Although they’re often bold, colourful and action-packed, director Brad Bird’s movies often spark debate among pop culture writers and critics.
As long ago as 1999, a New York Post critic described The Iron Giant, Bird’s delightful adaptation of Ted Hughes’ poem, as a “left-wing fable about McCarthyism.”
“What’s so infuriating,” Rod Dreher wrote, “is how the film perpetuates the lie that the Soviet Union was no threat at all, and that the search for Soviet spies was about nothing more than persecuting misunderstood innocent outsiders.”
Bird’s later animated films also provoked some rather dark analyses. More than one critic has described 2004’s The Incredibles as “Ayn Randian propaganda” – a reference to the writer and philosopher Ayn Rand, whose work espoused (among other things) the belief that humans should be concerned primarily with their own happiness. Suggestions that Bird was placing Ayn Rand’s philisophy in his work also surrounded 2015’s Tomorrowland, his live-action adventure film released by Disney.
“Brad Bird doesn’t care about you,” Globe And Mail critic Barry Hertz wrote at the time of Tomorrowland‘s release. “Unless you’re preternaturally gifted – unless you’re part of the 0.01 per cent of us who are truly special, whose self-made superiority is undeniable – the writer-director behind Tomorrowland can’t be bothered.”
Do a few Google searches, and you’ll find dozens of similar articles, some following the same theory that Bird’s a stealth Objectivist, others arguing completely the opposite – like this 2016 piece on Slate, or this rebuttal of the criticisms of Tomorrowland written by David Sims of The Atlantic.
Our question, though, is what does Brad Bird himself think of all this? Does he think of himself as an Objectivist? Moreover, does he actually enjoy all this critical dissection of his work? We got to ask him precisely this a few weeks ago, as Incredibles 2 opened in the States.
To our surprise, Bird’s response was quite candid: “Me being the Ayn Rand guy is a lazy piece of criticism.”
“At some point I just have to give up, you know?” Bird said. “Yeah, sure. After Iron Giant, I was the big lefty who was trying to apologize or make Russia seem like it was friendly to some very misguided reviewers. I was being soft on Communism or something. Then I became the right-wing darling with Incredibles, where it was seen as being elitist, which I thought was a misread of The Incredibles. But I had to sort of go [wearily], ‘Okay’. Then of course I was a lefty again with my food-loving, French-hugging Ratatouille. I find it really kind of tedious, a lot of it. Poorly thought out.”
While Bird readily admits that he’s read Rand’s work in the past, he denies that he lives by it as some kind of daily tenet:
“I’ve read Ayn Rand, and I think young people, particularly when you’re in your early 20s and it’s you against the world, you should absolutely believe in that very, almost strident individualism. But I think, when you become a little older, you see the limits of that; compromise is not a terrible thing always. There’s bad compromise, but there’s good compromise.”
As for what Bird thinks about some of his critics – well, he doesn’t hold back there, either.
“If I did filmmaking that was as lazy as that analysis, it would all be shit,” Bird said. “So let’s get that straight up right now. There are shitty critics out there, just like there are shitty filmmakers.”
Writers have already started analyzing the possible subtexts of Incredibles 2.
Whether you agree with the readings or not, Bird’s films certainly provoke more debate than your average popcorn movie.