While leaning into the humor and taking action to the extreme, director Tom McGrath’s production team also developed layers where the characters connect, and reconnect, to give the film its heart and soul.
Sequels can be a tricky business. Creators must straddle the line between nostalgia and originality, between creating something that appeals to the previous film’s fans and something new and surprising that engages a new set of fans. This was the challenge director Tom McGrath faced with his latest film, The Boss Baby: Family Business, released July 2, the follow-up to his highly-successful Oscar-nominated 2017 hit, The Boss Baby.
But the challenge was also laced with exciting opportunities.
“There's something really exciting about how you approach a sequel, which is the opportunity to participate in the expansion of that world,” says producer Jeff Hermann, known for his work on the Kung Fu Panda franchise. “What was great about director Tom McGrath’s and writer Michael McCullers’ approach in conceiving the story for the second film was taking the film decades into the future where Tim and Ted are now adults, because it allowed for us to bring in a whole new group of family members and ideas that weren't part of the first film.”
The Boss Baby: Family Business introduces now adult brothers Tim and Ted, who have grown apart over the years; Tim got married and raised a family in their childhood home, while Ted made a beeline for corporate success. When Ted comes for a rare visit, the brothers’ quarreling comes to a halt after Tim’s infant daughter Tina reveals she has followed in “the family business” and become an agent for Baby Corp.
Using a strange, bottled concoction, Tina turns her father and uncle back into the youngsters viewers met in the original film, and recruits them for a top-secret mission to uncover a scheme where a villain, Dr. Armstrong, is teaching babies to be bad. While the mission gives Tim the chance to reconnect with his estranged brother, it also helps him connect on a deeper level with his seven-year-old daughter Tabitha, who he worries is trying to grow up too fast.
True to Boss Baby franchise fashion, there’s plenty of domestic comedy and stellar action sequences. But the production team wanted to push golden nuggets from the original film even further in the sequel, such as expanding the mantra of babies represented in the story - evil babies, creepy babies, jail yard babies and ninja babies - and leaning hard into comedic tropes.
“We took each of their exact definitions and pushed it to the extreme,” explains lead animator Julien Bocabeille, who previously worked with McGrath on Megamind and the first Boss Baby film. “The nerdy character in the room is going to be the nerdiest you’ve ever seen. The creepy girl is going to be super creepy. There’s no place in this movie for timid characters. They’re all to the extreme. We fully embraced these cliches, and it works really well.”
Hermann adds, “The jail yard glue baby was actually an idea that was part of the first movie but wound up not getting used. Tom resurrected the idea. And the creepy girl was really kind of born out of just a single drawing that one of our art directors Andy Schuhler had done. And she never changed. She was a great character to just constantly throw into the background and her role kind of expanded as well with her popularity. The ninja babies were initially just a throwaway gag that we ended up expanding into the film for villain Dr. Armstrong’s security force.”
Even the imaginative, fantasy-like settings the first movie excelled at bringing to life were accelerated “300 percent,” according to Bocabeille, with the team creating even more mesmerizing, eye-popping fantasy worlds, from previously unseen sections of Baby Corp to snow-capped evil headquarters.
“We wanted to do even more fantasy and there were maybe two or three other fantasy scenes that got cut for time,” says production designer Raymond Zibach, who had worked with Hermann on the Kung Fu Panda films. “But when these movies get as big as they are, you want to make sure that the story is being furthered with every scene, because if not, then you're wasting time on screen. I think a lot of times, when you read a script, you're cherry picking what you think is going to be cool and then later you get to stuff that you didn't realize is actually the gold.”
Hermann adds, “What was interesting as we went through this journey was that the three fantasy worlds we have in the film now really embody the three different stages of Tim's relationship with Tabitha - what life was like when everything was fun and imaginative, his fears of her drifting apart, and then the joyous celebration of his breakthrough of realizing how to communicate to her as a peer rather than just a parent.”
The original Boss Baby film was nicely balanced, with as many heartwarming moments as funny and adventurous ones. But in the new story about recapturing the essence of childhood in order to connect with loved ones, fantasy and real worlds melded together even more seamlessly than before, as did moments of comedy and sincerity. In a scene where Tabitha takes a young Timmy - who she doesn’t realize is her own father - to see her bedroom that was once his when he was a kid, Zibach says the scene surprised him during design with its many layers of storytelling.
“It became a great set piece because that’s where Tim teaches Tabitha how to use her imagination and it starts transitioning into a fantasy scene,” Zibach shares. “A lot of those moments I didn't realize would end up feeling the way they do when they're done. There's things like that which even surprised me about what the film was going to deliver emotionally to the audience.”
Bocabeille adds, “When we did push the cartoony side of things, we went crazy nuts, but we have some very emotional moments where it's semi-realistic animation and people can actually relate with these characters. We want to push the comedy, but sometimes you may lose the characters if you don’t keep those meaningful moments and that relatability in mind. We had to be careful about that.”
Though big-headed, caricatured babies fighting crime and talking in deep baritone voices seems like a recipe for the bizarre and hilarious, Bocabeille says that The Boss Baby: Family Business is “even more family-oriented” than the first and shows how even the most comedic of animations and most imaginative of production designs can merge into a true tear-jerker of a story.
“The story is unique, the relationship of the brothers is unique, and I think the messages that we're telling the audience is pretty original,” says Bocabeille.
“These movies are very personal to Tom,” continues Hermann. “It's great that we're able to tell this story in such a fun, visual way where the sky's the limit, but the environment in which we made this film also kind of represents the story itself, that we were able to band together and overcome great odds and make a movie that's about the importance of reconnection when the world was literally keeping us apart.”