'Boss Baby' Screenwriter on Skewering Corporate Culture and All Those (Coincidental) Trump References
Michael McCullers also tells THR that his upcoming ‘Shrek 5’ will feature “a pretty big reinvention.”
The Boss Baby stars Alec Baldwin as a suit-wearing, briefcase-carrying infant on a mission to contain families’ insurmountable love of puppies while escaping his new older brother.
And though Baldwin’s animated tot in the Fox family film might slightly echo his Donald Trump impersonation on Saturday Night Live — as the Apprentice-esque line “You’re fired” is included in the movie — screenwriter Michael McCullers asserts that any parallels are “a total coincidence. Of course, a gift or a nightmare, I don’t know.”
McCullers also tells The Hollywood Reporter about skewering corporate culture (despite never having an office job) and featuring “a pretty big reinvention” in his script for the upcoming Shrek 5.
What made you want to adapt The Boss Baby?
DreamWorks brought the book [by Marla Frazee] to me, along with the idea that it should be a sibling point of view about getting a new baby brother or sister, which is a huge part of a kid’s childhood. And I realized there’s never really been a kid movie that hits the sibling rivalry thing head-on. I've got four kids — and a dog — so I immediately connected with it. I always like to pick somebody to help sharpen the voice [while writing], and I thought of Alec Baldwin from the start, and how he would deal with a 7-year-old.
How did you go about crafting jokes about corporate culture?
It’s for the adults or people who don’t have kids — a lot of people know what it’s like to have a bossy baby, but even more people know what it’s like to have bosses who are basically babies. If you work in an office, you’re going to recognize some of the childish behaviors. I’ve never had a “real” job, but I’ve been around movie studios that are corporate enough to find the funny things. We didn’t want to go too into it and lose kids entirely — or even some adults — but we tried to get enough in there to make it fun and have layered humor for kids and adults.
Which bit didn’t make it past the editing room?
There was this joke about synergy, and someone says, “You know you made that word up,” and Boss Baby is like, “I wish!” But we figured not enough people had heard the word “synergy” for it to work.
We had to cut another scene that I think everybody liked but it just took too much time — Boss Baby captured a puppy in his backyard and interrogated it in the playhouse. It was the traditional hard-boiled interrogation scene, but the puppy just has these big brown eyes.
Moments like Boss Baby’s golfing while “delegating” and the line “You’re fired” seem to echo Trump. Is that intentional?
Ah, yes. That is a total coincidence. Of course, a gift or a nightmare, I don’t know. I first took a look at the book in 2011 and did a bulk of the writing in 2012. Even most of the animation was done before Trump was a serious contender [for president]. The baby also turned out blonde — that also sort of made him look more like Trump, but that’s from five or six years ago. These movies take a long time, and there’s not been much tweaks to the content in a year or so because they’re rendering and adding lighting and all that. There’s an overlap in “business guy” tropes, but no, it’s in no way based on Trump. It’s based on an immature, sometimes greedy business man, so if people want to draw their own conclusions about that — but no, it really wasn’t.
What’s your opinion on audiences making that connection, especially since Baldwin spoofs Trump on SNL?
I don’t know. I care more about the movie than I care about Donald Trump, that’s for sure. There was no political intent to the movie, just an extra weird coincidence that Alec did Trump. I guess people can find that connection amusing, but I don’t think that, if you go looking for a political statement in the movie, there really is one. If it makes people interested in seeing the movie, I’m glad; if it distracts people from what the movie is really about, then I’m sad.
What are the statuses of your next projects, Shrek 5 and Hotel Transylvania 3?
Shrek 5 is being developed. I finished that script, which I really, really, really love. It’s really personal to me. It’s got a pretty big reinvention behind it that I guess I can’t really reveal, but since DreamWorks was sold to Universal in that time for over $3 billion, I imagine they’re particularly interested in it stepping up and actually figuring out the future of the franchise in that way on the corporate level. Reinvention was sort of called for. There’s been four movies and a lot of material, so the characters are pretty beloved and they’re great characters, but you also have to think of a pretty new take at that point.
Hotel Transylvania 3 has also been fun. Those movies are super funny. My family enjoys that whole world. They’re not trying to be super in-depth, emotional, weeping movies like some animations are; they’re just [movies with that] warm family feeling with a lot of jokes. That has been a lot of fun.
With The Boss Baby and a few family movies in the works, do you ever consult your kids while writing?
I don’t product-test too much with them, but once in a while, I will. My daughter is 16, and she was very helpful on Shrek 5 and different movies. She definitely has a point of view. And my 8- and 10-year-old are a good test screening audience and helpful in seeing what kids find to be interesting. I think it actually helps to not talk down to them — if you have kids, you realize they know way more than you think.
Editor’s note: This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.