From left, Tina Templeton (voice of Amy Sedaris), Ted Templeton (Alec Baldwin) and Tim Templeton (James Marsden) in “The Boss Baby: Family Business.” DreamWorks Animation LLC

For a family flick ostensibly in the business of cheap laughs, 2017’s “The Boss Baby” worked overtime to diversify its appeal.

The hook – toss a superintelligent infant in a three-piece suit and give him Alec Baldwin’s raspy timbre – was ludicrous. The humor was hit-and-miss. And the world-building behind the movie’s infantile corporate culture (loosely adapted from Marla Frazee’s 2010 picture book) wasn’t particularly coherent. But thanks to some unabashed heart, the film earned more than $500 million at the global box office and an Oscar nomination for best animated feature.

Unsurprisingly, DreamWorks Animation has doubled down on what made the first movie successful with the follow-up, “The Boss Baby: Family Business.” That means there’s a severe case of sequel-itis, as returning director Tom McGrath and screenwriter Michael McCullers go to farcical lengths to re-create the original movie’s gags, story beats and character dynamics. Still, “Family Business” manages to largely improve on its predecessor, with the help of savvy casting and surprisingly pointed social satire.

When the sequel reintroduces the Templeton brothers – Tim (voice of James Marsden, replacing Tobey Maguire) and Ted (Baldwin) – the siblings have grown up and grown apart. Ted is now a hedge-fund manager with no time for family, and no memory of his exploits as the first film’s titular tyke. Older brother Tim, meanwhile, is a stay-at-home father of two with a breadwinner wife (Eva Longoria) and an omnipresent inner child.

In a bittersweet prologue, “Family Business” quickly states its heartstring-tugging intentions. As a rumination on aging, Tim’s blink-and-you-miss-it journey from childhood to fatherhood hits hard. So does his loving but strained relationship with his 7-year-old daughter, Tabitha (Ariana Greenblatt), a gifted student with a goldfish named Dr. Hawking and a routine of reciting the periodic table before bed. While Tim is trying to vicariously live through his children, Tabitha is swiftly outgrowing her father’s childlike whimsy.

Tina Templeton (voice of Amy Sedaris) in “The Boss Baby: Family Business.” DreamWorks Animation LLC

This is still a “Boss Baby” movie, though, so it’s not long before things get weird. As telegraphed in the previous installment’s final moments, Tim’s infant daughter, Tina (Amy Sedaris), reveals herself as a pint-size genius sent to Earth from the all-knowing guardians of Baby Corp. – just like her uncle before her. Something sinister is unfolding at older sister Tabitha’s hypermodern school, and Tina needs her uncle Ted to remember his Boss Baby beginnings and work with his estranged brother to crack the case. To infiltrate the school, the adult siblings guzzle a magic baby formula that temporarily shrinks them to their ages from the first movie.

It’s confusing, I know.

Sedaris freshens the film by bringing her own manic energy and wit to the Boss Baby gimmick – so much so that one wishes the movie had committed to her character, rather than finding an excuse to re-infantilize Baldwin’s Ted. Jeff Goldblum, as the dubious head of Tabitha’s school, is another inspired casting choice. Following in the “Thor: Ragnarok” tradition of simply letting Goldblum be Goldblum, the movie lets him embrace his idiosyncratic tics to the point of self-parody.

Although “Family Business” is no “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” when it comes to blending disparate visual styles, the filmmakers use fantasy and dream sequences to break the computer animation mold and incorporate lush hand-drawn imagery. Scenes in which Marsden and Greenblatt’s characters show off their singing pipes and immerse themselves in a swirl of musical notes are a welcome respite from the string of bombastic set pieces, which amount to a numbing mash-up of kung fu, sci-fi and western movie tropes.

Like its title character, however, this “Boss Baby” sequel is also smarter than you’d think. Tabitha’s school experience skewers the unreasonable expectations placed on children to stand out. When a recital opens with students singing about how boomers are destroying the world for future generations, Tina and Tabitha’s grandparents (Lisa Kudrow and Jimmy Kimmel) drolly dwell on that darkness. The movie’s most piercing barbs are left for the tech world and the inevitability that our phones will make zombies of us all.

Does that make the Boss Baby franchise a bold cinematic bet? Not exactly. But as a safe play for parents and kids alike, it’s tough to complain about the return on your investment.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.