In his 1927 book Understanding Human Nature, the psychotherapist Alfred Adler argued that children’s birth order—their status in their families as a first child, or middle, or youngest—influences, in ways both varied and predictable, the personalities they go on to develop later in life. It’s a notion that, today, is controversial. The controversy has done very little, however, to prevent birth-order theory’s endurance as a mainstay of pop psychology and pop culture. As Parents.com recently put it, “Birth order plays a role in how we do things, which career we choose, and how our relationships play out.”
Did the world need an animated feature film dedicated to the psychological effects of an idea that is nearly a century old? No, very probably it did not. But here, nonetheless, is DreamWorks’ The Boss Baby, which is dedicated both to the existential challenges that confront an older sibling when a new one comes along, and also to the many delights that come from spending time in the company of a suit-wearing, corporate-speaking infant. (Both. Really.)
It goes, roughly, like this: 7-year-old Tim Templeton (Miles Bakshi, with a retrospective voiceover from Tobey Maguire) lives in only-child bliss with his parents (Lisa Kudrow and Jimmy Kimmel): They dote on him, devoting their attentions to him. And then, one day, a new family member arrives—yes, the Boss Baby (Alec Baldwin) himself. The eponymous infant, brash and full of MBA platitudes, arrives at the Templetons’ home (in a cab, because, as the Boss Baby will repeatedly remind his new brother, he is “no ordinary baby”). He comes as a brand-new item from Baby Corp., a mystical company that mass-manufactures babies, factory-style, churning them out, powdering them, binkying them, and then sending them down chutes to be delivered (get it?) into the world. Most such insta-infants find themselves sliding down a “Family” chute; a handful of them, however, get sorted into a slide reserved for “Management.” They are the ones who go corporate. The Boss Baby is one of them.