When Den of Geek visited the sprawling campus of Pixar Animation last month for a sneak peek at The Incredibles 2, we got to see 22 minutes of footage from the movie, as well as presentations on other aspects of the film’s production, design and visuals that also involved other sequences from the story (some of them still yet to be completed at the time). Picking up right where the first movie left off, the new film follows the Parr family as they navigate a world where superheroes are still illegal — but where an enigmatic private benefactor wants to sway public opinion on the Parrs in a favorable direction again.
We also had the chance to tour the archives of Pixar, where just about all the materials pertaining to the 20 films produced during the studio’s 23-year history (starting with Toy Story in 1995) are safely and carefully housed for generations to come. It’s a remarkable treasure trove of historical artifacts from what will surely be considered for years to come as one of the greatest runs of animated entertainment ever realized, a stretch now continuing with the new chapter in the story of superheroes Bob and Helen Parr and their three exceptionally gifted children.
But in many ways the centerpiece of our visit was a press conference held by Incredibles 2 writer/director Brad Bird, along with producers Nicole Paradis Grindle and John Walker. Bird spoke about the challenges of meeting his release date, what themes he wanted to explore in the new film, and the challenges of coming up with a unique new take on the Parr family at a time when — 14 years after the first movie came out — superheroes are everywhere in movies, TV and pop culture in general (the press conference excerpts are edited for length and clarity).
How did Toy Story 4 and Incredibles 2 switch places in the release schedule?
Brad Bird: We often shift, I wouldn’t say often, but it has happened a number of times. The original Incredibles was supposed to be after Cars. It was going to be Nemo, Cars, Incredibles, and our reels came together a little earlier than Cars did, so we moved up. And the same situation happened here with Toy Story 4. They’ve been going in a number of different directions in story, and it was concluded that we were a little further along than they were. So, we moved up. So that was a challenge for us, but the studio is three times bigger than it was during Incredibles. So we actually, if we didn’t choke, we could actually theoretically get the movie made, and then that is what came to pass.
Nicole Grindle: And I would just add that it can a real benefit to the production to be under some amount of pressure…Having worked here on a number of films I can tell you that when there’s that kind of schedule and intensity, people really rise to the occasion. Sometimes I think they even do better work.
Brad Bird: Yeah, when I got involved with Ratatouille it was a little over a year and a half between my involvement and the finished film. We only retained two lines of dialogue and two shots from all of the previous versions that have been done. It was like running in front of a moving train laying down track…as Nicole said, everyone rallied and as long as it’s clear where we want to go, people rise to the occasion.
Can you talk about the decision to set the film at the moment that the original ended and any of the courses or options that you considered at the beginning?
Brad Bird: I thought about aging everybody the way everybody does and then I thought, no, that sucks. So that’s about as deep as it went. One of the conceits of the original film that I tried initially when I was first starting to work on the project, long before Pixar, I went to a comic book shop and thought I’ve got to think up new powers. And after about a half an hour in the comic book shop, I realized every power has been done by somebody, somewhere, even if it’s only self-published 100 issues in Ohio. Everything has been done.
And then right after that, I realized I’m not very interested in the powers. That’s not the part that interests me, what interests me is the idea of having a family. And having there be 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 super strength. Women, mothers are always pulled in a million different directions, so I had her be elastic. Teenagers are insecure and defensive, so I had Violet have force fields and invisibility. 10-year-olds are energy balls, they can’t be stopped.
And babies are unknowns. Maybe they have no powers, maybe they have all powers, we don’t know. So that’s what Jack-Jack was. He was seemingly the first normal one in the family. Then at the end of Incredibles, you find out that he’s a wild card and he’s sort of a Swiss army knife of powers. And that to me reminds me that babies can grasp languages really easily and adopt them easily.
But that idea changes if you age the characters up. The insight into those periods of your life, and those particular perspectives disappears once you age them up. I’m not interested in a college aged Jack-Jack. I’m just not.
Can you talk about how this superhero movie renaissance has affected The Incredibles in any way?
