Fresh off possibly their best film in years and an increasingly rare original film at that, it was time for Pixar to return to the warm comfort zone of sequels to beloved properties. But this time it was different, for not only was The Incredibles the best Pixar film (or at least my favorite), it was also the one that had not only set itself up for a sequel, but also seemed to have the will of the people to make it so. The possibility seemed to dwindle over the years as after the further success of Ratatouille, director Brad Bird made the jump to live-action with the fantastic Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and it seemed like he had left the world of animation behind as great superhero films became far more common than they were when the original was released in 2004. Thanks to the utter failure in all regards of Tomorrowland (much as John Carter begat Finding Dory), Bird has returned to the safe ground of Pixar and his most bankable film. Still, it’s hard to say that my interest level was still the same given the long gap in time with the terrible trailers (par for the Pixar course) hardly helping.
As indicated above, The Incredibles is a superhero film and an original one at that. Granted, they are heavily influenced by the Fantastic Four, but considering how the other attempts at adaptations turned out, there’s a reason it’s been considered the closest to a definitive adaptation of that work. Instead of a bunch of super scientists, the heroes are now a family of four (well five) with the husband Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) being super strong and the Thing analogue, the wife Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter) being extremely stretchy and the Mister Fantastic counterpart (I’m guessing reversing the names would have made it too obvious), and the two kids Violet and Dash (voiced by Sarah Vowell and Spencer Fox) able to turn invisible and move all quick like respectively as the takes on the Invisible Woman and Human Torch.
The original went with a Watchmen approach to the story taking the plot of superheroes forced out by regulations thanks to collateral damage and Rorschach’s theory of a serial killer of superheroes and surprisingly, that film didn’t end with that restriction lifted. Instead, the focus of this film is on the continued efforts of living under them and working to repeal them. Gender politics are at the forefront and not just because we get introduced to the diversity crew at one point whose appearances seem designed to hit every stereotype. The roles have flipped from the first movie with Elastigirl taking on more of a lead role in the main plot at least and Mr. Incredible left in the role of primary caretaker of their household. While the obvious clichés this situation presents aren’t avoided by the movie, for the most part the film is able to keep them from becoming too obnoxious. A part of me wishes the film engaged more with the possibilities of the subject matter, but a larger part is happy that the film instead focused more on being fun.
I’ve said before that I usually don’t engage with Pixar films for their humor, but The Incredibles films are an exception and the humor is one of the highlights of the film both in dialogue and physical. I’ll even admit something I never thought I would say, I found the abundant use of the baby Jack-Jack funny. I mean, it wasn’t surprising that Samuel L. Jackson’s return or especially Brad Bird’s Edith Head inspired Edna Mode were great, but his use here was cute and inventive and I’m pretty sure Twilight Zone-referencing (specifically to “Little Girl Lost”). The highlight of the movie however were the action scenes which were some of the best and most exciting I’ve seen in an animated film. After suffering through so many interchangeable action scenes (even in movies I liked) this year and before in big budget movies, it’s wonderful when a film breaks free from that. While most have me left me zoning out while I wait for the movie to resume, the movie equivalent of “guitarist noodles around for a bit”, these had my eyes absolutely glued to screen the entire time, not wanting to miss a detail. That being said, there was one action scene involving a bunch of blinking lights that can absolutely get fucked.
While the animation for the action looks great, the animation as a whole is not above reproach. The character models for the non-family members looked like they came straight from some Brazilian direct to DVD film called The Incredible Family. Absolutely pathetic. I can’t even say that it’s because the animation has aged poorly in the past 14 years since not only did Toy Story manage the balance between modernizing and maintaining a recognizable style far better, but it’s as if all the new characters are the ones pulled from their animators’ community college work. Also, I get that this is a movie for families and that you don’t want to leave any of your audience behind, but all I’ll say is c’mon. Give your audience some credit.
So, to the question of “Does Incredibles 2 live up to the years of hype?”, I guess that depends on what you were expecting. It provides a perfect payoff to the final scene of that first film and it’s a very entertaining movie. I would feel more confident in comparing to the original in quality if I had seen it more recently, but at least it isn’t being laughed out of the room when that comparison is brought up. Then again, it also isn’t the Toy Story 3 to this series, the long awaited follow up that builds on and improves the franchise or injecting much more in the way of emotional stakes. But that action and humor was more than enough for me and I was left very satisfied which is all I could ask for out of the film.
Finally, a word about that short Bao. Cute. That was your word. Also, it made me really want to steam up some mantou and in general I was far more interested in the food portion of it than anything else. I may have been watching it wrong.