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The Boss Baby: Family Business (2021)::rating::2.5::rating::2.5

When the original Boss Baby film debuted in 2017, it received fairly middling reviews from critics. They complained that it was loaded with poopy diaper jokes and cheap, derivative storytelling. I skipped it then, but doubled back to bone up for this sequel. And you know what? I cackled. I chortled. I even giggled in a strange, high pitch. However you want to dress it up, I found myself pleasantly surprised. Maybe it’s because I’ve become a parent to a rascally eighteen-month-old boy, and changing diapers and Youtubing Baby Shark is mainly what I do-do-do-do-do-do-do these days. Whatever the reason, I’ll readily admit that the first film was right up my alley, and I didn’t mind the prospect of a sequel.

Unfortunately, Family Business commits most of the sins common to second movies. It’s bigger, broader, and noisier. The humor that made the first film fun for parents and kids gets copied and pasted, but how often is a joke funnier the second time you hear it? I didn’t chortle–or even giggle, really–nearly as much as with the first installment. And make no mistake: For a breezy animated comedy, any lack of chortling is not a good omen.

Now that I’ve maxed out the world chortle for 2021, let’s proceed, shall we? This second Baby whisks us to several decades after the events of the first film. Tim (voice of James Marsden) and Ted (Alec Baldwin, returning) have grown up and grown apart. The former thrives as both a stay-at-home dad to young daughters and husband to an ever-patient wife (Eva Longoria). Meanwhile, to absolutely no one’s surprise, Ted has become a cold-blooded capitalist. He has amassed great personal wealth, and tootles around in a private helicopter. The brothers clearly suffer from their estrangement, but neither seems willing or able to put things right.

Things get shook the hell up when Tim learns that Tina (Amy Sedaris), his precocious younger daughter, works for the same baby-staffed conglomerate that sent Ted in the first film. Tina reveals that an eccentric schoolmaster named Dr. Armstrong (Jeff Goldblum) has hatched a scheme to alienate children from their loving parents. This hits close to home, as Tim’s older daughter Tabitha (Ariana Greenblatt) has grown aloof to her parents. When he learns that Dr. Armstrong is her teacher, Tim resolves to thwart his evil plans.

As luck would have it, Tina has a special potion that can render both men into the children they were in the first film. This allows Tim and Ted to go undercover at Tabitha’s school and gain info on Armstrong and his minions. It’s here that Baby 2 takes on a decided Freaky Friday vibe, as Tim tries to covertly repair his relationship with both his daughter and his younger brother.

Don’t get me wrong: This isn’t a bad movie. It’s strongest asset is Baldwin, who successfully riffs on his sardonic yuppie from 30 Rock. Any time he’s firing off gnarly put-downs, the film manages to achieve some liftoff. Unfortunately, the story spends too much time on too many subplots to really let Baldwin shine.

I also enjoyed the rich colors within Baby 2‘s animation. Kids will undoubtedly love all the eye-popping action that moves at a fairly brisk pace. This may not be as lively and new as the first movie, but it’s also never boring. Marsden, replacing Tobey Maguire from Part One, brings an aw-shucks likability to Tim. He and Greenblatt share a cute duet of the Cat Stevens classic, “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out.”

The truth is, sequels like Boss Baby 2 have a nearly-impossible task: To a certain degree, the critics who panned the original Baby had a point. It was overly derivative and highly dependent on pee and poo humor. For obvious reasons, that movie still connected with me in just the right way, at just the right time in my life. It was a tall order to ask the filmmakers to harness that magic a second time. You can’t fault them for just going back to the same old jokes, but you can’t fault me for not giggling, either.

107 min. PG. Paramount Plus.

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