The “Boss Baby” Christmas Special Is Actually Delightful

In the latest offering from the Boss Baby Extended Universe, the Grinch is now a capitalist baby who wants children to pay to be on the good list and makes Santa resign.

Elf babies look up at the Boss Baby

I first watched The Boss Baby after it left theaters and became available to stream years ago. My colleague Scaachi Koul had given it a strong endorsement, Alec Baldwin was on a hot streak playing Donald Trump on SNL, and I was a new parent, so I figured, why not? My son, still a toddler, enjoyed it, but to be honest, I was the one who loved it. Implausibly, half a decade, a sequel film, and a few seasons of a Netflix series later, I still do.

I had been a business reporter for a good portion of my career, and I cackled at the idea of a baby angling to be CEO of a corporation hellbent on reclaiming babies’ market share of adult love from puppies. I appreciated that the parents were well-meaning but laughably clueless, dorky adults — as so much of parenting feels. Boss Baby portrayed a farcical, dystopian version of many things we think about. It was nominated for an Oscar. When the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown meant everyone was stuck at home in 2020, my family went on to watch all the Boss Baby content that followed: four seasons of the Netflix series The Boss Baby: Back in Business, the 2021 sequel The Boss Baby 2: Family Business, and the 2022 Netflix series The Boss Baby: Back in the Crib.

Now there’s a Christmas special, The Boss Baby: Christmas Bonus, a sweet 45-minute feature about the Boss Baby’s misguided attempt to boost efficiencies at Santa’s Workshop. It’s a fitting way to revisit familiar themes about the commercialization of the holiday that inspired Dr. Seuss’s famous 1957 story about the Grinch.

At home, Boss Baby (voiced now by JP Karliak) can’t help but roll his eyes at his family’s earnest participation in goofy, pointless Christmas traditions. The parents bring the Boss Baby and his older brother Tim to take pictures with Santa (George Lopez). Mall Santa turns out to be the actual Santa Claus and a former Baby Corp employee who quit to make the world a happier place with Christmas cheer. “He poached half the company for his toys-for-nothing program,” the Boss Baby explains despondently to his brother, calling Santa a “commie.” A mix-up with one of the elves (who, in this world, are also just babies) sends Boss Baby to the North Pole.

Upon arrival, he can’t bear the inefficiencies at Santa’s Workshop, so he implements new systems to streamline Christmas for profit. He suggests charging kids to be on Santa’s Nice List. “Tradition’s a dumb reason to do anything,” he says. It’s painfully funny to see a white man-baby step foot in a new place and feel obliged to explain to everyone that the way they do things is wrong. He stokes discontent among the elf-babies, presumably to open up an opportunity for himself in management.

Christmas Bonus is a cheeky reprisal of the same lessons in many Christmas movies: the importance of connecting with loved ones and the pitfalls of both capitalism and modern cynicism. I appreciate that it avoids being cloying, as classic Christmas movies often are, and that it moves at a pace that better holds my attention than, say, the old Charlie Brown or Grinch holiday specials. Basically everything about the premise of this franchise — cutthroat toddlers in suits doling out wads of cash like baby wipes, drinking magic formula that keeps them from aging, using pacifiers that teleport them, worrying simultaneously about bottom lines and diaper changes — makes it too outlandish to ever tug hard at heartstrings. The writing is smart and the jokes are quick. I’m far from being a lonely fan: The character has had its own balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade since 2020 and it actually gets the crowd chanting, “Boss Ba-by, Boss Ba-by” — he is part of the zeitgeist. Yet through all the gags, this comedy about a corporate baby still encourages me to reflect on both how I can make the holidays meaningful for my children beyond consumerism and what joys I hope for them to experience that can’t be bought. The holiday season, the end of another year, offers many people a window to take stock of their values.

 I appreciate that it avoids being cloying, as classic Christmas movies often are, and that it moves at a pace that better holds my attention than, say, the old Charlie Brown or Grinch holiday specials.

At its core, the franchise has always been about the central role adult love plays in a child’s life and the things that threaten to get in the way — in the first film it was puppies, and in the sequel, school pressure and mobile phones. It shows, with humor, how deranged it looks when children — babies — are focused instead on things we all must care about on some level as adults: achievement, careers, and money. When do our priorities change so profoundly, and what do we lose of ourselves in the process? The Boss Baby achieves his dream of becoming CEO (with the prized corner office that has a private, golden potty) in the original film only to confront incredible loneliness at the top. In the sequel, his niece is a top student but socially outcast at a glossy, competitive school for “advanced childhood,” and her father worries it is forcing her to grow up too quickly. In the holiday special, Boss Baby’s ruthless industrialization of Christmas and his obsession with progress and innovation ruin simple holiday traditions that exist solely to make people happy, which he belatedly realizes is important too, even if he doesn’t care to partake in them all.

The franchise reminds all the parents watching, especially those with big aspirations for their kids, to remember how ephemeral the joys of youth are before their kids inevitably face the pressures of work and success. For all the wisecracks, the Boss Baby franchise has always been very heartwarming without being serious. So much of adult life is about money and ego. The brief time in our lives when we don’t have to concern ourselves with such matters, when our primary concern is how much the grown-ups in our lives love us, is indeed the privilege of childhood.

Plenty of people don’t understand the appeal of Boss Baby. Because I am a Boss Baby stan, these critics remind me of the character himself, who came off the baby conveyor belt unwilling to laugh when tickled and was shuffled into management with the other joyless bebés. Not me, apparently; perhaps I just have a soft spot for office satire, or maybe parents find the themes more resonant.

At this point, the franchise knows its fans. Christmas Bonus had a moment on Netflix’s top lists over the weekend it was released and it remained a top 10 kids program even after that. A third Boss Baby film is rumored to be in development, and I hope the jokes and story stay sharp and that it steers clear of predictable fan service. While I, too, experience franchise fatigue, I would still look forward to seeing another installment of this zingy series. ●

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