a way to have the type of close father-daughter relationship that he wants for himself and Tabitha. As an example of how emotionally distant Tabitha has become from Tim. Tabitha refuses to hug Tim, because she says she’s gotten too old for father-daughter hugs. She wants to shake Tim’s hand instead.

The third storyline is about how Tim, Ted and Tina try to stop a devious plot to make adults mind-controlled zombies and to have Boss Babies take over the world. Tim, Ted and Tina visit BabyCorp and find out that it has a Crisis Center that monitors threats to babies around the world. Dr. Erwin Armstrong (voiced by Jeff Goldblum), founder of a learning institution called Acorn Center, has the goal to make babies the ultimate learning machines, and he thinks parents are a threat to these plans.

Acorn Center has been opening up several locations. Dr. Armstrong personally teaches at the main Acorn Center location, where Tim’s older daughter Tabitha has been going to school. Tim immediately figures out that Dr. Armstrong’s Acorn Center is why Tabitha has been acting so emotionally distant from him: She’s being programmed to become one of these super-intelligent people who will take over the world. Part of that programming includes brainwashing to believe that parents are a threat to a child’s independence.

At the same time, BabyCorp has a baby formula that can turn an adult back into a baby. Tim and Ted take this age-reversing formula. The movie has a nonsensical sequence of Tom and Ted being transformed back into being children. (Miles Bakshi does some voice work as the young Tim.) This sequence ends with Ted being turned into a baby, but Tim’s reverse ageing turns him back into a 7-year-old, not a baby. The movie gives no explanation for this discrepancy, which is one of many examples of what’s wrong with the movie’s substandard screenplay.

Tim now looks like his 7-year-old self, so he and baby Ted go undercover in the Acorn Center where Tabitha is a student. This is the type of sloppily written movie where Ted and Tim just walk into the school, with no explanation for how they were able to quickly enroll in the school. And Tim’s “disguise” is just a pair of glasses and an alias: Marcos Lightspeed. Ted and Tim explain their absence to their family by saying that they are going on a business trip together.

Later, Tim tries to disguise himself more with tattoos and a wardrobe that tries to make him look like he’s “tough.” He’s treated like an outsider by most of the students, except for Tabitha, who befriends Tim. For this part of the plot to be believable, you’d have to believe that Tabitha doesn’t know what her father looked like when he was her age, because she doesn’t even comment on the resemblance. In other words, Tabitha might be “book smart” (she gets the highest grades in her class), but she doesn’t seem to have much common sense.

Tabitha brings “Marcos” home for dinner to meet her family, which includes Tim’s parents Ted Templeton Sr. (voiced by Jimmy Kimmel) and Janice Templeton (voiced by Lisa Kudrow). Ted Sr. and Janice notice how much “Marcos” looks and sounds like Tim when he was that age. However, they brush it off as a coincidence because Marcos wears glasses. It’s very much like how people in “Superman” don’t figure out Clark Kent is really Superman just because Clark wears glasses and isn’t in a superhero suit.

Except for Dr. Armstrong (a stereotypical “crazy inventor” villain), the movie’s supporting characters are given next to nothing to do but just take up space. An Acorn Center student named Nathan (voiced by Raphael Alejandro) is the obligatory school bully whose character, just like all the other students, is ultimately just there for show, with very little impact on the overall story. A student who’s given the name Creepy Girl (voiced by Molly K. Gray), who looks like a reject from a Tim Burton animated film, pops up here and there at random moments to act weird around Tim and Ted.

The rest of “The Boss Baby: Family Business” just further tangles these three messy storylines with a lot of filler. It all leads up to a pivotal Acorn Center talent pageant that’s supposed to coincide with what Dr. Armstrong calls B-Day, the revolution that he wants to start where Boss Babies will take over the world, and there are no more children’s rules and no parents in charge. At a couple of points in the movie, it turns into a sappy musical, with Tabitha breaking out into song. The movie’s animation is not outstanding and certainly won’t be nominated for any major awards.

The voice cast members do a perfectly adequate job in their roles. However, Longoria’s Carol, who could have been an interesting character, is the most sidelined role in the family. She’s doesn’t do much and has forgettable lines of dialogue. The wacky toy wizard Wizzie (voiced by James McGrath) brings very few laughs. And the conversations throughout the movie are littered with clichés. At one point in the film, workaholic Ted Jr. says of his seemingly successful life: “It’s lonely at the top.”

