Say this for Babies: No one can leave complaining they didn’t get what the title promised. Conceptually, a documentary about babies doing stuff could be fairly seen as either brilliant in its simplicity—after all, “everyone loves babies,” as the tagline proclaims—or completely inane for the same reason. The French team of director Thomas Balmés and producer Alain Chabat go for something between poetry and anthropology, a near-wordless reverie about four infants from four different parts of the world, roughly covering their development from birth to first steps. But for all its pictorial beauty, this thumb-sucking Koyaanisqatsi is neither poetic nor behaviorally fascinating enough to justify the experiment. If anything, blame the kids: They’re all adorable, roly-poly delights, but the first year of life has its natural limitations.
Basically Ten Little Fingers And Ten Little Toes: The Movie, Babies celebrates the diversity and universality of infants from various corners of the globe. From the low end of the socioeconomic scale, there’s Ponijao, a willful little tyke who lives in a hut in Namibia, and Bayarjargal, a boy who crawls along the vast plains of rural Mongolia. In the richer urban centers, there’s Mari, a sweet girl who lives in the hustle-bustle of Tokyo, and Hattie, whose San Francisco parents personify that city’s hippy-dippy image. In keeping with the film’s commitment to pure, unadorned observation, Balmés doesn’t ask for testimonials from the parents, who are included only in the context of a baby’s experience; there are conclusions to be drawn from different styles of parenting, but the film doesn’t suggest them. Babies catches many of those extraordinary moments, large and small, that brighten every parent’s life—from first words and steps to curious kids at play with kitties and siblings—but so does YouTube, in punchier clips. Despite the best efforts of moppets at their most adorable, Babies is mostly composed of the longueurs between those moments, when it sags like a wet diaper.