Pixar’s Incredibles 2 is easily the most anticipated animated film of the year. For those of us who consider The Incredibles one of the best films of all time, the anticipation comes with a side of worry. Although knowing Brad Bird was at the helm helped to alleviate a little of that anxiety, I still had a small knot of tension in my belly before the film’s press screening. By the time the credits rolled, however, the “Hallelujah” chorus was playing loud and long in my head. Pixar actually pulled it off. The sequel was good. In fact, it was SUPER.
Incredibles 2 revisits all the familiar things we love and still manages to surprise us. But, if you want to know what the Parr family are like fifteen years later, you won’t find the answer here. As Bird once explained, “I thought about aging everybody the way everybody does, and then I thought, ‘Nah that sucks…I’m not interested in a college-age Jack-Jack.’” Turns out, neither was I. I just wanted the next episode to air, just as I did as a kid watching my Saturday morning cartoons (my fav of which shows up on the boob tube at the Parr house!).
In this case, the next episode takes place exactly where we left off–with the attack of the Underminer. The Incredibles manage to stop him, but once again city officials are left with major damage to the city. Since supers are still illegal, the Parrs’ meager living allowance from the government is cut off in response, and they are faced with taking on civilian jobs again. They catch a break when mega-rich media mogul Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister, tech genius Evelyn (Catherine Keener), reach out to them and to Frozone (Samuel Jackson). The siblings are prepared to launch a PR campaign to legitimize, then legalize, the supers again. Instead of Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) who got do his super thing in the first film, it’s Mrs. Incredible Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) who gets tapped this time around.
With Elastigirl taking center stage, some may label this Pixar’s comment on the film industry’s efforts to focus on women and their stories (especially since the studio’s track record in that area isn’t the best). However, Bird says that he had the idea for an Elastigirl story right after wrapping The Incredibles. While Incredibles 2 doesn’t feel like a #MeToo statement per se, it does deliver a significant and positive contribution by not stopping at telling Elastigirl’s story.
In fact, Elastigirl’s story as THE story we didn’t know we needed.
It’s easy to forget that in The Incredibles–except for the flirtatious encounter on a rooftop, hours before her wedding and a “girl power”-focused TV interview–we only see Helen as Mrs. Parr/Mrs. Incredible. Sure, she’s a wonderful wife, mom, and super, but what was she like when she was single and doing her own thing her own way? She was brilliant, powerful, and sexy, that’s what. Initially hesitant to leave her family, Helen slips on her old persona with the glee of sliding into a favorite pair of jeans from your college days and finding they still fit. While Mr. Incredible had an Incredi-car, Elastigirl has an Elasticycle, now new and improved, and frankly, way cooler. She flashes a wicked grin when fans call out her name as she speeds by. Her wild ride through the city on her first mission is the best motorcycle action sequence since Bucky Barnes’ in Captain America: Civil War.
Bob is shocked seeing this Helen, as it seems like an episode of the “New Adventures of Old Helen”. He now has to deal with the kids; a little envy creeps into his heart. Fortunately, his “Mr. Mom” plotline avoids devolving into cliché because his actions don’t feel like they are being played for laughs. The hilarious results of his child-rearing ineptitude make sense. They are typical of a parent who isn’t the one keeping track of the kids’ tennis shoes, school schedule, etc. Craig T. Nelson’s performance is actually endearing, especially in the scenes with Violet going through dating woes. It brings to mind all the great father/daughter work he did in the show Coach.
The Parr kids are growing. Violet (Sarah Vowell) has evolved, is totally in command of her powers and is no longer shy. Now, it’s her love life that’s an issue. No, it isn’t Bechdel Test-friendly, but it’s typical teen stuff. Dash (Huck Milner) is…Dash, funny and hyper. As for Jack-Jack, we’ve been waiting for years to see more of his powers and this baby does not disappoint. His scenes, which I thought would get old, are some of the best in the movie. Then there’s a raccoon, and that’s all I’ll say about that.
Frozone (Samuel Jackson) is even more chill this time around. The ice effects have more definition and his moves are thrilling to watch. He gets a little more screen time and comes off hella sexy in a 007 kind of way. While in the first film he was mostly just Bob’s best friend, in this one he’s more his own person. Who knows, maybe we’ll get a Frozone movie someday. It may be the only way we’ll get to see his wife because, once again, Honey only appears as a voice. (This is the only serious demerit I’m giving the film. Pixar has made yet another film without a Black woman in a significant role and there is just is no reason for it these days. Plus…it’s Honey!)
Edna Mode (Bird) is back and brilliant, of course, but I’m not going to spoil a single moment of her scenes. I will only say that I MUST see the movie again, DARLINGS. The whole audience, myself included, was laughing so loud during her scenes, it was impossible to catch all the dialogue.
The rest of the movie’s elements are fascinating. A fresh crop of supers, my favorite being “Void”, come out of hiding. The supervillain landscape is complicated, possibly unnecessarily so, but it is still interesting to watch unfold. The mid-century design returns with such gorgeous depth and detail, you half-expect Don Draper to pop in for a drink. Where The Incredibles featured ranch-style tract housing life in the suburbs with brief glimpses of the city, Incredibles 2 revels in urban cityscapes, with the Parrs’ new home representing the futuristic architecture of the time.
Incredibles 2 is well-crafted and exceedingly entertaining. Bird has this ability to show us ourselves in a fun and sympathetic way. This is why his films, more than even other Pixar offerings, resonate so strongly with adults on an adult level, while still being enjoyable for kids. Here’s hoping he directs another Pixar film soon (another episode of The Incredibles, perhaps?). Like Helen and Bob, Bird and Pixar make a great team.
Incredibles 2 is in theaters everywhere June 15th.