SALT LAKE CITY — A lot has changed in the 14 years since Pixar’s “The Incredibles” first landed in theaters back in 2004.
It’s not exaggerating to say it was a different era then: Spandex-clad superheroes were still a novelty, not the norm; Tobey Maguire was still Spider-Man and had never danced down any streets with an emo haircut; DC hadn’t begun washing off the stink from “Batman and Robin”; adjectives such as “dark” and “gritty” weren’t Hollywood’s go-to buzzwords; and the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe was still years away from being even a twinkle in Kevin Feige’s eye.
And things were just as different at Disney and Pixar back then, too. When “The Incredibles” came out — becoming only the sixth feature-length release for Pixar (by comparison, “Incredibles 2” is its 20th) — the House of Mouse not only didn’t own the smaller, Culver City-based studio, but it actually looked like the partnership between the two companies might be coming to an end just a year later in 2005 when their initial contract was set to expire. This left fans justifiably concerned about the future of Disney animation, which, at that point, had produced a string of duds such as “Brother Bear” (2003) and “Home on the Range” (2004), as well as for the future of Pixar’s own creations — including “The Incredibles” — over which Disney would have retained complete control even if the studios had parted ways.
(Besides which, there were already indications that Disney, under then-CEO Michael Eisner, was getting ready to cash in on Pixar’s hits with a slew of cheap, straight-to-video sequels.)
A little more than a year later, though, Disney’s new CEO, Bob Iger, made the game-changing move to acquire Pixar for a staggering $7.4 billion — almost double what they would pay, years later, for either Marvel or Lucasfilm — and the rest, as they say, is history.
It’s into this vastly different cinematic landscape that “Incredibles 2” is finally, at long last, being released, which can’t help but cause one to wonder, why now? Why not 10 years ago? Why wait so long that the target audience for the new movie hadn’t even been born when the first one came out, and fans who saw the original when they were young probably relate more now to Bob and Helen Parr (aka Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl) than the kids, Violet or Dash — or Jack-Jack, for that matter?
Well, it turns out the answer is pretty simple: Because now is when writer-director Brad Bird felt he actually had all the pieces to tell the right story.
Bird has said for years that he wouldn’t return to do an “Incredibles” sequel unless he thought he could equal or surpass the original — which, depending on the reviews you look at, he might’ve actually pulled off (rather incredibly).
And Pixar is the rare studio that allows its directors that kind of creative integrity.
Speaking to The New Paper, Bird said, "There wasn't any gun to my head — 'You must do this now.' They (Pixar) were always like, 'When you're ready.' And I finally went, 'I think I'm ready, maybe.'"
At a press event for “Incredibles 2,” Bird told reporters, “The thing is, 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,’ IGN reported. It’s like, 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, that’s 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 we wanted to tell.”
But for all the fans who spent this last decade and a half wondering what the holdup could possibly be when every other Pixar movie seemed to be getting its own sequel (or two, or three), this next detail might only add retroactively to the frustration: Two of the core ideas that appear in “Incredibles 2” have actually been there pretty much since the first movie was released, according to Bird.
Specifically, the idea to have Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl switch places — him taking over family duties while she goes off on her own adventures — and the “unopened present,” as Bird calls it, of Jack-Jack’s nascent powers.
“Those (concepts) were in from the beginning and never left the project,” Bird told IGN. “What changed is the villain plot. And that shifted endlessly. And it drove me insane.”
Of course, while working through that for years, it wasn’t like Bird didn’t keep himself busy. He first stepped in for “Geri’s Game” director Jan Pinkava on Pixar’s 2007 release “Ratatouille,” and then took a break from animation altogether for his next two projects, “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” (2011) and “Tomorrowland” (2015).
Along the way, Bird was also approached as producer Kathleen Kennedy’s first pick to direct a little movie called “Star Wars: Episode VII,″ which he turned down in favor of “Tomorrowland” (to the chagrin of many "Star Wars" fans) — but not before seriously considering a so-crazy-it-just-might-work scheme to direct both films simultaneously.
(Incidentally, Bird's plan, which was ultimately scrapped, hinged on a relatively unknown indie director named Colin Trevorrow acting as his stand-in on the “Star Wars” set when he would be off dealing with “Tomorrowland.” Those initial discussions eventually led to Trevorrow getting his big break helming 2015's “Jurassic World.”)
One of the biggest issues of waiting as long as Bird and Co. did to return to “The Incredibles” is that the intervening 14 years have seen so many superhero movies come and go — movies that have been anywhere from awesome to awful to revolutionary — making yet another story about superheroes, no matter how beloved the original may have been, seem a lot less necessary.
But Bird has a secret weapon: Superheroes were never his real focus anyway.
As the filmmaker told The New Paper, “If you think about it in terms of there's been too many superhero movie stories told, you just won't even try. But I felt like what made ours special in the first place was that it was about a family, and that if I kept it about the family, we'd be all right."
This is also crucial to explaining one of the most noticeable storytelling decisions in the film — namely, that it picks up almost literally right where the last one left off as the family of heroes takes on the Underminer (voiced by Pixar regular John Ratzenberger).
The powers themselves were always meant to be just a representation of the individual family members and their personalities.
Speaking with USA Today, Bird explained, "Men are expected to be strong, so (Mr. Incredible) has super-strength. Moms are pulled in 10 different directions, so (Elastigirl) is stretchy. Teenagers are insecure and defensive, so (Violet) has invisibility and force fields. Ten-year-olds want to push every button now, so (Dash) has super-speed. And babies (Jack-Jack) are unknowns."
Because of that, Bird felt it was important to not age the characters the way so many sequels do, saying, “People tend to be literal about sequels. ‘It's 14 years later, they have to be 14 years older.’ But that concept is not as cool.”
And it’s one of the unique features of animation, Bird argues, that you don't have to worry about changing a character’s age just because the actors have gotten older. With the exception of Spencer Fox (Dash in the 2004 original), who was swapped out for 10-year-old Huck Milner, the main voice cast is almost entirely the same. Even Bird’s son Michael, now 30, reprised his small role as Violet’s teenage crush, Tony Rydinger, albeit with a bit of digital tweaking.
Now, if 14 years still seems like an unreasonably long time to wait for a sequel to what may still be one of the greatest animated movies of all time, just remember: It was supposed to be even longer.
Yep. That’s right. “Incredibles 2” was originally slated for a June 21, 2019, release, but it got bumped up more than a full year when it became clear that Pixar’s previously planned 2018 release, “Toy Story 4,” wouldn’t be ready on time.2 comments on this story
“You hear stories about mothers being able to lift cars off their kid, and that adrenaline kicked in for the whole crew,” Bird told Vulture. “Also, for me personally, the training that I got in TV (on shows such as “The Simpsons” and “King of the Hill”) really helped: You couldn’t linger too long over decisions, because you’d fall an episode behind.”
As for whether fans can expect an “Incredibles 3” in the near future, the answer is, unsurprisingly, “Don’t count on it.”
Asked about any ideas he might have for a third installment in an interview with Moviefone, Bird said bluntly, “My idea is called ‘Brad takes a long vacation and doesn’t ever answer this question.’”
So … maybe in 2032?