For the past 14 years writer/director Brad Bird has had to endure one question more than any other: When was he going to make a sequel to his animated superhero romp “The Incredibles?” Well, a few years ago Pixar let it slip that he was hard at work on the follow-up and, after the production of “Toy Story 4” went through some creative shuffling, the release date was bumped forward by a whole year. In animated movie terms, this shortening could have spelled doom. Instead, Bird and his team seem to have flourished, delivering one of the most thoughtfully entertaining studio movies in ages.
READ MORE: ‘Incredibles 2’ Is An Animated Blast & Improves On The Beloved Pixar Original [Review]
“Incredibles 2” hinges around an ingenious role reversal; instead of going out and thwarting evil, Mr. Incredible nee Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson) is tasked with staying at home while his wife Helen aka Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) is off fighting crime. From there, an elaborate and thematically resonate story blossoms that is just as heartfelt and eye-popping as the last movie, and in some cases even more dazzling.
Late last week, we chatted with Bird about what it took to pull “Incredibles 2” together, if his philosophy towards sequels had changed at all, his aborted plans for a “Tomorrowland” franchise, and what’s going on with “1906,” his earthquake epic based on the 2004 novel by James Dalessandro.
You’ve directed a sequel in another franchise that you didn’t create (“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”), were offered a “Star Wars” sequel, made a movie that was supposed to spawn sequels (“Tomorrowland”) and now are directing a sequel to a movie you did make. I was wondering if your philosophy towards sequels has changed or evolved.
I think it’s different if you’re doing a sequel to your own work. That’s absolutely different. People often make snap judgments based on a sound bite and they think I am anti-sequel. And I’m not – clearly. I’ve done two and several of my favorite movies are sequels. I love “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Goldfinger” is the best Bond I think and “The Road Warrior” is fantastic and “Terminator 2” and “Godfather Part II.” There’s a lot of them. But I think that we’re in a period now where the only big films with the exception of Christopher Nolan are sequels and remakes and reboots and reheated food. We have a kitchen. We have cooks. We don’t have to take the last decade’s meals and keep reheating them and pretend those are the only things that succeed.
So I think that these films can be wonderful – and like I said many of my favorite movies are – but I think there’s a danger when so much creative bandwidth is taken up with repeating ourselves. And it seems like sometimes it’s the only thing people ask from us or want from us anymore. I constantly hear “how about a sequel to this or that?” And it’s like “remember originals? ‘Star Wars’ was an original once! ‘E.T.‘ was an original! Wasn’t that cool?” And I don’t want us to forget that.
Was the intent with “Tomorrowland” to create a new franchise?
I think maybe Damon [Lindelof] and I had in mind, and this might be the anti-franchise idea because the world was so big you could do a bunch of different films and have them overlap a little bit but have completely different characters in every movie. And have them be part of an elaborate story. But the first film didn’t pan out. So there goes that idea. But it was trying to be a bunch of originals in disguise as sequels. People feel much more confident giving the green light to sequels than they do to originals.
With “Incredibles 2” you had a year taken off of your production schedule. You were in a similar situation with “Ratatouille.” Did that experience help you get through “Incredibles 2?”
Sure it did. I knew that fear could be a good motivator. It’s a difficult situation but you realize that the energy and focus that comes with a shortened schedule can have its upside. I wouldn’t like to make a regular thing out of it. But I feel fairly confident that I can make big decisions under pressure.
Even though the technology has progressed greatly in 14 years, you show amazing restraint. This movie could have easily taken place on the moon or something.
The moon would be easy, actually. It’s a very strange medium. What’s different and what’s hard are very different than what people would think. You know the fact that the artists who worked on the original “Incredibles” and who worked on this one are much more experienced. And they were great, to begin with. So that’s only good news. And Pixar itself has attracted a lot of talent from all over the world. The company is much larger than it was when we made the first film. If you know what you want, they can get it for you. The tools are better and the level of artistry has advanced. If you’re clear on where you want to go, this team can absolutely take you there in style. And I counted on them to deliver something that was no compromise from Pixar’s best, even though our backs were up against the wall.
Even a few years ago you had said you had disparate ideas for a sequel but the ideas hadn’t coalesced. Was there a missing piece that clicked in to allow you to flesh it out?
Well, I’d love to tell you there was a clear epiphany and everything stems from that and clicked into place beautifully. But the truth is that the core idea of the film, that the assignment would go to Helen and Bob would need to stay home with the kids, that idea I had when I was out publicizing the first film. I also knew that I had the unexploded bomb of Jack-Jack’s powers. That the audience knew that he had them but the Parr family did not. I knew that he would play a large part in the new film. The part that I had trouble with was the sort of superhero/villain plot that the film was going to orbit around and how that was going to interface with the role switch thing. I had an idea when we were doing “Tomorrowland.” And I’d already been dabbling with it, and had started working on the Underminer sequence right before “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.” So I was coming in having done a little something and then leaving and coming back and doing a little something. I’d always intended to do a sequel, I just kept getting distracted by other things.
But I finally had an idea I thought could work when we were making “Tomorrowland” and I came back to Pixar and I said, “Here’s an idea I think is cool.” We got greenlit and we hit the ground running and started going and got a release date and then that idea didn’t pan out. It was an interesting idea but it didn’t interface well with the other main story, which was the role switch and Bob being with the family and all that. So now I’ve got a release date and a team in place and all that and we’re moving and I’ve got to make a change that big. I rewrote and rewrote and rewrote and characters came in and characters went out. And a lot of good stuff that I liked was done and I had to be ruthless and kill darlings. I’ve never written so much for a film that I ended up cutting. I’m very happy with how we wound up but it was a nail-biter.
Any updates on “1906?”
No. I remain interested and maybe somebody will be interested in doing it the way I want to do it. There was talk about doing it as a TV series exclusively and that’s sort of intriguing to me but I so love the big screen that I want that to play a part in it. So to be continued …
The (very amazing) “Incredibles 2” hits theaters everywhere Friday.