At Pixar’s “Incredibles 2” sneak peek earlier this month, we learned that the story picks up where it left off 14 years ago, with the Underminer (voiced by good-luck charm John Ratzenberger) terrorizing Municiberg. The big question for director Brad Bird: Why?
“I’m not interested in a college-age Jack-Jack,” he said, referring to the infant member of the Incredibles clan. “The insight into those periods of your life and those particular perspectives disappears once you age them up.”
Deborah Coleman / Pixar)
Even so, the superhero landscape has changed considerably since Pixar released “The Incredibles” in 2004. But in keeping the focus on family dynamic first, superpowers second, Bird stays ahead of the superhero curve. He’s also elevated Holly Hunter’s Helen/Elastigirl as the lead and begun to explore baby Jack-Jack’s superpowers.
The Mundane and the Fantastic
Two terrific action sequences were highlights in 35 minutes of footage: Elastigirl prevents a runaway train disaster on her new Elasticycle (acrobatically stretching at every dangerous turn), and Jack-Jack turns into a veritable Swiss Army knife while combating a raccoon. But the stakes are raised when collateral damage from the Underminer disaster forces the super program to shut down. However, industrialist Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his tech-genius sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) try to resurrect the supers by exploiting Elastigirl’s more marketable merits. This requires Bob/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) to become a stay-at-home dad. Finally, the Parrs must set aside their family squabbles to fight the mysterious Screenslaver.
But since the Parr superpowers are still driven by their personalities, Bird introduces some interesting reversals and revelations, with Helen and Bob switching roles and Jack-Jack emerging as the wild card: “Men are expected to be strong, so Bob had super strength; mothers are always pulled in a million directions, so I had her be elastic; teenagers are insecure and defensive, so I had Violet [Sarah Vowell] have force fields and invisibility,” he said. “Ten-year-olds [Dash, voiced by Hugh Milner] are energy balls that can’t be stopped, and babies are unknowns.”
Beyond wanting to “entertain the crap out of people,” Bird included topical themes such as allowing women to also express themselves through work and the importance of fathers participating in child-rearing. “Parenting is a heroic act,” he said.
So was making “Incredibles 2” on an accelerated schedule; Pixar pushed it ahead by a year in order to accommodate additional story work on “Toy Story 4.” “It’s a challenge for us, but the studio is three times bigger than when it made ‘The Incredibles,'” he said.
Leveraging Better Tech
Even though Bird decided to pick up exactly where he left off 14 years ago, he firmly embraced Pixar’s cutting edge tech arsenal. The improvements are immediately apparent in the character animation, environments, wardrobe, and effects, “It’s similar to ‘Toy Story,’ where they had to evolve Andy [the boy] with the technology, but in our case, we had these wonderful, stylized designs and we got close to the first film but we didn’t get them perfect,” Bird said. “We got them the way we wanted in the first movie, so we’re able to use the tools for some graphically interesting stuff.”
Bird’s retro-future vision of the mid-20th century is also more elaborate, but there’s a decidedly urban spin. Production designer Ralph Eggleston (“Inside Out”) returned with more ambitious world building, highlighted by an eye-popping 38,000-square-foot mansion for the Parrs that used bold geographic shapes to riff on Frank Lloyd Wright, among others. Turns out, they originally planned a more modest, rocket-shaped house, but the shorter schedule demanded a mansion to consolidate several sequences within the home. Even animation must face the pressure of location shoots.
“In live action, it’s about ‘the day,’ said producer John Walker, who also worked with Bird on the live-action “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” and “Tomorrowland.” “If you don’t get it right, you might not ever be able to return, and I’ve seen Brad more willing to change horses because of that.”
While he remains the only solo director at Pixar, Bird has no auteurist illusions. “I will get the shot that I want, but if somebody comes up with an alternate shot that they think can be cool, then they can persuade me.”