(2018—Director: Brad Bird)
— by Renard N. Bansale —
(out of 5 stars)
Potential spoilers below
I was not always a big supporter of feature animation on the big screen.
By the summer of 2008, I was entering the fourth year of my self-imposed fasting from animation. I had come to believe, as is the case for much of western society since the medium’s birth, that animation was for children. In my stubborn pride, I believed that I had matured over enjoying anything from that medium.
It was not until my dad and my older brother coaxed me into watching Kung Fu Panda that summer in 2008 that I started to change my mind. It did not take long for that conversion to become permanent: I watched WALL•E with my family a few months later. To this day, WALL•E remains my all-time favorite animated film as well as my second all-time favorite film in general. (Note: Do not get me started on how WALL•E and The Dark Knight both deserved Best Picture Oscar nominations that year.)
While Kung Fu Panda and WALL•E concluded the anti-cartoon stage of my life, The Incredibles found itself standing at the beginning of it. I had watched and enjoyed writer-director Brad Bird’s stylish and multi-layered superhero spectacle with my dad in late 2004, yet it somehow became the last animated film I watched on the big screen for the next four years.
Despite the movie’s association with that “lost” period in my life, I will say that the fasting never came about because of The Incredibles in particular. The past fourteen years have been quite kind to the film, now regarded as one of Disney-Pixar’s masterpieces. At the same time, the absence of and yearning for an Incredibles sequel, hinted at by the movie’s blatant cliffhanger, became one notable ingredient in the fuel feeding many a growing disappointment with Pixar’s output throughout the 2010s. It is fortunate, then, that writer-director Brad Bird succeeds for the most part with Incredibles 2 in instantly reorienting viewers with the Parr family, their superhero abilities, their closest friends, and the stylish retro setting with futuristic engineering marvels, all brought to life by Pixar’s ever-crisp animation.
The sequel starts where the first film left off: The Parr family—husband Bob/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), wife Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), teenaged daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell), troublemaker son Dash (Huck Milner, taking over from original voice actor Spencer Fox), and infant Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile, with Nicholas Bird providing monster sounds)—are just leaving Dash’s track meet. The Underminer (John Ratzenberger, forever Pixar’s lucky charm) emerges to rob the Metroville Bank, forcing the family to assume their superhero identities. An unsuccessful chase and battle result in substantial damage throughout the city and a firm reprimand by the government on the family and all “supers”.
Wanting to normalize supers once more, telecommunications tycoon and superhero fan Winston Deavor (a chipper Bob Odenkirk) approaches Helen, Bob, and Bob’s best friend and fellow super Lucius Best/Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson). Deavor envisions a publicity stunt to jumpstart society’s positive perception of supers and legalize their heroism again. He first tasks Helen/Elastigirl to undertake the stunt, and with the help of Deavor’s laid-back inventor sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener), Elastigirl returns to fight crime on the streets. This leaves the disgruntled Bob to care for the children. Bob knows that Helen’s success could mean greater freedom for himself and for their children as adults.
To keep Helen more focused on crime-fighting and less on the kids (in particular Jack-Jack’s emerging and unrestrained host of powers) will, even for Bob, amount to one incredible task.
The biggest strength of Incredibles 2 lies in its returning main cast. Writer-director Brad Bird has Helen/Elastigirl handling the bulk of the film’s action. Her screentime in the first Incredibles merely hinted at the amount of stretching and sleuthing skills she gets to exercise here. Incredibles 2 also highlights the continuing mid-life crisis of Bob/Mr. Incredible. The sequel avoids repeating the first Incredibles by channeling his initial jealousy towards Helen’s new job into managing the kids at home.
While the Parr kids all get their fair share of screentime (big fan of Dash’s hyperactivity and youthful bravado—”Launch. The. Rockets!”), it is the adorable Jack-Jack who outright steals his scenes here. His nighttime duel with a raccoon, during which he shuffles through a handful of superpowers, registers as the movie’s standout scene. Finally, Lucius/Frozone and the ever-popular super costume designer/engineer Edna Mode (voiced again by writer-director Bird) make the best of their sprinkled presences without coming off as redundant. One particular moment in which the preoccupied Frozone instructs Violet and Dash in haste on a certain vehicle’s voice command serves as an indirect way to remind audiences of his longtime friendship with Bob/Mr. Incredible. Audiences will remember how and why they fell in love with these characters through the dedication of their voice actors.
In interviews following Incredibles 2’s premiere, Brad Bird confirmed that he and his crew had to sacrifice several story ideas to finish in time. Factor in the first film’s popularity, the sequel’s belated nature, and the current superhero craze in entertainment media, and it makes sense that Bird was pulled in different directions during writing and pre-production. Perhaps these are why the story and newer characters around the returning main cast do not seem to receive the same level of attention and quality. The tragic backstory of the Deavor siblings, for example, could have involved more of Winston and Evelyn’s distinct views of their past, to translate better towards the movie’s eventual revelations. The outrage of the Screenslaver villain towards mankind’s dependence on supers and blind consumerism feels tacked-on, and the new supporting supers (including Karen/Voyd, voiced by Sophia Bush) add little to the proceedings, despite their colorful designs.
Writer-director Brad Bird has delivered the long-desired sequel to one of his best films, and fans deserve to celebrate. Yet while the sequel runs three minutes longer than its predecessor, it somehow feels shorter and less emotionally exhausting. It has become quite tempting for me to regard Incredibles 2 less as a stellar follow-up and more like a stellar appendix to the first movie—one that is nonetheless well-furnished, technically ferocious, and thrilling in the moment.
Was it worth the fourteen-year wait? In several respects, yes. Still, as Pixar moves ahead with its projected slate of strictly original works up to 2022, it would not surprise me if viewers over time began to hesitate in answering that question so affirmatively.
P.S. The short “Bao” precedes Incredibles 2 in theaters. A heartwarming and funny tale of a mother attached to a dumpling that comes alive before her eyes, the Domee Shi-directed short’s message transcends its quirky Chinese-based character designs.
(Parental Note: Incredibles 2 has been rated PG by the MPAA “for action sequences and some brief mild language”. It has also been rated PG by the BBFC for “mild bad language” and “violence”, and rated A-II (Adults and older children) by the Catholic News Service for containing “action violence and gunplay and mild profane and crass language.” Incredibles 2 has also attracted controversy for its handful of strobe light moments, which could trigger epileptics and anyone hypersensitive to flashing lights. Those with a history of these should exercise caution.)
Renard N. Bansale once aspired to become an astronaut, before he found his passion in film discussion, criticism, conducting script-reading sessions of feature film screenplays, and annual Oscar tracking. Hailing from Seattle, WA, Renard graduated from JPCatholic in 2016 with a B.S. in Communications Media (Emphasis in Screenwriting) and is currently pursuing his M.A. in Theology online at the Augustine Institute.
For more movie reviews by Renard, click here.