“The Boss Baby: Family Business” might be enjoyable for people who just want to watch an animated film as a distraction and don’t care if there’s anything memorable about the movie. But whatever sarcastic wit that Boss Babies are supposed to have in this world is largely missing in “The Boss Baby: Family Business.” It’s a movie that tries too hard to be so many things at once that it ends up being nothing special at all.

DreamWorks Animation will release “Boss Baby: Family Business” in U.S. cinemas and on Peacock on July 2, 2021.

Review: ‘Love and Monsters,’ starring Dylan O’Brien

October 16, 2020

by Carla Hay

Dylan O’Brien in “Love and Monsters” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“Love and Monsters”

Directed by Michael Matthews

Culture Representation: Taking place in California and other parts of the U.S., the sci-fi/horror/adventure film “Love and Monsters” has a predominantly white cast (with some Asians, Latinos and African Americans) portraying the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 24-year-old man goes on a quest to reunite with his former high-school sweetheart during an apocalypse in which deadly mutant monsters have taken over the world.

Culture Audience: “Love and Monsters” will appeal to several generations of people who like sci-fi/horror movies that successfully blend other genres, such as comedy, action, romance and drama.

Jessica Henwick in “Love and Monsters” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

Even though “Love and Monsters” takes place in a post-apocalyptic world in which mutant monsters have killed off about 95% of the human population, the movie is not a grim and horrific slog that many people would expect it to be. In fact, “Love and Monsters” (directed by Michael Matthews) has a lot of charming comedy as well as heartfelt dramatic moments that can appeal to a wide variety of people. It’s the type of winning movie that people would want to see repeatedly and ask for a sequel. (And the end of the “Love and Monsters” definitely leaves open the possibility that there could be a continuation of the story.)

The central character of “Love and Monsters” is Joel Dawson (played by Dylan O’Brien), a 24-year-old “regular guy,” who lives in an underground bunker with several other young people who are under the age of 40. Apocalypse survivors who live together as a community call themselves a colony. According to Joel’s voiceover narration in the beginning of the movie, the apocalypse (which is called the Monsterpocalypse) happened when chemical compounds from bombs rained back down on Earth and caused animals to mutate into giant monsters.

The monsters killed most of the world’s human population within a year. The survivors fled underground, they live in colony bunkers, and go above ground in hunting parties to search for food. In addition to food that they find above ground, the members of Joel’s colony survive by growing their own food inside the bunker. They also have a cow for milk.

“Love and Monsters” takes place seven years after the Monsterpocalypse began. Joel is an orphan whose parents were killed right when the apocalypse started while the family was trying to escape the monsters that invaded their neighborhood. Joel (who is an only child) is originally from Fairfield, California, a city about 45 miles northeast of San Francisco. Like most apocalypse survivors, Joel doesn’t have any biological family members who are still alive.

Joel has found a new family with the colony of survivors who rescued him when the apocalypse began. However, Joel feels like somewhat of an outsider in the group. All of the other members of the colony have coupled up (and one couple has had a baby together), while Joel is the only one who doesn’t have a love partner. He also gets scared easily and freezes up when he sees monsters. Therefore, the colony doesn’t consider Joel to be useful for hunting trips and anything that would involve defending their colony from danger.

However, Joel is good at fixing things, he’s loves to draw, and he’s the colony’s main cook. One of the gadgets that Joel likes to tinker with is the bunker’s portable radio, which is the main way that colonies communicate with each other. (Television, phones and the Internet don’t exist in this world.)

Through a lot of investigating and persistence, Joel has found out that his first love, Aimee (played by Jessica Henwick), who was his girlfriend in high school, is living in a colony about 85 miles away in a place called Jenner Beach. He makes contact with Aimee, and she seems thrilled to hear from Joel. Over a period of time, they continue to talk to each other over the radio. And Joel finds himself falling in love with Aimee again.

When Joel and Aimee dated in high school (the movie has a few brief flashback scenes to this time period), their romance was interrupted because they were forced to flee separately with their respective families during the apocalypse. And then, Joel and Aimee lost touch with each other, until now. Because Joel feels like the “odd man out” in his colony, he’s starting to wonder if he really belongs there.

