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The Boss Baby: Family Business Review - Infantile And Endearing

The "Boss Baby" franchise is very easy to make fun of — as far as cartoons go, its aspirations are less like Pixar and more like "Shrek," less Miyazaki and more like "The Emoji Movie." But for parents, there's a real joy in seeing their children connect with the story being told onscreen. And for the young audience members themselves, there's an undeniable wish-fulfillment element happening here. 

Kids have an intrinsic desire to play "grown up" and act out what they imagine their parents do all day. It helps them understand the place they'll someday occupy in the world. The first film's juxtaposition of babies and business resulted in a movie overflowing with silly ideas, and beneath the jokes about stinky diapers was a sweet, heartwarming message about treasuring the time you have with a sibling.

It came as no surprise, then, when children across the world eagerly watched the trailer for "The Boss Baby: Family Business" over and over, on a daily basis leading up to its release in theaters (and on the streaming Peacock channel). Their review? It's even better than the first film. Our review? Well, any movie that makes a kid laugh this much can't be all that bad.

"Family Business" picks up after a "Boss Baby" ending that was creative but seemed to paint the franchise into a corner — the revelation that the first film was a flashback, told by grown-up versions of Tim and Ted Templeton. While it was cute that Tim's little newborn was also a Boss Baby, that seemed to indicate we'd seen the last of Alec Baldwin's tiny Ted, far and away the franchise's dominant character.

Have no worries — in a world where ninja babies abound, anything is possible. "Family Business" picks up with Baby Tina (the voice of Amy Sedaris) revealing her true self to her father, Tim (James Marsden), resulting in Uncle Ted (Baldwin) returning to the family from his busy life in the business world. Thanks to the established devices of BabyCorp pacifiers (which act like the red pill in "The Matrix") and bottles filled with special formula (which turn you into a baby), both brothers are returned to the forms we saw them in the original movie.

The reason for all this, Tina explains, is that there's a new threat. His name is Dr. Erwin Armstrong (voiced by Jeff Goldblum), and he runs an exclusive school that appears to be on the cutting-edge for forward-thinking parents ... but actually contains a hidden agenda. You see, Armstrong is really a baby himself (a funny robot body allows him to pretend he's an adult), and he has a plan to hypnotize parents through phone apps, allowing babies to take over once and for all.

"Why do parents get to be in charge, anyway?" Armstrong asks, laying out his plan. "They had their chance, and what did we get? Pollution, politics, wars. The only thing holding us back is them!"

Goldblum FTW

Of course, the more you try to verbalize such things, the more absurd it all sounds. But is it really any more preposterous than the war-being-fought-under-our-noses elements of the "Underworld," "Matrix," or "John Wick" movies? It all comes down to world-building. And like those adult franchises, when you watch enough "Boss Baby" (including the "Back in Business" series on Netflix), it begins to make sense because you get a grasp of the "rules," and the films do a good job of staying within them.

There's a new heartfelt B-story in play here, this time revolving around Tim's other daughter, the 7-year-old prodigy Tabitha (Ariana Greenblatt from "In the Heights"). A leading student at Armstrong's Acorn Center for Advanced Childhood, she spends her free time memorizing the periodic table and wearing Ruth Bader Ginsburg slippers. She's also growing apart from her dad, choosing instead to idolize Uncle Ted, who's successful in business but only makes his presence felt within the family by sending overly extravagant gifts at holidays and birthdays.

This leads to the incredibly goofy Tim posing as "Marcos Lightspeed" and going undercover in his daughter's advanced classroom while appearing to be the same age. Ted, meanwhile, gets stuck in a low-achiever class with kids sticking crayons up their noses and covering themselves in glue. "Shawshank Redemption" jokes abound as Boss Baby Ted must organize these rugrats to help him escape.

Speaking of "Shawshank Redemption," one of the stranger things about the original "Boss Baby" was its willingness to not only make jokes for the parents but to go after some fairly obscure ones. Certainly, Alec Baldwin's gravelly voice as a baby was inspired casting, but was the target audience really picking up on "Glengarry Glen Ross" jokes from a film released in 1992? The same could be wondered here, with throwaway lines about "Norma Rae" and Enya. But a running gag involving Tim's enthusiastic alarm clock wizard spouting "Lord of the Rings" quotes is delightful, even if such references soar over the heads of its audience.

Bad Babies

But far and away, the most entertaining element of "Family Business" is Jeff Goldblum. Of course, he's not doing any kind of voice, and he barely even gives a performance. But he's still far and away the best cartoon character here because watching his delightfully animated avatar makes you appreciate what a cartoon-like presence Goldblum is in real life. All the random asides, the "uhs," and the intelligent yet distracted cadences of his speech are only highlighted by the fact that you can't see him. And the animators seem to have had a blast pairing his line readings with a skinny-legged, mutton-chopped character whose every motion is exaggerated. The character is a bit similar to Will Forte's very funny work in "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2," also playing a Steve Jobs-wannabe windbag.

Other amusing, recurring jokes involve the aforementioned baby ninjas, a surly pony, and a creepy little girl. The "Boss Baby" series also has a proclivity towards trippy flashbacks and dream sequences with animation that transcends the traditionally antiseptic look of computer cartoons. That's continued here with a wonderfully retro 2D musical scene that has Tim and his older daughter frolicking to Cat Stevens' "If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out." It's a great scene, and if you can watch it without getting a smile on your face, you might want to consult a physician to make sure you've still got a heartbeat.

"Family Business" builds to a crescendo with Tabitha performing a song at the school recital while Armstrong unleashes his plan to hypnotize all the parents in attendance. Sure, you know where all this is headed, but that's another thing kids require at this age — a safe ending that feels like a big warm hug. At the end of the day, this "Boss Baby" sequel will leave both parents and kids with a desire to spend more quality time together. It's hard to make fun of that.