Updated: Feb 6
Since the release of Toy Story in 1995, Pixar has been almost uniquely reliable for consistently high-quality entertainment. While they get (rightfully) praised for their beautiful animation and clever concepts, what makes their films stand out is a dedication to story and character. Their latest, the delightful Incredibles 2, is another example of a triumph in each of these categories.
The original (released back in 2004) introduced the Parr family and their world. They are father Bob, also known as super strong Mr. Incredible, mother Helen, whose secret identity is stretchy Elastigirl, speedy Dash, invisible Violet and baby Jack-Jack, who has powers the others are unaware of. As Incredibles began, being a superhero has been illegal for fifteen years. They are (reluctantly) trying to live a normal life, however, adventure calls for them. By the end of the story, the family has been brought together by fighting off a supervillain.
The second one starts right where the first one left off. The Parr’s quickly learn that the public perception of their kind has not changed. They are given an opportunity to do just that when they are contacted by someone with sympathy for their plight. Of course, a new villain arrives to complicate their plans.
Like a lot of sequels, animated or otherwise, Incredibles 2 has much more action than the original as well as many more jokes. Unlike a lot of sequels, it never loses track of what it is actually about. That is people, as opposed to spectacle (though, in this case, spectacle comes with these characters). Through them, Brad Bird (who wrote and directed both while also voicing superhero costume maker Edna Mode) explores all sorts of topics from parenthood to adolescence to politics to personal responsibility to technology. He touches on all of these different things without any of them getting muddled along the way.
The two major plot threads are equally successful. One follows Elastigirl fighting crime in an effort to sway public opinion toward superheroes. The other is focused on Bob Parr as he tries to fill her shoes at home. As expected, what happens at home is as difficult to handle as what Elastigirl has to deal with. What is surprising is how funny and smart it is about stay at home dads who would rather be working, working moms who feel they should be at home, teenagers who are afraid of being ignored and little babies who grow up quicker than you think.
Though Pixar regularly sneaks heavier stuff in with the explosions and comedy, it is not as a token nod to the adults in the audience. Their themes are developed and explored in a way fitting for that story. Most “family films” pander to kids while inserting pop-culture references to occupy their parents. Pixar really does make films that appeal to the entire family with great animation, cool stories and characters, and real issues dealt with thoughtfully. That is why they have remained successful for 23 years.
Incredibles 2 (107 minutes, minus the end credits) is bigger and louder than the original, but it adds to what was so great about the first one instead of detracting from it. It is smart, really funny and plays inside the world created in its predecessor. It is exactly what I want from a sequel, yet rarely get. This is as good a time as I have had with any film this year.
4½ out of 5
Craig T. Nelson as Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible
Holly Hunter as Helen Parr/Elastigirl
Sarah Vowell as Violet Parr
Huck Milner as Dash Parr
Eli Fucile as Jack-Jack Parr
Samuel L. Jackson as Lucius Best/Frozone
Bob Odenkirk as Winston Deavor
Catherine Keener as Evelyn Deavor
Brad Bird as Edna Mode
Written and Directed by Brad Bird