Still No Capes!: Pixar launches a sequel to one of its most beloved films with ‘Incredibles 2’
Typical teenager Tony Rydinger has just asked out his classmate Violet Parr and is enjoying a sunny day outside a track and field competition. Suddenly a supervillain bursts out from underground with a gigantic drill hundreds of feet long. Proclaiming himself “The Underminer,” he threatens his device will destroy the entire peaceful city of Municiberg. “I am always beneath you,” he declares, “but nothing is beneath me!”
Suddenly, a family of five appears on the scene, dressed in red, black, and yellow superhero outfits. Tony blinks his eyes in disbelief. One of the superheroes, a teenage girl with the power to create force fields using only her bare hands, looks suspiciously like someone he knows …
So begins Incredibles 2, in theaters June 15, the newest Disney release from animation powerhouse studio Pixar. This new entry’s story opens mere moments after the conclusion of the 2004 modern classic The Incredibles. And it takes things to the next level from the original film, in ways large and small—visual designer Philip Metschan provides an example.
“The Underminer’s original drill was five-sided, with five treads in a kind of star pattern. For the purposes of that film, it looks cool. It bursts out of the ground and lands; that’s as much as it needs to do. But for this film, we go inside it and needed to drive it down the road,” Metschan says.
“In initial [animation simulation] testing, we tried different things out, like could we drive this five-sided thing down the road? And the answer was no,” Metschan says. “It was like an overweight dachshund dragging its belly on the ground. So we had to redesign that to make it six-sided.”
As the Incredibles attempt to stop the titanic drill—and the Underminer as he speedily rolls through the city in a destructive barrage—the animators had to design the entire city from scratch.
“We built the city working backwards,” production designer Ralph Eggleston explains. “Looking at shots from the original film, when we hadn’t actually designed the entire city, we tried to reconstruct Municiberg as best we could.” For example, if a character in the original film had turned a corner at the bank and ended up at the town hall, then that would be reflected in the sequel’s citywide design.
The city even remains consistent in ways no typical viewer would notice. For example, the skyline remains precisely true to the city they designed even when viewed in the background through a window during an office scene or when the characters drive to the top of a hill. That’s the kind of attention to detail Pixar has become legendary for.
Greenlighting the sequel
The original 2004 Incredibles followed a superhero family forced into a governmental protection program after superheroes have been outlawed. The movie was a smash, earning $261.4 million domestically and winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Picture. The sequel is the brainchild of director and screenwriter Brad Bird, who also wrote and directed the 2004 original. After helming that film and Pixar’s beloved 2007 Ratatouille, he switched to live action for a decade, directing Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and George Clooney in Tomorrowland.
So why release a sequel now? It’s no secret that Pixar has primarily turned its attention in the past five years to follow-ups, with 2013’s Monsters University, 2016’s Finding Dory, 2017’s Cars 3, and summer 2019’s upcoming Toy Story 4. Yet Bird rejects the notion of his film as a cash grab.
“There’s an expression in this business”—and here Bird briefly switches to an Italian mobster accent—“‘You’re leaving money on the table.’” Switching back to his normal voice, Bird continues, “If it was a cash grab, we wouldn’t have waited 14 years. It would make no sense.”
“I had actually been talking to Pixar on and off about doing another Incredibles movie forever. Finally, the time seemed like it was almost past due. After all, you want to work with most of the people who made the first movie work so well,” Bird says. “I felt like if I waited any more, that chance would slip by. And if there’s another Incredibles movie, I’m the guy to do it.”
Although 14 years have passed in real life since the original film, the last thing Bird wanted was the sequel to take place about 14 years later, noting that the characters’ powers correspond to their ages.
“Teenagers are defensive and insecure, so Violet has invisibility and a force field. Ten-year-olds are unstoppable balls of energy, so Dash has super speed and never slows down. Babies are unknown, which is why we had Jack-Jack’s powers be unknown [for most of the first film],” Bird explained. “So I’m not interested in a college-aged Jack-Jack.”
