Published Jun 11, 2018In the 14 years since The Incredibles, the superhero genre has exploded, meaning that the franchise makes its return in an environment dominated by Marvel blockbusters. According to writer/director Brad Bird, however, The Incredibles isn't just another superhero franchise.
"We were always using superpowers to comment on roles in the family," he tells Exclaim! in a room of Toronto's Shangri-La hotel. "That's always been our wheelhouse. That's an expansive enough wheelhouse that we can be there without having to worry if this was in the latest Whoever-Man."
The Incredibles 2 takes us back into the domestic bubble of the Parrs, a family of superheroes living in a world where special powers are illegal. Bob is the ultra-strong Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), his wife Helen is the flexible Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), teenage daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell) can turn invisible and generate force fields, youngster Dash (Huck Milner) is speedy and baby Jack-Jack displays an erratic range of nascent abilities. All of these abilities have a not-too-subtle connection to the characters' roles within the family dynamic.
"The Incredibles is really a blend of things that were important to me growing up," says Bird. "It's my family that I grew up in with my sisters and my parents. It's all of the things I loved when I was a kid: spy movies, adventure, comedy — all of that boiled into a gumbo."
Even the film's stylish mid-century modern look comes from Bird's childhood. The whole things looks a bit like Mad Men set in a fantastical alternate reality full of bright colours and fancy gadgets.
Despite the 14-year break between movies, there's no time-skip, as The Incredibles 2 picks up right where the last one left off — the final moments of the first movie serve as the first scene here. From there, Elastigirl is hired by two tech-sector bigwigs (Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener) for a public relations effort with the goal of legalizing superpowers. This leaves Mr. Incredible at home looking after the kids, and his domestic blunders are just as central to the story as the action sequences.
"I had a rule on The Incredibles that I gave to the crew," Bird explains, "specifically the story crew: you don't do something mundane very long without doing something fantastic, and you don't do something fantastic very long without doing something mundane."
The film's heroes are far from infallible, meaning that even these animated superheroes seem very human: Mr. Incredible underestimates the challenges of being a stay-at-home parent; Violet awkwardly crushes on a classmate; and Dash struggles with math homework. It's deeply relatable stuff.
"I remember when I was a kid and I saw Disney's version of Cinderella, there was a part where the Fairy Godmother is ready to make her dress and the carriage and all that stuff," remembers Bird. "She starts to do her incantation and then she stops and frowns and whacks her wand to try to get the pixie magic dust flowing out of the end of it, like it's a pen that's clogged. I thought that was a fantastic detail, because that tells you that, even in this world where magic exists, magic can break down or clog. It was saying something about her everyday life in the tiniest gesture." There are many such moments in The Incredibles 2.
Ultimately, the film is about even more than just family: it's about recapturing the sense of optimism that Bird remembers from his youth. The world of The Incredibles is one where family bonds are inseparable, civil laws can be overturned with grassroots campaigns, and glitzy technology seems right around the corner.
"I loved Jonny Quest when I was a kid," offers Bird. "It introduced me to the idea of hovercraft and jetpacks and boats that have water skis on the front. Lasers, all those sorts of things. There was a feeling that all of these crazy devices were going to be used everywhere. I'm still waiting for my jetpack!"