“The Boss Baby,” created by DreamWorks Animation, is slated to be released in theaters across America today. Loosely adapted from the 2010 best-selling eponymous picture book, the film stars Alec Baldwin as the “Boss Baby” and features Steve Buscemi, Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow and Tobey Maguire. Veteran director Tim McGrath, who directed films like “Madagascar,” “Monsters vs. Aliens,” and “Megamind,” anchors the film.
The Hoya sat down in an exclusive interview with McGrath and Ramsey Ann Naito, the film’s executive producer, to discuss what inspired DreamWorks to produce an animated film about a talking baby. Their responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.
What drew you to this project and what excited you about making this film?
McGrath: In 2010, “The Boss Baby” was fresh off the presses, and DreamWorks looks for interesting stories, and they found that book by Marla Frazee. You’re always looking for a story that you can only tell in animation, and, after seeing this baby in a suit, I thought that it would be cool to springboard into a movie.
Early on, for all of us unanimously, when you think about who is going to be the voice, it had to be Alec Baldwin. We took a baby from “Megamind” and animated some lines from “30 Rock” and showed it to people. Everyone who saw it just got it.
I came at it from the sibling rivalry point of view because I had an older brother, and you fight, and you’re best friends. Fortunately for us, we came out of it as adults being best friends who are closer than ever. This film is really a love letter to my brother, and it’s the greatest character arc we could think of.
Naito: First, I’ve known Tom for 20 years, and we’ve always wanted to work together. I was living in New York when he sent me the script, and when I read it, I thought it literally was a reflection of my own life.
I’m a mom; I have three kids. When my first son was seven, my second son arrived, just like Tim Templeton, and, he was really jealous. Now they’re a little bit older, but I still live in a house of sibling rivalry where they’re fighting over attention, food — you name it. They’re so competitive, and this movie really related to me.
When you were working on the script, did you have specific people in mind for key roles, or were you looking for actors with a strong history of voice work?
McGrath: It’s actually both: You need the actors, and you need the comedic chops, but, when we do our casting, we do listen for their voices. Fortunately, we got all of our first choices.
In particular, like Jimmy Kimmel, it’s not necessarily an actor, but his voice is so great, and he’s very funny. When we approached him, he admitted that he wasn’t really an actor, but he is a father and has a daughter, and he felt comfortable being himself and slipped right into that role.
Were there any specific actors or actresses who surprised you with their performances or blew you away with their performances in the studio?
McGrath: There are two surprises I can think of. Lines that weren’t written to be funny Alec made funny, just the way he delivered them. It surprises you. You’re sitting in the room with him, and he says the line off the cuff, and you just start laughing.
The other big surprise was Steve Buscemi, because we had designed a character to be completely different, this kind of rotund, “Trader Joes,” fun-loving guy, and, when Steve approached the role, he liked being the savvy businessman, but he also liked being the baby who would have tantrums. There was just this duality to his character that he kind of pulled out. After hearing his voice, I thought, “This isn’t the right look for Steve’s character,” so we went back and redesigned his whole character.
As filmmakers, what inspires you? What made you fall in love with animation, and what made you fall in love with telling a story?
McGrath: Both of us love storytelling, and that’s really at the heart of film, or theater, or script writing. Storytelling is interesting, because it’s a long process, and it’s problem-solving on the macro level and micro level.
We’re detailed to the frame — all these great milestones that you hit: your first time you crack a scene in writing, the first time it’s realized in the storyboard, the first animation you see. It’s a six-year process a lot of times. Those milestones get you through the end of the day.
Naito: I think what inspired me for this film was that this movie took time in a place when we were young, when there was a time when there were no televisions, no cell phones, no iPads, no videogames.
It really defined Tim’s character and made him a character who had to rely on his imagination and fantasy, and so it celebrates childhood.What I think is great: we were able to go places that we hadn’t seen before and take liberties to create a look that was original and different.