In these trying times, 2004 seems like a lifetime ago for a variety of reasons. Yet if you're a Pixar fan, you may be reminiscing about that bygone era -- it's when the groundbreaking animation studio's family superhero adventure The Incredibles was released, and now the very long-awaited sequel is just two weeks away.
Given that the film had more than a decade to percolate, you may think that the central ideas shifted quite a bit in the interim years. Yet according Brad Bird, who wrote and directed both Incredibles 2 and the original, the broad strokes were there pretty much from the start.
"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 [him] a main character rather than a side character," Bird told outlets including CBR during a press conference at Pixar's Emeryville, California headquarters this past April. "Those were in from the beginning and never left the project."
That role-reversal has already been evidenced in advance trailers for the film, in which Helen Parr makes a full-time return to superheroing as Elastigirl, while Bob (Mr. Incredible) stays home with their three kids. Jack-Jack's powers -- heavy emphasis on powers, plural -- have also been a centerpiece of the film's marketing, showing that the Parr's infant child fits right in with the rest of the fam.
And yes, Jack-Jack's still an infant -- despite many years passing in the real world, as has been previously disclosed, Incredibles 2 picks up directly after the first, and reunites the core cast of Craig T. Nelson (Mr. Incredible), Holly Hunter (Elastigirl) and Sarah Vowell as Violet Parr, plus Samuel L. Jackson as Frozone and Bird himself as fashion deigner-to-the-superheroes Edna Mode. (Huck Milner steps in as Dash Parr, who was voiced by Spencer Fox in the original).
The motivation behind picking up right where the last one left off was pretty simple: Bird had no interest in exploring older versions of the characters.
"I thought about aging everybody the way everybody does, and then I thought, 'No that sucks,'" Bird said, with a laugh. "That’s about as deep as it went. I’m not interested in a college-aged Jack-Jack, I’m just not. I’m interested in my sons growing up, but in terms of the interest for me in this movie, it stays more iconic if everyone situates themselves. I also was on the first eight seasons of The Simpsons and that’s worked out rather well for them, so I’ll stick with that."
Another thing that looks to stay consistent from the first film is the overall asethetic, especially in regards to its titular superhero family. Fans of the genre noted the heavy Silver Age influence in the original -- with plenty of comparisons to Marvel's Fantastic Four, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1961 -- and the sequel will retain that retro-futuristic feel.
"It is a strange world, it doesn’t adhere strictly to the ‘60s," Bird told reporters. "In the first movie we had an iPad before there were iPads. In fact, I think Apple owes me on that one. [Laughs] So we have gadgets that are futuristic gadgets, but for instance, in this movie we don’t have portable phones... It’s kind of ‘60s futurism the way a Bond film is or Jonny Quest or something like that. I would say we stay generally with the playbook established by the first film. It’s just that we’re better at doing it now."
Yet while the film might have a similar style -- albeit with 14 years of advances in animation technology -- Incredibles 2 has plenty of new elements. Bob Odernkik and Catherine Keener both joined the franchise, as the voices of Winston Deavor and Evelyn Deavor, a brother-and-sister team pushing for the return of "supers." Jonathan Banks, Odenkirk's Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad castmate (Bird is a big fan of both shows, not surprisingly), takes over as the new voice of Rick Dicker, who was played in the first film by the late Bud Luckey.
"You want the characters to feel consistent, you want the world to feel consistent," Bird said. "But you don’t want anybody to know what’s going to happen next."
Incredibles 2 also has plenty of new things to say about family and society, even if spreading a message wasn't the primary intention of the filmmakers.
"It explores a lot of ideas," Bird said of the sequel. "I don’t like to talk about the ideas as if that’s the reason made the movie was to push some agenda. It’s more like you hopefully create something that’s fun and entertaining, and there are places that you can 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, 'Oh, and we have some other things we’d like to comment on.'"
One of those things, Bird explained, is a look at gender roles, both in the workplace and within a family unit, though he was quick to point out those plans predated current conversations by years. As he put it, "We don’t really respond to whatever the thing of the moment is because our lead times are so long."
"We have things exploring the roles of men and women," Bird said. "The importance of fathers participating. The importance of allowing women to also express themselves through work, and they’re just as valuable as men are."
So, like any Pixar film, don't expect Incredibles 2 to be empty cinematic calories -- but it's clear that the movie isn't looking to force-feed lessons, either.
"There’s aspects of being controlled by screens," Bird continued, discussing the film's themes. "There’s feelings about the difficulties of parenthood; parenting is a heroic act. All of those things are kind of in this movie, but if I started to single out one of them and say, 'This movie is about that,' it doesn’t give you an accurate picture. 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."
Listening to Bird and producers John Walker and Nicole Paradis Grindle talk about the film, one sentiment resonates: After 14 years, Incredibles 2 exists because the team wanted it to, not because making another one -- especially in a market that has since become inescapably saturated with superhero movies -- was something Disney and Pixar felt they "had" to do.
"Many sequels are cash grabs," Bird told the gathered press. "There’s a saying in the business that I can’t stand, where they go, 'You don’t make another one, you’re leaving money on the table!' Money on the table isn’t what makes me get up in the morning. Making something people are gonna 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. It’s simply, we had a story that we wanted to tell."
While much of that story -- including the film's antagonists -- remain under wraps, viewers can decide for themselves if it was worth the wait starting on June 15.