Book Lovers, does that DreamWorks movie The Boss Baby seem a little familiar? Does the Boss Baby remind you of someone? We’re not casting aspersions at anyone in elected office. You might recognize the Boss Baby from Marla Frazee’s picture book of the same name. Frazee had a hit on her hands in 2010 when she published a comically illustrated story about a very executive sort of baby who moves into his parents’ house and starts putting “Mom and Dad on a round-the-clock schedule with no time off.” This is one tough employer. “If things weren’t done to his immediate satisfaction, he had a fit.”
The Boss Baby you’ll see on screen is an animated little fellow with the voice of Alec Baldwin--who by chance is visiting Amazon in Seattle today to talk about his new book, Nevertheless: A Memoir.
We’ll have more about that later. For now, here’s Marla Frazee to tell us about how The Boss Baby came to be.
ABR: Marla, have you seen the The Boss Baby movie?
Marla Frazee: Yes. I’ve seen it finished five times and before that, I saw it in process a couple of times. Funnily enough, my mom, who isn’t usually a fan of animated movies, wants to see it again. She’s 85. So we’re going to see it again tomorrow.
ABR: Were you a consultant the movie?
Marla Frazee: I had no creative input into the film at all, other than the fact that the book was the beginning of it. But DreamWorks has been so generous in looping me in throughout the process.
It was an absolutely brand new experience for me. I saw the movie at various points along the way, like when it was just storyboarded on the walls of the hallways at DreamWorks. Then early on, I saw maybe 30 minutes, and I had the chance to see it again six months before the premier. When I saw it two weeks before it came out, the difference was phenomenal: how much tighter it felt; what the music did to emphasize certain moments. It was really interesting.
ABR: Your book The Boss Baby was first published in 2010. Why do you think the movie is coming out now?
Marla Frazee: I’ve had quite a few questions along those lines. There’s this interesting synchronicity at the moment, with Alex Baldwin acting the part of the Boss Baby and also impersonating Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live. It’s an uncanny moment in time.
ABR: Tell me about how you got the idea for The Boss Baby.
Marla Frazee: It came from a couple of places. Long before I thought there might be a book about a baby that might be a boss, a friend was complaining about her boss while we were talking on the phone, and I did a little doodle of a boss baby, a type A baby. It was funny enough that I saved it and put it up on my studio wall and thought, “Is there something there?”
Also, I have three sons, and when my youngest was 15, he really wanted a cat. So we got him a kitten for his Christmas present. It was two weeks of crazy kitten behavior. My son came up to me and said tearfully that we should probably take the cat back to the shelter. “Why?” I asked. “Because it’s stressing everyone out,” my son said. I told him, “This is nothing, this is just what it was like when you three were babies. We will learn to love this cat. We didn’t take you three back. This is nothing.”
Watching him deal with that made me realize how similar that was to how every new parent feels when a new baby comes home and starts bossing everyone around. It’s that shock that that tiny creature, someone who is smaller to you, would overtake you in this way. You lose your agency. That was the universal emotion I wanted to capture. I think that’s a feeling that even a picture-book-aged child might have even if they don’t have a sibling. I remember my best friend being younger than me but still being the boss of me.
That that the beginning of my working on this particular story.
ABR: One of the things that’s really funny visually in your book is that the baby is dressed in a footed onesie business suit. Was that onesie in the drawings from the start?
Marla Frazee: No, actually in the early drawing I’m looking at, the baby was just in a diaper. The onesie business suit came a little bit later.
My editor was Allyn Johnston of Beach Lane books. She was very excited about the manuscript but as I began working on the sketch dummies, she told me, “It’s becoming less and less funny.” Books often do fall apart but I felt like the concept was so strong that I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t hanging together.
I had to step away from it. I had to think about this character and this situation. At first I had a lot of other characters in the story, but eventually I really distilled it down to the mom and dad and Boss Baby.
I also gave the character Boss Baby a profane name in my mind and worked on a dummy using that name. It was my own private exercise. It gave me a distance and a little more edge to this character. There was a different line. He was definitely a baby but also rather abrasive.
When I started to think about the character like that, he had become a blockier, more simple character. He needed a power suit. In the book, it’s a onesie, but in the movie, the Boss Baby wears a full suit with jacket and pants and watch.
ABR: Your book has a 1950s look to it, doesn’t it?
Marla Frazee: From the very beginning I had imagined a whole scenario like a black-and-white TV show from my childhood, like Dick Van Dyke or Father Knows Best. And this baby was like one of the heroes of one of those shows. That gave it a certain kind of artifice. Sort of as if I was saying, it’s not real life, it’s like a pretend TV show.
ABR: Your book is often given to new parents at baby showers.
Marla Frazee: People often ask, “Who is it for, is it for the baby or is it for the parents?” My intention was that the primary audience was always children. Kids who are picture-book age love reading about babies. Especially a baby that is doing something out of the ordinary. Even when the book was brand new, kids would just crack up. It’s very funny to imagine this baby that’s a boss.
ABR: What are you working on now?
Marla Frazee: I’m working on a book about dogs who are sort of existing in what seems to be a playgroundish area.
I should back up. That was the worst elevator pitch ever.
There’s a little dog who cannot get on with the other dogs at the playground. The big question is, is he cranky because no one ever played with him or does no one ever play with him because he’s cranky? That’s the existential question.
ABR: Does your own dog model for you?
Marla Frazee: My dog is a trial for me! Her name is Toaster. She’s such a funny dog. She cracks me up. This particular book has 17 dogs in it. I’ve had to figure out names, personalities for all of them. Toaster is, at this moment, not represented, though other dogs I’ve had are. She is my studio companion—she’s lying here, just basking in the sun.
ABR: Thank you so much, Marla. You’re the boss.
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