The opening sequence takes place mere moments after the original’s conclusion, while the majority of the sequel’s run time takes place approximately three months later. That three months makes just enough of a difference—while all the other characters look the same, if you look very closely, you can see Jack-Jack’s two front teeth just barely starting to poke through his gums.
Crafting the sequel
“I had even started developing the opening with the Underminer years before,” Bird says. “Then I got involved in other stuff, but I was always still thinking about the Incredibles.” The first order of business was creating a compelling story.
While the main character in the first film was Mr. Incredible, the focus here shifts to Elastigirl. New characters Winston and Evelyn Deavor are sibling billionaires who co-lead telecommunications company DevTech, which starts the public relations campaign to bring superheroes back into public view. They feel that Helen/Elastigirl will be a more appealing media figure for their cause than Mr. Incredible—and frankly, they’re probably not wrong.
Accordingly, Mr. Incredible is compelled, largely against his will, into much more of a stay-at-home-dad role than he would ideally prefer. “The only time you ever see Jack-Jack dressed in clothes instead of just his diaper,” costume designer Bryn Imagire points out, “is when Helen dresses him.”
Elastigirl receives her biggest solo action scene to date in this installment, in which she embarks on a high-speed chase through the city to stop a rogue train on her elasti-cycle, a fantastical motorbike with the capability to stretch, twist, and bend just like its rider. Story supervisor Ted Mathot took the lead on the elasti-cycle sequence. “In the script, all it said was something like ‘An amazing action sequence ensues,’” Mathot says, laughing.
So how to up the ante? Helen hears about the emergency on a police scanner, so the police get involved. The police cars come to a wall of traffic and hit a screeching halt, but Helen stretches and somersaults over it. So not only is it a cool action moment, but it visually demonstrates that existing law enforcement alone are insufficient to fight crime, and superheroes need to be brought back—tying into the sequel’s main plot.
The technology used for animation has also substantially improved in the past 14 years. “The superhero suits were actually just shaded onto the bodies of the character models in the first film,” explains character artist Deanna Marsigliese. “Now they’re actual costumes which stretch across the skin, so they look and feel more like real garments.”
Several other subplot elements were added to the sequel, too. A team of second-rate “wannabe” superheroes attempts to join the Incredibles’ ranks despite their lamer powers, including Screech with his high-pitched scream that can shatter glass, or Reflux who can breathe hot lava. Violet tries to navigate the early stages of her first relationship. And Jack-Jack discovers myriad superpowers in his arsenal, beyond just those revealed near the end of the original Incredibles.
Did Bird look to the likes of Finding Dory, Cars 3, or Monsters University in crafting this follow-up? “I didn’t really look at those films. I tend to think more of The Godfather Part II and The Empire Strikes Back and The Road Warrior,” Bird claims. One doesn’t exactly get a Godfather Part II vibe when watching Incredibles 2, but you can’t fault Bird for swinging for the fences.
The character of Dash required a new voice actor in the sequel. The original voice was Spencer Fox, who was 11 when the original film came out, but now at 25 he could no longer pull off the character. Pixar got a newcomer, the eerily similar-sounding Huck Milner.
Teenage daughter Violet is still voiced by author and journalist Sarah Vowell. Vowell originally landed the role after Pixar producers heard a 1997 segment she did for the radio program This American Life, in which she and her father—who hold opposite political views about guns and weapons—attempt to reconstruct and fire a 1700s-style homemade cannon as a father-daughter bonding experience.
Most surprisingly, Jack-Jack is again voiced by Eli Fucile, son of supervising animator Tony Fucile. The original vocals were captured over the course of about an hour in the early 2000s—baby Eli was followed around with an audio recorder. Though Bird had originally planned to cast a new Jack-Jack, as they had with Dash, “They went back to the original recordings and found a bunch of stuff they hadn’t used,” Fucile explains.
