Even though it has taken nearly 15 years to complete the sequel to the smash hit Pixar adventure The Incredibles, director Brad Bird insists he has always known what the second chapter would be about.
“The two ideas I had when the first film was done was the role switch between Bob and Helen, and exploring Jack-Jack’s powers. Those [ideas] never left,” Bird said at a press event held recently at Pixar’s headquarters in Emeryville, California which SYFY WIRE attended. We were provided an early look at about 30 minutes of footage from Incredibles 2, which opens in theaters across the U.S. on June 15. We’ll take a closer look at some of the specific scenes they showed us in stories a bit closer to the movie’s release, but for now, let's focus on the journey Bird and producers Nicole Grindle and John Walker took to make the film, which is still undergoing final edits and postproduction finishes. The trio were on hand for a press conference to answer questions about the movie, which has the biggest time gap between installments of any Pixar property.
The new adventure picks up right where the first picture ends, and finds the Parr family – Helen, Bob, Violet, Dash and lil’ Jack-Jack – navigating some tough times. The ‘Supers’ have fallen out of favor, and now it’s up to Elastigirl to save the day with a PR-savvy campaign. This means her and Bob swap roles in the family dynamic, and Mr. Incredible find that watching the kids is a tad more challenging than he thought. The Incredi-Kids have their own issues they’re working through, and baby Jack-Jack... well, let’s just keep that a secret for now. Their old pal Frozone is in the mix, too, along with Edna “E” Mode, and a host of new faces.
Why did it take 14 years to bring the Parr family back to the multiplex? Lots of reasons, not the least of which is Bird was busy making other movies. He directed Ratatouille for Pixar, as well as two big-budget live action films, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and Tomorrowland. Just as important, the filmmaker -- as candid an interview as you will find in Hollywood -- said he didn’t want to do a sequel just because he could. “Many sequels are cash grabs. There’s a saying in the business I hate. ‘If you don’t make another one you’re leaving money on the table.’ Money doesn’t get me up in the morning,” Bird said. “It’s really that we had a story we wanted to tell.”
John Walker, who also produced the first film, says the long delay is proof of the filmmakers’ commitment to the property. “The fact we took 14 years to do it suggests we took the challenge seriously,” he said. Much of the original voice cast returned, including Holly Hunter (Helen), Craig T. Nelson (Bob), Sarah Vowell (Violet), and Samuel L. Jackson (Lucius Best, aka ‘Frozone’). Newcomer Huck Milner takes over as Dash because the original voice, Spencer Fox, had aged out of the role. Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener join the cast as Super fans Winston and Evelyn Deavor, and Bird himself does the honors again as the voice of fashion queen Edna.
Bird had the basic beats of the story, but he needed to fine-tune it and nail down the details. He said the plot changed constantly, and because of the fast-tracked production schedule (more on that in a bit), the director didn’t have the luxury of writer’s block. He just had to keep pushing. Often he knew what he didn’t want to do, before knowing what he wanted to do. “I thought about aging the characters like everyone does, but then I said, ‘that sucks, so no,’” Bird said, punctuating it with a laugh.
“When I first worked on the script for The Incredibles, even before Iron Giant, I went to a comics shop and quickly realized every single power has been used. So that wasn’t what interested me. Once I figured out what I wanted to do with the characters, I picked the powers that fit them,” he said. Mom gets pulled in many directions so she’s elastic. Dad gets the strength, Violet is a teenager, Jack-Jack is a baby, an unknown. So maybe he doesn’t have powers. Those perspectives change if you age the characters. I’m not interested in a college-age Jack-Jack. I was also on the first eight years of The Simpsons, and that’s worked out well. So there’s that.”
Of course, the landscape in Hollywood has undergone massive change since 2004. Most notably, superhero movies are now the dominant species in the industry. When The Incredibles first debuted, the Marvel Cinematic Universe didn’t exist. The film offered a fresh and fun observation on capes and the various tropes of the genre, which helped it earn $633 million and win the Best Animated Film Academy Award. But times have changed. There are six comic book superhero adaptations being released this year alone. Were the filmmakers worried that the time for Incredibles 2 had passed?
“In some ways, it’s like going on a field that’s had too many games played on it. The grass is clunky and not much life left,” Bird said. “It kind of reminds of how westerns were in the 1950s. We’re in that phase a little bit, so it makes it challenging a bit. Not only do we have every hero under the sun in the movies, but also on TV. The creator of Heroes actually told me once that his show was a mashup of Crash and The Incredibles. So I went back to what makes us unique: the family aspect.”
“One of the criticisms of the first film was, ‘what is it? A hero film? Family film? A spy film?’” added Walker. “I think it’s what makes this movie special.”
One way to get around the proliferation of cinematic caped adventures was to begin the sequel right after the first film ended. That allowed the huge advances in filmmaking technology to create even sharper character designs, more complex action scenes and more detailed world building. The new film has the same mid-century Americana aesthetic of the original, only much more intricate and layered. The famous attention to every minute detail Pixar is known for is on full display in this film, so much so, that much of the footage we saw at the press event was not ‘locked’ due to final tweaks being done, despite the June release date rapidly approaching.
Bird also emphasized that whatever themes run through Incredibles 2 are there in service of his ultimate goal as a filmmaker. “First and foremost, I want to make an entertaining movie,” he said. “There are themes inside that, like men and women and their roles. About women getting a chance to express themselves through work. There are feelings about the difficulty of parenting, that parenting is a heroic act. [But] if I start zeroing in and saying, ‘this movie is about that,’ then it wouldn’t be accurate.”
The fact that Helen (voiced by Academy Award winner Hunter) takes center stage in this movie gives the movie’s storyline undeniable currency in the age of #MeToo. But Bird and his producing team say it would be a mistake to think the film is piggybacking on social issues. For one thing, animated films take so long to make, that any type of trend-chasing would be futile.
“If you think about pleasing an audience that has no definition,” the director added. “You’ll curl up in a fetal ball and never come out. If you ask yourself, ‘what do I want to see?', you’ll always connect better. I feel better asking that question. You want the characters to feel consistent, the world to be consistent. It’s not easy. But it’s your job.”
Incredibles 2 was originally supposed to debut in June of 2019, but production delays on another Pixar sequel, Toy Story 4, led to the films switching release dates. Great for Woody and the guys, but for the Parr family, it meant a production schedule faster than anything the studio had ever attempted. For Bird, it was a bit of history repeating itself.
“The original Incredibles was supposed to be after Cars. Our reels came in earlier than that film so we moved up,” Bird explained. “Same story happened here with Toy Story 4. It was concluded we were a little bit further along so we moved up. Since the studio is three times bigger than when we made the first film, we joked that theoretically we could finish the movie in this amount of time. And that’s what happened.”
Grindle believes the absurdly fast schedule actually helped. “I think it was kind of a blessing for a production to be under the gun. People rally when they work under the gun,” the producer said.
“It was like laying track down right in front of a moving train,” Bird said, chuckling. “But as Nicole said, people did rally.”