14 years later and Bird’s super-family still soars
Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Alongside Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc., The Incredibles is a foundational Pixar film — a neo-classic that explores the changing dynamics of family life disguised as a ’60s superhero movie. The film made the career of Brad Bird, who had crashed and burned with The Iron Giant, a critical darling its studio refused to promote.
The Incredibles was a smash hit and Bird moved on to bigger things (the ambitious Ratatouille, his first live-action film Mission: Impossible 4), but following another box office miss (the unfairly maligned Tomorrowland), Bird returned to Pixar to helm a sequel of his first hit… 14 years after the original.
Incredibles 2 picks up seconds after the original’s ending, mid-battle with the Underminer (same outstanding Michael Giacchino score). The massive destruction that ensued forces the Parr family to go back into hiding. Broke and a little bored, they’re happy to oblige when a millionaire offers to spearhead a PR campaign to bring superheroes back. There’s a catch: Helen, a.k.a. Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), is the one chosen to be the face of the movement: The strategy requires a deft touch, not a blunt instrument.
Suddenly a stay-at-home dad, Bob, a.k.a Mr. Incredible, (Craig T. Nelson) faces new struggles: his kids’ homework is ridiculously hard, his daughter Violet is still sullen and baby Jack-Jack has dozens of powers and can’t control a single one of them. Meanwhile, Elastigirl thrives in her new job, although the new villain in town — the Screenslaver — is getting on her nerves.
The home-front chaos is more compelling than the adventure that ties all the plotlines together, mainly because Bob, Violet and Jack-Jack are, together and separately, more interesting. Bob is not exactly ‘woke’ and even though he doesn’t get in the way of Helen’s blossoming career, he clearly begrudges his spouse her opportunity. Violet’s priorities aren’t in line with the rest of the family, especially when she’s facing the possibility of getting a boyfriend.
The relationship of Bob and Helen is another highlight. Take recent superhero hits Deadpool 2 and Avengers: Infinity War: A good chunk of the plot hangs on coupledom, yet the undoing of these pairs left me cold. Bob and Helen have a shorthand and know when to push a point and when to pull their punches. It’s a successful marriage in a nutshell. Sure, Jack-Jack and the ever wonderful Edna Mode are flashier, but the Helen-Bob partnership is what sustains the franchise.
I don’t plan to spoil the identity of the villain here. Suffice to say, like all good antagonists, there’s a valid motive and a cool and unusual modus operandi. It’s not nearly as flashy as Toxic Fanboy Syndrome, but it has more depth.
The only aspect of the film that doesn’t quite work is the conclusion. Probably because the scenario is not particularly dramatic (or the threat is too mild), the stakes feel low. That said, Incredibles 2 gets an easy pass on character strength alone.
BAO: The short Bao — directed by a Canadian animator Domee Shi — is showing alongside Incredibles 2 and it’s a doozy. One of the funniest Pixar shorts to date (and so much better than that Frozen thing that accompanied Coco), Bao follows a wistful housewife whose dumplings are remarkably lively. Bao unfolds entertainingly and tenderly enough until a Hereditary-worthy moment takes audiences by surprise (don’t worry, this is a Pixar short after all). Bao is worth the price of admission by itself.