The Incredibles was kind of a Pixar anomaly. It predated the superhero boom, and came from outside Pixar, with story, script and direction credited solely to Brad Bird – who spent years developing the film before bringing it to the studio. It’s the Pixar film that has generated the most sequel clamor, which seemed like Bird and Pixar might perpetually resist.
Now The Incredibles 2 is nearly done, with release set for June 15. I went to Pixar a week ago to see extended footage from the new movie – the first 22 minutes plus a few other scenes – and to speak with a few different departments that are contributing to the return of Brad Bird’s supers, fourteen years after the release of the original movie.
We know The Incredibles 2 begins just as the first movie ended, with the Parr family returning home from their battle with Syndrome to find The Underminer rising up to attack their city. That’s a good place for me to start, too.
1. Visually, The Incredibles 2 starts out below Pixar’s current capacity.
While The Incredibles 2 was being developed, the idea of fans watching both movies back to back came up. The thinking was that it might be jarring if, despite the story being one continuous line, the look of the action changed drastically in the cut between the end of the first movie and the beginning of the second.
So the look of opening scenes in The Incredibles 2 is deliberately more basic than what Pixar is capable of designing and rendering now. The goal was to make scenes look like early 2000s work from the studio, to establish visual continuity. As the story moves beyond the first scenes, which show the battle with the Underminer, the look of the film gradually ramps up to current standards.
2. Two basic concepts for the sequel have been in Bird’s head since he finished the first movie.
The sequel took over a decade to develop, and while many of the precise details were worked out on the fly due to an accelerated production schedule (The Incredibles 2 swapped release dates with Toy Story 4, which needed more work) the core of the movie has been in place all this time.
A pair of ideas form the spine of the new movie, and they’re unsurprisingly core to the basic concept of the superhero family. Bird explained in the press conference at Pixar,
“The two ideas that were in my head as the first movie was ending were a role switch between Bob and Helen, and showing and exploring Jack-Jack’s powers and making him a main character. Those were in from the beginning and never left the project.”
Bird elaborated that “the superhero/villain plot” was what “shifted endlessly and drove me insane.” Things moved fast on this movie. Bird was quick to point out that this isn’t the first of his Pixar films to have a shorter than ideal schedule. The Incredibles also moved up in the schedule, and Bird’s second Pixar effort was made even more quickly. “When I got involved with Ratatouille,” he said, “it was a little over a year and a half between my involvement and the finished film, and we only retained two lines of dialogue and two shots from all the previous versions that had been done.”
3. Bird avoided aging the characters up because it would break the film’s concept.
In the press conference, Bird gave a quick recap of the development of the original film, specifically pointing out that his realization of his own interest in the story really defined the movie. He didn’t care about the powers; he was interested in “the idea of having a family, and there being a reason to hide the powers.” That led to a very specific concept: “I picked the powers based on who they are in the family.”
So the father is strong, the mother is flexible, and the children express their own developing personalities through their powers as well.
Problem is, “that idea changes if you age the characters up.” The powers-as-personality dynamic becomes something different if Dash or Jack-Jack are in college.
“I’m not interested in a college-age Jack-Jack,” Bird said. “In terms of interest for me in these movies, it stays more iconic. I also was on the first eight seasons of The Simpsons and that [not aging characters] worked out rather well for them, so I’ll stick with that.”
4. Some of the messages taken out of the first movie weren’t designed as key takeaways.
Asked about messaging, Bird bristles a bit. “The most important mission of the first movie was to entertain the crap out of people,” he insists” The second was that we had a few things we wanted to comment on.”
Those include, he says, roles for men and women, and fathers and mothers; how teenagers view the world; and the mid-life crisis. He says, “there are a lot of things buried in the movie. Certain things got more attention – that thing you mention got attention.”
All of which doesn’t mean there are no thematic concepts woven into this movie as well. Bird specifies further “exploring the roles of men and women; the importance of fathers participating; the importance of allowing women to express themselves through work and that they’re just as vital as men are. There are aspects of being controlled by screens. There are feelings about the difficulties of parenthood, that parenting is a heroic act. All those things are in this movie.”
