Director Tom McGrath dishes on the inspirations behind the suit-wearing infant.
Telling the story of a suit-wearing infant (Alec Baldwin) and his sibling rivalry with his new brother, an imaginative 7-year-old named Tim, DreamWorks Animation’s The Boss Baby topped the domestic box office over the weekend with $49 million.
Inspired by Marla Frazee’s picture book, the animated feature was helmed by Tom McGrath, who is perhaps best known as director (and voice of the penguin Skipper) on all three Madagascar films. The Hollywood Reporter recently caught up with McGrath.
On casting Alec Baldwin and the Donald Trump comparisons:
There was no other choice but Alec. I had worked with him on Madagascar 2. He played the lion Makunga. I always wanted to work with him again. I made a pitch using an animated baby from Megamind and a line from Alec’s Jack Donaghy from 30 Rock. Jeffrey Katzenberg cracked up and it sold the idea.
We wanted to give him mannerisms like politicians have, those business training gestures. Early in the election we studied Bernie Sanders’ gestures, [Hillary] Clinton gestures. … Nobody thought Trump would be president. This was all done before the election. Alec was going to quit doing Donald Trump on [Saturday Night Live] after the election, because who knew? We didn’t want to homage anybody contemporary, anyway. But he happened to be this blond little guy in a suit with a wide head — people are going to draw similarities, I suppose.
On making a “period” film:
The time period is an amalgamation of the ’60s, ’70s and early ’80s. It was such a romantic time to be a kid. There were no cellphones. You had to use your imagination to play. This was about making an animated movie that was more of a period piece. We went to Mattel and Fisher Price for vintage toy ideas; there was a nostalgia to it.
This movie is an apology to my older brother. Now my brother is my best friend. This film has a very simple character arc — you hate each other, then grow to love each other.
On the film’s visual style:
A lot of it was very stylized. It was the best opportunity to express a 7-year-old’s imagination. We wanted to be really abstract and surreal with his imaginative world. [Iconic animators] Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, Bob Clampett were all inspirations.
In Madagascar 3, we did this circus scene based on pink elephants on parade from Dumbo. I wanted to do more of that. I wanted to do these stylized imagination scenes so they stood out from the real-world parts of the film. The golden age of animation was in 2D, but we had to create it in stereo for the 3D release.
On doing a voice in Boss Baby:
I played Julia Childs, the cooking lady in the cooking show. We had to get it into animation and we didn’t have a voice, so I did it. And my nephew [James McGrath] was Wizzie [the Wizard talking alarm clock]. That’s the fun of making animated movies. In the same way, the penguins start as a little idea that just grew into a bigger one. Wizzie was a drawing and then we thought it would be fun if Tim’s one friend was his alarm clock. Over the holidays, my nephew was doing Ian McKellen (Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings) impressions for fun, and I thought, “He’s got to do this voice.”