And is Eli, now 16, embarrassed that his baby recordings will once again be heard by tens of millions of people? “No, Eli is thrilled!” Fucile says. They did, however, bring in a new baby to record a select few lines, such as the one included in the trailer when Dash says “We want to fight bad guys!” and Jack-Jack responds with several syllables of gibberish that ends with a clearly enunciated “… bad guys!”
One character who will remain as only a voice in the sequel is Frozone’s wife, Honey, a one-scene but nonetheless memorable character from the original. During the original’s climactic battle sequence, Frozone frantically looks for his superhero suit as his wife, seen but not heard in the next room, explains that she put it away.
Lucius Best: “The public is in danger!”
Honey: “My evening’s in danger!”
Lucius Best: “You tell me where my suit is, woman! We are talking about the greater good!”
Honey: “‘Greater good?’ I am your wife! I’m the greatest good you are ever gonna get!”
While they considered finally showing Honey’s long-anticipated face, the creative team ultimately decided to keep her disembodied in order to preserve the mystery.
The importance of good voice acting can’t be overstated, says Bird. “What it takes an actor five seconds to say can take animators three weeks. They have to listen to it over and over and over again. If it’s flat or has no dimension, as an animator it can make you want to kill yourself.”
Bird would know, seeing as he returns to voice Edna Mode, the blunt fashion designer who creates the Incredibles super-suits. (“No capes!”) In pre-production for the original film, a female actress was originally planned for Mode’s voice, but Pixar staff so enjoyed Bird’s voice when describing what he wanted the character to sound like that he eventually took on the role himself.
And there may be a surprise in store for Edna Mode. “I’m very happy with [what we do with her character]. I think it’s an unexpected thing for her character to do—but still in character, if you think about it,” Bird teases.
One final question for Bird. The Pizza Planet truck from the first Toy Story has famously had a cameo in almost every subsequent Pixar film. It even appeared in The Good Dinosaur, which takes place 65 million years ago, as the shape of a rock. It’s appeared in every Pixar film, that is, except the first Incredibles. Will that be remedied in the sequel?
“I don’t know, maybe they just haven’t found it [in the original] yet.” Bird smiles mischievously. “Just because somebody can’t find it doesn’t mean it’s not there.” Where should we be looking? “That would take away all the fun. You’ve got to look.” Bird pauses, then adds, “Maybe this will be the first film that doesn’t have it.”
AT THE MOVIES
What is your all-time favorite moviegoing memory or experience?
Brad Bird, director and screenwriter: Seeing Purple Rain on opening day in San Francisco and being one of two white people in the theater. It was a wild audience, absolutely packed, and it was a blast. I didn’t get every joke that was in the film [laughs], but I loved having that experience. Magical, like what you hope movies are.
John Walker, producer: I may have been eight or nine years old, at a drive-in with my parents. We were seeing—the name of the movie is escaping me, but it’s a Western with a scene where the guy is drunk on his horse and the horse is also drunk?
Bird [interrupting]: Cat Ballou.
Walker: Yes. Lee Marvin is drunk, his horse is drunk, and they’re both leaning up against the building. I was a little kid and thought, “That’s the funniest thing I’ve ever seen!”
Nicole Grindle, producer: For me, it was the first time I saw a movie. I saw The Sound of Music in a big movie theater. I think I was only four. I remember trying to work out whether this was real or not. I was completely absorbed in it. I just vividly remember sitting there with my aunt and uncle, mesmerized. Of course, I listened to the soundtrack repeatedly throughout my childhood. It’s the reason I wanted to work in my movies, how much I loved being in that world with those characters and believing their story.
What is your favorite snack at the movie theater concession stand?
Bird: It’s not exciting at all, but I go with popcorn every time. It’s just crunchy and salty and good. It makes you want the beverage that they want to sell you.
You directed Ratatouille with all that fancy food, but you’re still just a straight popcorn guy?
Bird: You’d think I should have foie gras.
Grindle: I take peanut M&M’s or Raisinets and put them in popcorn. You’re eating your popcorn when, “Hey, I’ve come upon a little chocolate.”