While 14 years have passed in our world since the Underminer made himself known at the end of The Incredibles, it’s only the next minute as far as the superhero family is concerned when The Incredibles 2 begins. And, for the audience, it almost feels as if no time has gone by at all as we are whisked back into the richly detailed retro-futuristic world created by Brad Bird.
Once again, we are treated to the home life of metahumans as they try to deal with the very human details of home life, sibling rivalry, raising children, holding a job and teen love. Of course, those travails are amplified through the lens of each member of the family Parr having super-human abilities and the consequences of living in a world where superheroes must live in the shadows. That dynamic carries over from the previous film and the actors generate the same on-screen chemistry from the original, even though they likely never worked together when recording their lines.
The characters remain true to their idiom and their Eisenhower-era tomorrowland with a lot of callbacks to the on-screen tropes of the nuclear family of the 60s to be found. Bob Parr finds himself a fish out of water and more than a little jealous of his wife’s sudden career as a solo hero. He sees himself as the head of the house where the man is expected to provide for his family — and he feels defeated and overwhelmed when he is unable — which only adds to his internal dilemma of trying to be supportive of his wife. Dash is his usual hyperspeed Dennis the Menace and Violet has the typical teenage angst – but with the ability to actually hide when she wants to be left alone with a carton of ice cream and heart ache. And Jack-Jack is the literal wild card that puts “gifted child” into an entirely different context. He gets more time on screen in this outing, and is cleverly put to use by the script as well as the other members of the family as they save the day. (This is a Disney-Pixar movie, this is not a spoiler.)
The Parr family members exhibit depth in their characters and we see them grow from their experiences. Bob finds that he can’t just bull his way through domestic challenges without regards to collateral damage any more than he can when he’s out superheroing. Helen, while confident in her superhero abilities manages to overcome her self doubt and separation anxieties while also reminding the audience that she is highly trained and intelligent, and not overshadowed by her more physically powerful husband. Once again, Dash and Violet step up when called upon and Jack-Jack not only learns control of his budding powers as only a toddler can, but learns how to get his way — again as only a toddler can.
It’s Not as Easy As It Seems
Behind the scenes, things weren’t nearly as easy — but not because of any drama. In fact, it was due to the passage of time. Craig T. Nelson, the voice of Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible, had lost some of his vocal range and had difficulty matching the same deep voice. He was able to regain his range after some vocal coaching.
Writer/Director Brad Bird had to coax Michael Giacchino back to create a new, suave, jazzy soundtrack full of brass and punch at the right times. At first, Giacchino was not convinced that The Incredibles 2 needed to be made. “We can do other things,” he remembered telling Bird during an interview on Pasadena, CA NPR station KPCC this week, “how many more movies do we have left in us? Lets do something else!” Eventually, he was brought around and produced yet another brilliant score that only serves to enhance the world-building on screen. The new soundtrack includes a tune entitled, “Looks Like I Picked the Wrong Week to Give Up Oxygen.” This is, of course, a reference to Loyd Bridges’ series of quotes in the comedy Airplane, but is appropriate given the scene that it supports. And, he was so wrapped up in scoring the upcoming Jurassic Park movie that he wound up delivering the theme jingles for the superheroes on the day the actors were recording their lines.
The Family That Fights Crime Together, Stays Together
At the time of its release The Incredibles was noted for portraying on-screen death (mostly of villains) and it won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Production. It also won two Oscars – the first for Pixar and part of the trend that saw Pixar films consistently beating its rivals, including eventual parent, Disney. It also won numerous other accolades, in no small part to its breakthrough in CGI animation. While the original’s breaking of ground cannot possibly be duplicated by a sequel, this second installment is an integral part of the tale that no one knew it was missing. It builds upon the first and goes further, making the original worth revisiting to see the entire tale unfold.
But First, a Snack
It is also worth mentioning that Bao, the animated short that opens immediately before The Incredibles 2 is a worthy effort in its own right. It is the first Pixar short directed by a woman, Domee Shi. It packs joy, humor and heartbreak into a few short minutes and invites one to reflect on what it means to be family and finding out that letting go does not mean losing a loved one.
The Incredibles 2 stars Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter, and is in theaters now.