Pixar are in danger of seriously dating their early work. Remember when Toy Story was a digital novelty? Incredibles 2 witnesses the animation studio reach new heights, combining photorealism with a fabulous vintage-futurist aesthetic. It’s also a terrific yarn.
Fourteen years ago, Brad Bird was the first ‘outsider’ to helm a Pixar feature. His concept was born in homage to those spy films and comic books of the sixties that today inspire so many superhero outings. Back then, The Incredibles stood out for its familial orientation, colourful visuals and joyful script. Delightfully, amid a much more saturated market, Incredibles 2 still does.
At two hours, the Incredibles sequel is Pixar’s longest film to date – a little too long to be honest – but don’t expect an increase of plot. The film opens where its predecessor closed. Having defeated Syndrome, and given ‘supers’ a good rap again in a world where they remain banned from vigilantism, the Parr family are in pursuit of the mole-like Underminer (Pixar’s lucky charm, John Ratzenberger): ‘Consider yourself undermined!’
There’s super-strong Mr Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), super-stretchy Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), super-speedy Dash (Huck Milner, replacing Spencer Fox) and super-non-specific Violet (Sarah Vowell), who can produce forcefields and become invisible. Also in the mix, more so this time is the youngest Incredible, Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile). So super they named him twice.
When the Incredibles fail to prevent carnage, hopes of legalising superheroes seem lost until marketing savvy fan Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his tech-whizz sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) hatch a plan. Recruiting Elastigirl as a figurehead, their idea is to promote superheroes as a force for good. It’s all, says Winston, a matter of perception. That and terrific opportunity for Hunter to shine, whilst addressing gender imbalances, both in film culture and in the parental triad. A pity only that this is achieved with characters of reductive body shapes.
Whilst Mum’s away saving lives, Bob’s job is to look after the kids. It’s no easy task though to battle homework, adolescence and a baby who’s not yet learned how to control is innumerable powers. As Edna Mode (Bird himself on hilarious form) – fashion designer for supers – puts in: ‘Done properly, parenting is a heroic act’. Metaphors are, if anything, even more prevalent this time around than the last. This is that rare breed of sequel that takes its original ideas to new zones, developing themes in the process.
Though its protagonists haven’t aged a day in the past decades, Incredibles 2 is a maturer film the first, demonstrative of a drive to continue engagement with the original noughties audience. Much here will appeal to younger audiences – namely some excellent slapstick – but there’s a gentle, yet stimulating, intellectuality too. There aren’t so many family films which so heartily investigate the role of masculinity in the modern home and law in society itself. For all the gadgets and laser beams, the film is also a moving human drama.
From open to close, the visual finish here is breathtaking. As an opening scene dives underground, specks of minutely rendered dust scatter across the screen, whilst it is possible to identify every stitch of fabric in the heroes suits. Light is, likewise, handled in ways never explored before in feature animation. As Bird and his team experiment and explore, they question the role of animation in a world that can digitally create an entirely realistic world. Now that’s incredible.