Fox // 1994 // 99 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Deren Ney (Retired) // March 1st, 2002
Baby Bink is out on the town for the day, visiting wondrous places and seeing fantastic sights. The only problem is, he is traveling alone!
Home Alone -- Episode I: The Infant Menace. Another shameless, if harmless, riff on the kid-Vs-bad guy formula from John Hughes.
Baby Bink, an adorable baby of a rich family in suburban Chicago, has been kidnapped. His captors, a trio of bumbling con artists, are after reward money. The problem is, Bink is a slippery little devil, and through serendipity keeps managing to escape the men's clutches. He makes friends with a gorilla, and walks a tightrope of danger (sometimes literally) while his mother (Lara Flynn Boyle) searches the city desperately for him.
If Some Kind of Wonderful was Hughes's pale stepchild of Pretty in Pink, Baby's Day Out is the toddler brother of Home Alone. In a boldly guiltless attempt to recreate the thrill of a typical kid beating on a couple of intruders, this film has a young baby as its protagonist against a couple of would-be kidnappers. The film even settles for the poor man's Joe Pesci, Joe Mantegna, to play the role of the main bad guy. Joe Pantoliano also appears, and I can't help but be reminded of his similar role in the far superior film The Goonies. Flynn Boyle is serviceable as the frantic mother, though this is odd casting, and she has none of the manic comic timing of Home Alone's Catherine O'Hara.
I was trying to watch this film from the perspective of a parent, and though the most I've ever nurtured something involved the Chia Corporation, I felt offended by the notion that watching this baby escape peril by the skin of his baby teeth was supposed to be fun. Macaulay Culkin's Kevin McCallister narrated his way through Home Alone, and kept the tone light. This device is in desperate need here. Other than the cartoonish nature of the goons, there's not much to indicate the sort of French farce feel of Home Alone. This feels more like a Disney version of Ransom. Plot is obviously secondary, but that is particularly distracting in a movie where the main character can only cutely coo. All the special effects in the film also take away most of the fun of slapstick by taking the peril out of the stuntwork. The effects are well done, but still clearly seem like effects. When the baby or the bad guys are doing anything risky, the special effects work is so noticeable that there's none of the organic sense of danger that Home Alone had.
These groundbreaking effects however are impressive to watch if you're into that sort of thing, and the techniques used are detailed in the director's commentary. Director Patrick Read Johnson does a good job of explaining where various effects are employed, from the first computer generated mouth to the incredibly life-like robot babies of Rick Baker. (I'd be lying if I said the term "robot babies" doesn't make me uncomfortable.) This track is solid from a technical point of view, but for the most part, it just reminded me that Spielberg should start doing commentaries before a whole generation of filmmakers is forced to make robot baby movies. Johnson keeps it light and conversational, and wisely steers clear of the horn tooting that many directors do when they are bestowed the chance to do a commentary.
Also on the disc is a short featurette. Here's a game to guess the content:
A. Typical promotional fluff
B. Behind-the-scenes information on the filming, such as the drug problems of the twins playing Bink
C. ILM's attempts to improve Joe Mantegna's acting through CGI
D. Robot babies
Sadly, it's A (and thankfully not D).
Baby's Day Out is presented with warm, balanced colors and a speckless transfer. The sound is in 5.1 and Dolby Surround for English, and French is only in Dolby Surround. I never cared about dubbings in a language I can't speak, but that was before I saw a French Joe Mantegna. The sound is surprisingly involved, especially in the city scenes, and the music score is bright and shines particularly in 5.1. It evokes a similar timeless feel to Randy Newman's score for the Toy Story movies.
The film is refreshingly devoid of pretense, and some of the action sequences have a playful zest. It's capably directed, with a story book feel in some of the suburban sequences. The effects are impressive for the time, and the baby is extremely cute.
For kiddie farce, try Home Alone. If you're looking for robot babies, however, you've hit the jackpot.
Guilty of child endangerment without humor. Sentenced to being a drink coaster.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 1994
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Director's Commentary
* John Hughes