One line in there, about being controlled by screens, sticks out. At the press conference Bird also mentioned that he didn’t want modern phones in the movie, to avoid having characters looking down at them all the time. But given that media perception and heroic image are a big part of this movie, and that the new trailer shows off a villain that we didn’t see at this press day, the “being controlled by screens” concept is probably core to the plot Pixar hasn’t revealed so far.
5. Jonathan Banks subtly changes the character of Rick Dicker, originally voiced by the late Bud Luckey.
Earlier this year Pixar announced that Jonathan Banks, best known for Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, had stepped in to play government agent Rick Dicker. The character was voiced by Bud Luckey in the original film, but Luckey died in 2014.
Bird is enthusiastic about Banks, but admits that he brings a slightly different vibe to the agent Rick Dicker.
“We got Jonathan Banks; I’m a huge Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul fan. He took over the role of Rick Dicker, and as John Walker [producer] says, with the first Rick Dicker you can’t imagine he possibly could have killed a man. With this one you can accept that he has.”
6. Voyd, a young new “wannabe” Super voiced by Sophia Bush, is basically a puppy.
I’ll let Bird take this one:
“There’s a character named Voyd [voiced by Sophia Bush], a new superhero in the wannabes. She admires Helen and is kind of a Helen groupie. I described her to the animators like we had this dog who is a very big, powerful dog that only has two settings. One is in your face, “Love me love me love me!” The other is when you say “get off” and it’s “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry!” Then you say “oh, it’s ok” and it’s [back to] “love me love me love me!” She’s a little bit like that, where she’s always leaning in a little too much and ready to ask you ten million questions. It’s a fun character, I’ve never seen her before in a superhero movie.”
7. Bird & Co. couldn’t quit giving powers to Jack-Jack.
Out of everything we saw at Pixar, a presentation on the tech used to bring Jack-Jack’s powers to life was the one embargoed section – I’m not supposed to detail that until closer to release, though you can see a lot of the kid’s power set in the new trailer.
Asked about setting limits for the story team in developing what Jack-Jack can do, Bird says “I didn’t put a lot of limits on them initially, so they started doing everything.”
That was a lot, so “we started to go ‘alright, we gotta settle down a bit toward act three.’ We didn’t want to have new powers in act three.” That rule was pretty instantly broken. “We got to a few points and thought it would be really cool to have one more new power here. We told ourselves to stay strictly on our diet and we kind of broke it a couple times.”
8. Frozone’s wife Honey was going to be seen in the film but her character design was used for another Super.
Good news and bad news here. The good news is that Frozone’s wife Honey, voiced again by Kimberly Adair Clark, is in the movie. The bad news is that we don’t see her.
Brad Bird explained that “we wanted to show Honey in this one. We didn’t end up doing it because she’s funnier as a voice. We designed the character, and the design appears in the movie, but not as Frozone’s wife.”
We don’t have specific details on how Honey was designed to look, but at least there’s a clue as to who to look for in the final film: “We’ve used her design and she is a hero; there’s just not a lot of screen time for her. The problem is we have a lot of things we want the movie to be about. The two Incredibles movies are already the longest movies at Pixar and they are never happy about that.”
9. Look for a specific connection between Evelyn Deavor and Helen Parr.
Catherine Keener voices Evelyn Deavor, an inventor whose brother Winston, voiced by Bob Odenkirk, recruits Helen to reshape the public image of Supers. Evelyn is based, physically, on people like Patty Smith and Diane Keaton, but she seems to have a brilliant tech streak in her, too.
More important, as Winston Deavor presents his media plan to the Parrs, we see Helen and Evelyn sharing more than one look of mutual approval and silent communication. I don’t know what’s going to pay off there, but look for their working relationship, whatever it ends up being, to be distinct from other partnerships in the series.