Brad Bird: Well, on some level it’s kind of like going out to the football field and there’s 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. Life doesn’t grow there anymore. So there’s that aspect where you feel like, oh Jesus, it’s really been covered. It kind of reminds me of how Westerns were in the late 1950s where 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, but you also have a bunch of television shows.
Even years ago, there was a show called Heroes, which the creator actually told me was a mash-up of the movies Crash and The Incredibles. He actually said, “I was influenced by that, and I thought if you melded Crash with The Incredibles that’s kind of what this is.” Heroes used to do 5, 6, 10 different superheroes with storylines that continued on every week. So you were doing superhero stories every week and it seemed like everything had been done. So it’s easy to freak out and go, oh why even try? Everybody’s got everything done to death. But, then again, I return to what makes us unique and it’s this idea of a family. And that superheroes have to hide their abilities. Those things actually are unique to us, and there’s plenty left to explore.
John Walker: When we were trying to sell the idea of the first Incredibles, one of the criticisms of it was, well what is it? Is it a family movie? Is it a spy movie? Is it a superhero movie? You have to pick one. And I think that’s been the strength of both the films, is that they are all those things and that it isn’t just rooted just a superhero genre.
Back when the first Incredibles came out, diversity wasn’t being discussed very much. Now it’s very much on everybody’s mind, but in the footage I didn’t see much of that.
Brad Bird: Well, it’s in there, it’s not in the sections that you saw. 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 we were in production, I had that idea right on the heels of the first film. That’s the oldest idea in this current movie, that and exploring Jack-Jack’s powers. So we don’t really respond to whatever the thing of the moment is, because our lead times are so long. We just tell the stories that we want to tell…I think we’ve done okay, and we will continue to present that sort of world, because that’s the world that we live in.
How quickly did you find a new story for this one, knowing that you have a lot of people who love what you did in the original?
Brad Bird: I think that it’s really distracting to think of that. If you think about pleasing an audience that has no definition. It’s old, it’s young, it’s east, west, north, south, conservatives, liberals, everyone in between. If you try to think about pleasing that, and what will they like two years from now, you just will curl up in a fetal ball and never come out of your room. The better way to think about it is, I’m going into a darkened movie theater, the curtains are opening, and I’m seeing what? What do I want to see? And if you ask that question of yourself that way, you’re always connecting with the person that wants to be told a story.
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.
John Walker: The fact that we took 14 years to do it suggests we took the challenge seriously.
Brad Bird: The thing is that 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.” It’s like, money on the table is not what gets me up in the morning. Making something that people are going to enjoy 100 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.
There was a very interesting idea in the first movie about what makes someone special or super. What are the ideas that this movie is exploring?
Brad Bird: It explores a lot of ideas. I don’t like to talk about the ideas as if that were the reason I made the movie was to push some agenda. It’s more like you create something that’s hopefully as fun as entertaining, and there are places where you can put little ideas here and there that add dimension to it. The most important mission of the first movie was to entertain the crap out of people. And the second thing was, we have some other things we want to comment on, and some of them is the role of men and women, fathers and mothers. How do teenagers view the world? That kind of stuff.
There were a lot of little things buried in the new movie. Again, exploring the roles of men and women. The importance of fathers participating. The importance of allowing women to also express themselves through work and that they’re just as vital as men are. There’s aspects of being controlled by screens. There’s feelings about the difficulties of parenthood, that parenting is a heroic act. All of those things are in this 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’d like to have it in dessert if possible.
Can you talk about some of the ideas that maybe didn’t make it into this movie as it evolved?
Brad Bird: We don’t have enough time to discuss the ideas that didn’t make it into this movie. The two ideas that were in my head as the first movie was ending were a role switch between Bob and Helen, and showing Jack-Jack’s powers and making Jack-Jack a main character rather than a side character. What changed is the plot, that shifted endlessly and drove me insane. Because I was always faced with a release date and 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 that the other first idea didn’t have. That half of the story was shifting always.
The Incredibles 2 is out in theaters June 15.