During my recent visit to Pixar Animation Studios I was able to take part in a small group interview with director/screenwriter Brad Bird alongside producers Nicole Grindle and John Walker in promotion of Pixar’s much awaited Incredibles 2 .
The highly anticipated sequel to The Incredibles (2004) reunites the super-powered Parr family as they work to find a balance between their super family-life, and their calling to be super heroes.
I’m excited to share some of the highlights from that interview below.
First topic addressed – the question on everyone’s mind, what the heck took so long!?
BB: I think there’s a tendency nowadays to not even get the soda pop. You just want direct syrup. You just want just like syrup now. I don’t know. I think that, you know, for me it was not intentional. I just don’t think it’s the greatest idea creatively to follow-up, a successful film with its sequel. I think that you wanna take time. You wanna think about it. You wanna enjoy the process.
I was always thinking about it in the back of my mind, but I had other things that were more at the forefront. Sort of the more I kinda chewed on it, the more I thought, yeah, oh, yeah, that’ll be cool. And then suddenly it was like 15 years later or something and I went, holy crap, I better get goin’ on somethin’. So, I mean it’s not intentional and it’s not calculated in any way.
I just was mulling on it and it finally seemed like the right thing to do. I didn’t wanna wait any longer though, because it was clearly too long.
On getting back into those characters
BB: Yeah, it seems like outwardly it’s a really commercial movie, but it’s actually strangely personal to me. So, it has a lot of the things that I loved at the age of ten, which a lot of ‘em I still love — I hate to admit — and combined with the family that I grew up with and the family that I have with my wife and sons. So, it’s kinda all the stuff I love combined with both families that I’ve had in my life. So, for me, even though it seems brightly colored and pop confection, it’s actually really personal to me.
I like those characters and they’re comfortable to me, and I have fun, you know, hearing them talk. What’s fun after you’ve made the first one is that you have your ideal voice cast. And when you write, you’re actually imagining Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sam Jackson, Sarah Vowell’s voices. So, it’s easier to write, in terms of dialogue. In terms of story, it’s not easy at all.
JW: Yeah, easy to write.
BB: It’s really hard. The character part is fun. The plot part is painful, yeah.
With so much time between films, was there an idea that just changed dramatically over the years?
BB: The central idea, which was a role switch between Bob and Helen, and the fact that the family didn’t know of the baby’s powers and that they would learn about it in this film, that was around almost back to the first film’s release, I had those ideas. What changed all the time was the sort of superhero plot. And that changed radically. We had a little less time to do our film, if something didn’t pay off immediately, you had to abandon it, because the release date was looming and you had to find stuff that, oh, this works. Go, you know.
This doesn’t work. Kill it, you know. And it was this sort of binary process that was tough. The superhero plot changed a lot. But the core idea of Helen getting the mission and Bob staying at home and them having to cope with the baby’s powers, that is really my oldest idea for this film.
On getting the cast back together
BB: I think there’s a certain amount of trust on the film, is this gonna be weird or is it gonna be good, they didn’t really ever see the whole script. They only saw the parts that they did, so they were kind of, takin’ a wild bet. And now they know what it is. They know who their character is, what the characters look like, how the animators respond to what they vocally. So, they were all just like the band’s back together. It was really fun. And Sarah was really funny, because she said, I think I have three more years before I can’t play a teenager anymore. So, it was really great.
BB: Sam was talkin’ about us like we were in production before we’d even attempted to make the film.
JW: Yeah, years ago, yeah.
BB: He was like, oh, sure, there’s gonna be an Incredibles 2. Of course. You know.
JW: No, I mean —
BB: And we’re looking around, oh, geez, if Sam says we’re makin’ a movie, I guess we better start makin’ a movie.
JW: Is he makin’ it with somebody else?
NG: Yeah, he’s startin’ to talk about another sequel. We’re like no, no, no.
BB: No, no, shut up, Sam. Shut up.
JW: Shut up, Sam.