Joel’s colony has a close call when a monster invades the bunker and nearly kills Joel, who is rescued just in time by some other people in the colony who shoot the monster and kill it. This incident causes Joel’s self-esteem to take another hit because he believes that the other members of the colony think of him as a cowardly wimp. This near-death experience and his yearning to reunite with Aimee motivate Joel to say goodbye to his colony to go above ground and try to reunite with Aimee.

The members of Joel’s colony are disappointed to see him go and they’re very skeptical that Joel will be able to survive this trip on his own. But Joel is determined to go. All they can do is wish him well. One of the members of the colony gives him a map, while Joel takes some other items on the trip, including weapons and a portable radio that hasn’t worked in a long time.

Joel’s trip isn’t always dangerous, but it has a lot of close calls with a variety of giant mutant animals. One of the first that he encounters is a giant frog in someone’s abandoned backyard. Joel is rescued from the giant frog by an intelligent and expressive Australian Kelpie, which Joel calls Boy. This stray dog becomes Joel’s constant companion throughout most of the movie. And the scenes with Joel and Boy are among the best in “Love and Monsters.”

At another point in the movie, Joel accidentally falls into a pit that’s the nest of a creature called a sandgobbler. This time, he’s rescued by two humans: a middle-aged macho man named Clyde (played by Michael Rooker) and a sassy 8-year-old girl named Minnow (played by Ariana Greenblatt), who are not related to each other but are traveling together because their family members have died.

Minnow initially teases Joel over his tendency to get frightened easily, but Minnow eventually learns to respect Joel when he improves his target and defense skills. Clyde and Minnow are traveling north to a destination called Snow Mountain Wilderness, which has a colony of survivors who say the location is safer than other places because the cold and elevation keep the monsters away. The camaraderie between these three seemingly unlikely travel companions is also one of the highlights of “Love and Monsters.”

Clyde and Minnow invite Joel to go to Snow Mountain Wilderness with them. And when all three of the travelers reach the literal crossroads where Joel has to decide to go with Clyde and Minnow or continue west to reunite with Aimee, it’s easy to know what decision he will make. The rest of the movie takes a few twists and turns that refreshingly avoid a lot of predictable scenarios.

The visual effects for “Love and Monsters” are above-average, but they’re not going to win any major awards. The movie’s world building and how these creatures look are a commentary on the hazardous and deadly effects of humans who don’t take care of the environment. And the environment gets revenge on the humans in this apocalyptic way. The deadly mutant creatures include giant snails and what’s considered the most fearsome and worst mutant monster of them all: the Queen Sandgobbler, which looks like a giant mutant crab.

But not all of the monsters are deadly. Some of the giant creatures just want to be free to live without being hunted, and there’s a message in the movie about how monsters can be judged by looking at their eyes. It sounds a lot cornier than how it’s handled in the movie. One type of harmless creature is the sky jellyfish, which appear in one of the most touching and visually compelling scenes in the movie.

O’Brien, who was the star of “The Maze Runner” movie series, takes on a very different type of post-apocalyptic world in “Love and Monsters,” where humans are more likely to be helpful to each other, rather than have their lives revolve around the cutthroat and cruel competitions that are the basis of “The Maze Runner.” That doesn’t mean all is harmonious among people in the world of “Love and Monsters.” Someone can be expelled from a colony for stealing food, which is considered one of the worst crimes to commit in the “Love and Monsters” world.

The “Love and Monsters” screenplay was written by Brian Duffield and Matthew Robinson, who successfully mix various genres in the story. Most of the humor comes from Joel’s self-admitted awkwardness and insecurities, which many viewers will ultimately find endearing because he remains a humble person who’s a romantic at heart. Duffield also wrote and directed the critically acclaimed 2020 film “Spontaneous,” another Paramount Pictures movie about a young romance during a plague, although “Spontaneous” has a darker edge that’s geared to mature audiences. Thanks to assured direction, a genre-blending original story, and an appealing cast of characters, “Love and Monsters” is a crowd-pleaser that invites people into a world that’s very perilous to live in, but it’s a world that viewers will want to revisit and see what happens next.

Paramount Pictures released “Love and Monsters” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on October 16, 2020.

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