Both Written and Directed by Brad Bird | 115 min (2004)/118 min (2018)
Revisiting the original Incredibles for the first time since having seen it in the cinema in 14 years ago, I was impressed that the only thing that’s aged in the film is some of the background animation—the street scenes are remarkably generic compared to what’s come since—and it feels a bit long. But otherwise it’s a joy.
This is the story of a family of superheroes: Elastigirl/Helen Parr (Holly Hunter) and Mr Incredible/Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson) are the parents of teen Violet (Sarah Vowell), tween Dash (Spencer Fox in the original, Huck Milner in 2), and Jack Jack the baby. Though Elastigirl is the one who can stretch and contort her body, there are plenty of parallels to Marvel’s first family of superheroes, The Fantastic Four (where Mr Fantastic is nicknamed “Stretcho”), and a reminder that if Marvel and 20th Century Fox ever made a feature half as good as these, they’d be set up for franchise city. It’s too bad that recent attempt was such a dud.
This is mostly set in the mid-’60s suburbia—crammed with midcentury modern furniture and design—15 years after the superheroes were declared illegal. The Incredibles are living in witness protection, with Bob working in insurance and Helen a homemaker. But this isn’t working for Bob, or his old super-pal Frozone/Lucius Best (Samuel L Jackson), who spend evenings listening to the police radio, looking for trouble to get into. And trouble they find when Mr Incredible is employed to stop a killer robot on a tropical island.
More than that in the plot I won’t say, other than it allows each member of the fully realized family unit a chance to shine, exercise their powers, and run through a few terrific action set-pieces. The support MVP is Edna Mode (voiced by writer-director Brad Bird), an Edith Head-alike who designs their costumes. (I’d like a movie all about her, please. Better, maybe, would be a TV series: What Not To Wear With Edna!)
What’s great about The Incredibles, and it’s true of many of the Pixar films, is the care in their character work and script. Last year’s Coco had one of the leanest, smartest scripts of the year, and that’s certainly true of Inside Out, Wall-E, and the three Toy Story movies, as well as these Incredibles.
The sequel, arriving in real time 14 years later, takes place in story time right after the first film and in the week following. The Parr family has lost their home so is shacked up at a motel, trying to figure out how to make a living. They get an offer from the wealthy venture capitalist Deavor siblings, Evelyn and Winston (the unmistakable Catherine Keener and Bob Odenkirk), who are looking to change public opinion on superheroes by having Elastigirl work independently in the big city while Bob is home with the kids, trying to manage the many micro-catastrophes that happen with children every day, whether they’re super or not. It’s a terrific, self-conscious play on gender roles and politics, set in the heart of the Mad Men generation, with added James Bond/space age tech to keep it playful and breezy.
The biggest laughs are generated by Jack-Jack, who it turns out has a host of super powers, leaving his father totally confounded on how to manage him. Thankfully, Bob’s still got Edna’s number.
The animation is A+ this time out, delivering a few great action sequences and a lot of incidental eye candy to enjoy. When the villain shows up, the Screenslaver, you know there’s something here about our addiction to screens, just like there’s an element about our fascination with superheroes, but this isn’t a film that’s heavy handed with its themes, but they’re there if you feel like digging in. And, interestingly, though it’s longer than the original its pacing is better. It flies by.
A big shout out to Michael Giacchino, whose score in the first film was wonderfully indebted to John Barry. That original suave style is here too, but pumped up with the horns, bringing a Henry Mancini element to play. Groovy, baby.