NG: We have to finish this one first, please.
Q: I’d love to hear if each of you have a favorite part, a favorite scene or a character (in the film), and why?
NG: I haven’t thought about it, but the first thing that comes to mind is Voyd. She’s a new character played by Sophia Bush. And I love her as somebody who sees Helen as a mentor. She’s got this really great, fresh energy. And I love her superpowers. So, that’s what comes to my mind like that.
JW: I’m a new grandfather, I have a one-year-old granddaughter and my daughter came to me and said why didn’t you tell me it was so hard. I said, well, because then you never would’ve done it. I said and the caveat to that is and have I got a movie for you. So, I love all the Jack-Jack scenes and how Bob has to try to deal with this crazy baby, which is, just a great metaphor for what my daughter and son-in-law have been going through the last year. When will this child sleep? I said, you know, I don’t know, you know. Hang in there. So, that’s my favorite part, the Jack-Jack scenes, especially the raccoon fight.
BB: Yeah. I have the worse soundbite because, at any given moment I can love any part of the movie. It’s all stuff that I love. I love action scenes. I think that I enjoy putting Helen through action scenes just because her power’s uniquely suited to a certain approach to action scenes, which is fun. I loved dealing with Bob kinda having his self-esteem undercut a little bit by not being the first choice, which he’s never dealt with in his life before. And that just made me giggle while I was writing it.
Because, you know, there is a part of men that always assumes that we’re the best ones for the job. And there’s something funny about that. It’s fun to poke a hole in that. And, it’s like men asking directions. And it’s just a thing. It’s a primal thing that goes back to the beginning of time. And we’re deathly afraid of looking like we don’t know what we’re doing. I think because of that, because it’s deep in our DNA, it’s just right for comedy. So, that was fun.
I loved writing Violet, because she’s the permanent, cynical teenager who’s always looking for the power structure to be upended and, you know — I love Sarah Vowell as a person. She just cracks me up and she’s so smart and funny that I love working with her. And I love chase scenes with Dash. I like stuff with Frozone. He’s just a funny, very particular voice. And knowing that Sam’s gonna say something gives you an automatic shot of energy because you know that no one can do that better than Sam.
So, for me it’s just the whole thing is a delight. The most fun I ever had. I’ve only made six movies, and the most fun I’ve ever made making a movie was the first Incredibles. To be able to return to this world was really fun for me.
Talking about Pixar movies and emotions
BB: I am a lover of all kinds of emotions connected with movies. I think that movies are an emotional medium. They’re kind of a dream language. And they’re less intellectual really. You can have a smart movie, but movies in general are more about dream language. I don’t think that this is meant to make people cry, I think we have emotional moments here and there, but I hope people just consume huge amounts of popcorn and soda and have a really great time. That’s what this is meant to be.
Hopefully, it’s smart and there’s some stuff in there that you can chew on later, but the main goal is just to entertain the crap outta people.
Q: Was it an easy decision to pick up where the first movie left off, or were there ever any conversations around what the characters would look like older?
BB: I had a half thought about aging them up a little, but the minute you do you lose a lot of the iconic power of the idea. And because we’re not limited to linear aging the way live action films are, where if an actor is ten years older you better write a line in there where they talk about being ten years older. The audience is not gonna go for it. But we are not limited in that way. As long as your voice hasn’t changed much, we can pick it up where the last movie left off. So, for me, the boldest thing a movie that’s taken 14 years to happen can do is pick up right where the last movie left off. Who else can do that? No one. So, we did it.
Q: Is Bob having a hard time with Jack-Jack at home because he’s male or because he’s Bob Pharr?
JW: I think it’s more because of Jack-Jack.
NG: Yeah, yeah.
JW: I mean anybody would have a hard time (with Jack-Jack).
BB: Helen says in the movie, that any baby is a challenge. But then to put it on a quantum level with a baby that can go through walls and turn into a little devil, I mean —
JW: Catch on fire.
BB: Yeah. To me that’s just an abstraction of what babies are.
