Super sequel: Inside Brad Bird's 'Incredibles' journey
It’s been 14 years since the release of the original “Incredibles,” but don’t tell that to the Parr family. The upcoming sequel begins right where its predecessor left off, with the Incredibles suiting up together to face the Underminer in a community that’s still uncertain as to whether or not it wants Supers. Moviegoers, meanwhile, are certain that they do: not only has interest in an “Incredibles” sequel grown since 2004, but in superhero stories in general, as Marvel, DC and other studios have brought them to the big screen to massive success.
Moviebill recently visited Pixar’s campus in Emeryville, California for a preview of footage from “Incredibles 2” as well as a series of conversations with the creative heroes who helped bring the highly anticipated sequel to life. Award-winning writer-director Brad Bird spoke with reporters about the process of putting together another “Incredibles” adventure, starting with the ideas left over from the first and then tackling new dramatic challenges, all while navigating a landscape far more crowded now by spandex-clad heroes than it was when the first film debuted.
The first movie came out years before the birth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. How has this superhero movie renaissance affected “The Incredibles?”
“On some level, it’s like going out to the football field and there have been way too many games on it, and there’s this dried dirt with a few sprigs of grass, and everything’s kind of clunky, and life doesn’t grow there anymore. So you feel like, oh, Jesus, it’s really been covered. It kind of reminds me of the way Westerns were in the late ’50s when, if you had a television, 95% of what was on was a Western. So we’re in that phase a little bit and it makes it very challenging on a story level, because not only do you have every superhero under the sun and cross-promoting films and blah blah blah blah blah, but you also have a bunch of television shows. So it’s easy to freak out and go, well, why even try? Everybody’s got everything done to death. But I return to, what makes us unique? And it’s this idea of a family, and that superheroes have to hide their abilities. And those things are actually unique to us, and there’s plenty left to explore.”
What prompted the decision to set “Incredibles 2” directly after the original one ended?
“I thought of aging everybody the way everybody does, and then I thought, no, that sucks. One of the conceits of the original film is one that I tried initially long before Pixar, when I first had the idea, I went to a comic book shop and thought, I’ve got to pick up new powers. After about half an hour in the comic book shop, I realized that every power had been done by somebody somewhere, and right after that little epiphany I realized I’m not very interested in the powers. What interests me is having a family and there being a reason to hide the powers. Once I had that insight into what I wanted to do, I picked the powers based on who they were in the family. Men are always expected to be strong so I had Bob have strength. Women, mothers, are always pulled in a million different directions so I had [Helen] be elastic. Teenagers are insecure and defensive so I had Violet have force fields and invisibility. Ten-year-olds are energy balls that can’t be stopped. And babies are unknowns — maybe they have no powers, maybe they have all powers, we don’t know. That’s what Jack-Jack was — he was seemingly the first ‘normal’ one in the family, and then at the end of ‘Incredibles’ you find out that he’s the wild card, and that he’s sort of the Swiss-army knife of powers. And that reminds me of the way babies can grasp languages really easily. That idea changes and the insight into those periods of your life and those particular perspectives disappear once you age them up. I’m not interested in a college-age Jack-Jack, I’m just not. I’m interested in my sons growing up. In terms of interest for me in these movies, it stays more iconic if everybody situates themselves. I also was on the first eight seasons of ‘The Simpsons’ and that’s worked out really well, so I’ll stick with that.”
How quickly did you discover the story for this one? How much, if at all, did the expectations of so many people loving the original weigh on you?
“I think that it’s really distracting to think of that — pleasing an audience that has no definition, that’s old/it’s young/it’s east/west/north/south/conservatives/liberals and everyone in between. If you try to think about pleasing that and what they will like two years from now you will just curl up into a fetal ball and never come out of your room. A better way to think about it is, I’m going into a dark theater, curtains are opening and what do I want to see. If you ask that question of yourself in that way, you are always connecting with the person that wanted to be told the story, and I feel comfortable answering that question rather than what will audiences and critics like. What did they like about the last one? Do I do it again because they liked it? Or do I try to surprise them? The answer is a little bit of both; you want the characters to feel consistent, you want the world to feel consistent, but you don’t want to be able to know what’s going to happen next. So that’s the challenge and it’s not an easy challenge to meet — but it definitely is your job if you’re making films.
