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Hammerle on… 'The Boss Baby,' 'The Zookeeper's Wife'

April 19, 2017

bob hammerle movie reviews“The Boss Baby”

Much like the surprisingly enjoyable “The LEGO Batman Movie,” “The Boss Baby” is a very satirical adult movie clothed as a children’s animated feature. Ironically, it is really not a children’s film, and that becomes a bit of a drawback as you listen to kids talk and cry throughout the theater to their parents’ exasperation.
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While this movie revolves around family life on Earth, everything changes when the film focuses on another world where children are produced and assigned to women who are looking to become mothers. Furthermore, some of these babies have skills that make them needed in the front office of what is known as Baby World, and this is where Boss Baby enters the picture.

A family of three are expecting a second child, an infant that turns out to be a nasty little adult hiding in a diaper. Voiced by Alec Baldwin, his Boss Baby looks and acts like a replica of Donald Trump at times, and Mr. Baldwin brings a sarcastic edge to a newborn never seen on the big screen.

Mom and Dad, voiced by Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow, attempt to keep their 7-year-old son Tim (Miles Christopher Bakshi) under control as he quickly discovers the true identity of Boss Baby. The two kids are initially at each other’s throats, and Baldwin’s baby looks very dapper in a dark suit with a black tie and briefcase.

I won’t give away the essence of the plot, but it soon becomes apparent that our two children need to act together to forestall a Baby World reject, known as Francis Francis and voiced by Steve Buscemi, from attempting to make children unneeded. The battle that ensues is hysterical at nearly every turn, and you will find yourself repeatedly laughing out loud.

The film only lasts one hour and 37 minutes, and it ends on a note that will warm your heart and bring a slight tear to your eye. This wonderful little film is a testament to the value of family life. It is why I will always remember my late, beloved mother giving me helpful advice with the beginning words, “Now, Bobby.”

I know it is early in the year, but I think it is very likely that this DreamWorks production directed by Tom McGrath (who previously gave us “Madagascar”) will join “The LEGO Batman Movie” for Oscar consideration in the animated category next year. These are two unforgettable films that are shockingly mature as well as witty beyond words.

“The Zookeeper’s Wife”

Given the fact that “The Zookeeper’s Wife” was directed by the gifted Niki Caro, who previously brought us the very special “McFarland USA” (2015), “North Country” (2005) and “Whale Rider” (2002), I never imagined that this film would end up being its own worst enemy. Nonetheless, I suspect that many of you will leave the theater thinking like I did, “I went in expecting a whole lot more.”
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There are two basic reasons for the film’s shortcomings. First and foremost, how can any movie taking place in Warsaw, Poland, during the Nazi occupation that began in 1939 end up with a PG-13 rating? It is hard to imagine any movie centering on the Nazi liquidation of Polish Jews living in the Warsaw ghetto being treated as a family film. The rating decision by Caro robbed “The Zookeeper’s Wife” of its emotional impact.

The film’s second handicap was that every German and Polish character spoke fluent English. This created an artificial atmosphere that would have been avoided had the producers simply decided to make this a foreign film with English subtitles. As an analogy, imagine a European remake of “Gone with the Wind” where all of the characters spoke German.

However, I don’t want to suggest that the film lacked dramatic value. Johan Heldenbergh and Jessica Chastain give wonderful performances as a husband and wife dedicated to their zoo inhabitants. Their attempts from 1939 to 1945 to help as many Jews as possible flee the ghetto and hide underground in their zoo is as admirable as it is stirring.

In addition, the talented Daniel Brühl appears as a Nazi zoologist in love with Chastain’s character. Let me just say that he was far better in “Captain American: Civil War” (2016) and the powerful “Rush” (2013), where he played Niki Lauda.

Though “The Zookeeper’s Wife” is based on a popular book, the film gradually loses its magic. Despite the fact tens of thousands of Warsaw Jews were sent to their deaths in a fashion described long ago by Leon Uris’ “Mila 18,” you see far more animals slaughtered by Nazis than you do human beings. While I, like many, hated to see these lovely animals shot and killed, the sad fact remains that the film left you guessing as to the horrific fate of Polish victims of this ghastly Nazi onslaught.

Any modest student of history knows that you can’t dodge the reality of the Holocaust. Millions of men, women and young children died in concentration camps, and the devastation inflicted in Warsaw resulted in the fiery destruction of the Jewish ghetto.

Unfortunately, Caro made the mistake of making a Holocaust film a warm-hearted movie with a happy ending. Let me close by simply stating that the ending sought to have you smiling with satisfaction instead of mourning the annihilation of a large swath of mankind.•

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Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis at Pence Hensel LLC as of counsel. When he is not in the courtroom or the office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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