Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 26, 2021)
Back in 2017, The Boss Baby became a pretty decent hit, as it took in a tidy $528 million worldwide. That sum proved good enough to spawn a sequel, 2021’s The Boss Baby: Family Business.
Married to Carol (voiced by Eva Longoria) and father to seven-year-old Tabitha (Ariana Greenblatt) and infant Tina (Amy Sedaris), Tim Templeton (James Marsden) is a stay-at-home dad with an active imagination. However, gifted second grader Tina now attends a prestigious school and she feels the need to become more serious, a path that makes Tim worry a distance will grow between them.
This possibility hits harder because Ted long ago became semi-estranged from his younger brother Ted (Alec Baldwin). The men rarely see each other, as they drifted apart years earlier.
Tim told his kids a tale of how he and Ted foiled a caper when they were very young. In that story, infant Ted was an agent of “Baby Corp”, a group of sophisticated youngsters.
History repeats, as Tina reveals herself to follow in Uncle Ted’s footsteps as a member of this group. Dr. Erwin Armstrong (Jeff Goldblum) acts as the headmaster at Tabitha’s school, and Tina tells Tm and Ted that he launched a dastardly plot that they need to stop.
To do so, Ted and Tim need to ingest a formula that sends them back to the ages they were in Tim’s “fictional” story. With Tim again seven and Ted now a toddler, they attend Tabitha’s school and try to prevent Dr. Armstrong’s plan.
Attention: spoilers for the 2017 movie ahoy!
I found a number of problems with the first Boss Baby, and one of the biggest annoyances came from the way that it tried to explain all the events as nothing more than products of Tim’s fertile imagination. Though it almost entirely presents the events – including the existence of Baby Corp and Ted’s “adult infant” guise – as reality, it finishes with an explanation that it was a fictional, metaphorical version of Tim’s early life.
This felt like a major cheat. While the body of the movie occasionally hinted that we shouldn’t accept what we saw, the vast majority bought into the fable, so it felt like a rip-off to find out that Tim just made up all those events.
Perhaps the filmmakers agreed, as Business doesn’t follow that path. This time the movie does present the wackiness as reality, without any kind of “it was all just a dream” wink at the end.
Given that the Bobby Ewing treatment bugged me in 2017, I should embrace the movie’s internal reality and feel pleased that it goes that way. And I would if this didn’t mean it now violates the “truth” found in the first flick.
It simply makes no sense that we learned then that Baby Corp and all that was Tim’s invention during the prior film but now we need to accept it as truth. I could accept which universe the Boss Baby franchise chooses if it maintained consistency, but the shift between movies seem off-putting.
Even without that issue, Business would be a mess because… well, because it’s a mess. Though the film boasts an inherently simple plot, it muddies the waters with so many sub-topics and deviations from the main narrative that it becomes nearly incomprehensible.
Dear Lord, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a movie meant for kids that made so little sense. I can handle some story-based confusion when I watch a Christopher Nolan flick or something meant for adults, but if I can’t follow a tale like this, I must assume the target audience will get lost in the sauce as well.
Of course, kids seem less likely to notice the incoherent narrative than adults will. They’ll get wrapped up in the non-stop gags and antics so they probably won't realize that the movie comes with a story than seems nearly impossible to follow.
However, this bugged me, especially because Business doesn’t need to be so messy. As noted, the core plot seems pretty straightforward – why much up the works with all those side journeys?
I suspect one reason stems from the fact that the “stop Dr. Armstrong’s nefarious scheme” narrative so closely mirrors the “stop Super Colossal Big Fat Boss Baby’s nefarious scheme” aspect of the first film. Both plots seem awfully similar, so I guess those behind Business felt they required some tangential elements to give the sequel a spin.
Sure, I get that, but maybe they simply should’ve come up with a main storyline that wasn’t so similar in the first place. Give Business a primary narrative that doesn’t self-plagiarize and we don’t require a slew of tertiary threads.
Nonetheless, we find ourselves dragged down by all those sidebars, and they really do make Business a chore. They go off into so many directions that they just create a film without coherence.
Inevitably, Business leaves some of these story lines incomplete. In particular, we meet Tabitha’s arrogant, envious classmate Nathan Pickles (Raphael Alejandro) and view him as a threat early in the film.
And then he simply disappears, for all intents and purposes. The movie sets up the character as a major impediment to Tabitha’s life but lets this thread die without any form of satisfactory resolution.
Like the first flick, Business exists mainly as a vehicle for wacky gags. That may well be the main reason the sequel comes with all those tangential plot lines: so they can throw all sorts of comedic shenanigans at us.
This means that Business tailors the plot and characters to the jokes. Rather than let the humor evolve in an organic manner, the movie crams gags into nonsensical storybeats that exist solely to present the antics.
This turns into yet another problem since it exacerbates the already existing lack of focus. Since Business cares more about potential laughs than narrative or logic, it becomes even sloppier.
Some of these gags manage to work, and Business comes with the occasional laugh. It also features a solid cast, with return performances from Lisa Kudrow and Jimmy Kimmel in addition to the actors already mentioned.
Though they do fine, they can’t redeem this mess. Maybe a third Boss Baby will finally live up to the franchise’s potential, but this sequel sputters and becomes a chore to watch.