“Many sequels are cash-grabs. There’s a saying in the business that I can’t stand, where they go ‘if you don’t make another one, you’re leaving money on the table.’ Money on the table is not what makes me get up in the morning. Making something that people are gonna enjoy a hundred years from now is what gets me up. So if it were a cash-grab, we would not have taken 14 years. It makes no financial sense to wait this long. It’s purely that we had a story that we wanted to tell.”
What ideas lingered in your head for a sequel after the first film, and how did that evolve to include other ideas?
“The two ideas that were in my head as the first movie was ending is the role switch between Bob and Helen, and showing Jack-Jack’s powers and making Jack-Jack the main character rather than a side character. Those were in from the beginning and never left the project. What changed is the plot, the superhero villain plot, and that shifted endlessly and drove me insane because I was always faced with the release date. If something didn’t work I couldn’t sit there and try to bang on it, I had to throw it away immediately and go to another idea that solved some of the issues of that first idea. That half of the story was shifting always.”
Would you say “Incredibles 2” derived from the same type of aesthetic for the superheroes, or is it a little more across the map in terms of what influenced their design?
“The movie has sort of a late ’50s, early ’60s aesthetic and we’ve tried to stay with that. It is a strange world. We had in the first movie an iPad before there were iPads — in fact, I think Apple owes me. So we have gadgets that are futuristic, but for instance, in this movie we don’t have portable phones. In some aspects of this story it would have made things easier if we had cellphones and in other aspects it would have made things harder because you go, ‘well why don’t you just pick up your phone,’ but that gets to be kind of boring story-wise. It’s always been this blend of ’60s futurism, the way a Bond film is or ‘Johnny Quest’ or something like that. That part of it has kind of always been influenced by spy movies. I would say we stay generally with the playbook established by the first film, it’s just we’re better at doing it now.”
The first “Incredibles” was pretty much perfect, but back then diversity wasn’t being discussed very much in film. How is that addressed in “Incredibles 2?”
“It’s in there. We are just telling the story we want to tell. Some people have remarked that we geared this toward the #MeToo Movement because it’s got a female lead and all this stuff, [but] that’s the oldest idea in this current movie — that and exploring Jack-Jack’s power. We don’t really respond to whatever the thing at the moment is because our lead times are so long. We just kind of tell the stories we want to tell, but with that said, the first walk-around character in Disneyland that was black was Frozone, so I think we’ve done okay and we will continue to present that kind of world because that is the kind of world we live in.”
There was a very interesting idea in the first movie about what makes someone special, or super, and exploring the idea that if everyone is super then no one is. To you, what’s the idea that this movie is exploring?
“It explores a lot of ideas. I don’t like to talk about the ideas as if that was the reason I made the move to push some agenda. It’s more like you create something that hopefully is fun and entertaining and then there are places where you put little ideas here and there that add dimension to it. The first, most important mission of the first movie was to entertain the crap out of people, and the second thing was that we have some other things we would like to comment on. One of them is the role of men and women, fathers and mothers, how teenagers view the world, a midlife crisis, that kind of stuff. There were a lot of little things that kind of got buried in the movie, and certain things got a little more attention. We have things, again [in ‘Incredibles 2’], 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 are just as vital as men are; there are aspects of being controlled by screens, the difficulties of parenthood and that parenthood is a heroic act. All of those things are in the movie, but if I start to single out one of them and say this movie is about that, it doesn’t give you an accurate picture of the movie. It makes it sound like we’re having broccoli and not dessert. I don’t mind nutrition, but I would like to have a little dessert if at all possible.”
“Incredibles 2” opens in theaters June 15.