NG: Right. I’ve always felt that this was a representation of what we all feels as parents. You all go into it like, oh, it’s a little baby. How cute. How hard could that be? Right. And then at every turn, they’re more and more difficult.
BB: Cut to six months later and you’re screaming.
Q: What can audiences expect from your character (Edna Mode) in this sequel, and how easy it for you to find that voice?
BB: It’s not hard at all. It’s strange that a half-German half-Japanese bossy midget is something that feels very natural to me. But I think that at my most confident moments, I’m sort of like E. She exists in that most confident moment all the time. So, that is something I wish that I could do. But it always cracked me up that she’s this tiny little person with no superpowers at all that can cowl superheroes and make them feel inadequate somehow or like they can’t keep up.
On how things have changed over the years.
JW: The thing that changed the most from the first to the second film here (Pixar) was people and the technology’s definitely improved and that makes a big difference, but level of artistry and competence of the people that work here is just off the charts. I mean it’s stunning to watch. It’s completely different from when we were here before. New talent as well, And, that has been just stunning. Watching animation reviews. And it used to be that an animator would bring something in — or any kind of artist would bring something in. Brad would have notes. They’d go back. They’d attempt to dress those notes. They’d come back. If it wasn’t quite there, they’d go off again and come back and go off and come back. It was this circular process. And this time it’s just like the stuff just comes in the first time and it’s like, oh, my God, that’s great. And whatever notes he has, they’re hit just right away. And that’s stunning. I mean that’s just great.
NG: My first feature here was A Bug’s Life. I actually started working on some story CD-ROMS when I first came in ’95. So, I’ve had the benefit of watching this evolution, and, yet, at the same time I should say our Supervising Technical Director, Rick Sayre, is one of the founding technical people at the company and has continued to stay on the cutting edge. So, it’s a combination of the technology has developed. We’ve had new talent come in, and some of the original genius talent has remained and continued to push us further and further.
On what makes the Incredibles, so incredible
BB: We always felt like what makes our film unique is that it’s about a family. And the roles, their superpowers were based on iconic roles of men and women and children in the family. You know, the dad is always expected to be strong. The mom is always stretched in a million directions. Teenagers are defensive and insecure. So, she has force fields and invisibility.
Ten-year-olds are energy balls that just, can’t not be on, that’s what they are. And babies are unknowns. They could have no powers at all, or they could be the next leader of the free world or whatever. So, where they were in the family was how we chose their powers. And that was a unique approach, because it was more about stages of your life. And I think one of the reasons we’ve been successful is that everyone connects with at least two of the characters, and that’s because we’ve all been teenagers. We’ve all been children.
Many of us have kids, and so we’ve dealt with little babies, which are really challenging to keep up with. And teenagers, which are also a handful in a completely different way. And we’ve had parents that seem kinda clueless at moments and the dad that maybe speaks before he really knows what he’s talkin’ about. And, the mom that manages everything. So, that’s where our strength lies, and that’s what makes us different. And if we thought about it in those terms, it became a lot easier to make our film.
Five fun Incredibles facts:
1.The Incredibles (2004) is the first Pixar animated film to feature all humans.
2.Thanks to newer animation tools, the Parr family in Incredibles 2 look more like their original designs in the first film, than the first film did.
3. The Incredibles movies had three times as many sets as any Pixar film.
4. Huck Milner (Dash) did laps around the studio between recording his lines for Incredibles 2.
5. When the first film was released, there were only two active super hero big franchises, one was Spiderman and the other was X-Men.
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INCREDIBLES 2 opens in theatres everywhere on June 15, 2018!
Watch for more Incredibles 2 updates be posted here soon! You can also read my previous blog posts about my day at Pixar Animated Studios for the Incredibles 2 Press Event by clicking here.
Disclosure: I was provided with travel, food and lodging in exchange for my coverage. All opinions expressed are still honest and my own. Some photos and images were provided by Disney/Pixar.