After waiting 14 years for a sequel…there’s a lot of ground to cover.
Knockturnal Reporter Nicolette Acosta sat down with the brains and brawn behind Pixar’s Incredibles 2. Writer/Director Brad Bird and Producers Nicole Grindle and John Walker dove into the creation of the film, how social activism plays a part in it (or not), and how humans are more interesting than supers.
Q: We heard a lot today about how little time a lot of the departments had in making the movie, I wonder if you could explain the kind of constraints…
Brad Bird: I would except there is no time. Next question.
Q: And also why does it work out that way?
Brad Bird: You know we often, I wouldn’t say often, but it has happened a number of times, the original Incredibles was supposed to be after Cars, it was supposed to be Nemo, Cars, Incredibles, and our reels came together a little earlier than Cars did, so we moved up. The same situation happened here with Toy Story 4, they’ve been going a number of different directions and story and it was concluded that we were a little further along than we were, so we moved up. Which was a challenge for us, but the studio is three times bigger than it was when we did the first movie. So if we didn’t choke, we could theoretically get the movie made, and that is what came to pass.
Nicole Grindle: I would just add it can be a benefit for the production to be somewhat under pressure. Obviously, it was very intense for this team as you hear from them, but having worked here for a number of films, that kind of schedule and intensity, people really rise to the occasion. And I sometimes think that they even do better work.
Brad Bird: Yeah when I got involved with Ratatouille, it was a little over a year and a half from my involvement and the finished film. And we only retained two lines of dialogue, and two shots, from all of the previous versions that had been done. It was like running in front of a train laying down track for it. But as Nicole said, everyone rallied, as long as it’s clear where we want to go people rise to the occasion.
Q: I was hoping you guys could talk about the decision to set the film at the moment that the original ended, and any other courses or options you considered from the beginning.
Brad Bird: I thought about aging everybody the way everybody does and then I thought, that sucks, so that’s about as deep as it went. What it is, it’s one of the conceits of the original film is that I tried initially when I was first working on the project long before Pixar or anything like that. It was even before, I think Iron Giant, when I first had the idea. I went to a comic book shop and thought, I have to think up new powers, and after about a half an hour in the bookshop, I realized every power has been done by somebody somewhere, even if its self-published a hundred issues in Ohio. Everything has been done, and right after that little epiphany, I realized I wasn’t interested in the powers, that’s not the part that interests me, what interests me is the idea of having a family, and having there be a reason to hide the powers. Once I had that insight into what I wanted to do I picked the powers based on who they were in the family.
And so men are always expected to be strong, so I had Bob have super strength. Women, mothers are always pulled in a million different directions, so I had her be elastic. Teenagers are insecure and defensive, so I had Violet have force fields and invisibility. Ten-year-olds are energy balls that can’t be stopped. And babies are unknown, maybe they have no powers, maybe they have all powers, we don’t know. So, that’s what Jack-Jack was, he was seemingly the first normal one in the family and then at the end of Incredibles you find out that he’s the wild card, and that he’s sort of the Swiss army knife of powers. And that to me reminds me of the way babies can grasp languages really easily and adopt them easily. So, that idea changes if you age the characters up. The insight into those periods of your life and those particular perspectives disappears once you age them up. I’m not interested in a college-aged Jack-Jack. I’m just not. I’m interested in my sons, you know growing up. But in terms of the interest for me in this movie, it stays more iconic if everyone kind of situates themselves. I also was on the first eight seasons of The Simpsons and that’s worked out rather well for them. I’ll stick with that.
Q: So the first movie came out years before Disney bought Marvel, and before the birth of this Marvel Cinematic Universe, can you talk about how this Marvel, Super Hero movie renaissance has affected the Incredibles in any way?
Brad Bird: On some level it’s kind of like going out to the football field, and there’s been way too many games on it, so there’s kind of this dried dirt with a few spurts of grass and everything is kind of clunky and life doesn’t grow there anymore. So there is that aspect, like Jesus its really been covered. It kind of reminds me of the way Westerns were in the late 50’s, where if you had a television 95% of what was on was a Western. So we are in that phase a little bit, and it makes it very challenging on a story level, because not only do you have every superhero under the sun, and cross-promoting films, and blah blah blah, but you also have a bunch of television shows, and even years ago there was a show called Hero, who the creator told me it was a mash-up of the movies Crash and The Incredibles. But Heroes used to do 5-10 superheroes with storylines that continued every week. So it’s easy to freak out and go, ‘Well, why even try, everyone’s got everything done to death.’ But then again, I returned to what makes us unique and its this idea of a family. That superheroes need to hide their abilities, and those things actually are unique to us, and there is plenty left to explore.
John Walker: When we were trying to sell the idea of the movie of the first Incredibles, one of the criticisms we received was well what is it? Is it a family movie? Is it a spy movie? Is it a superhero movie? You gotta pick one! And I think that’s been a strength of both the films, is that they are all those things and it isn’t rooted in just the superhero genre.
Q: Back when the first movie came out, diversity wasn’t being discussed very much in film, and now it’s very much in everybody’s mind. In the footage that I saw I didn’t see much of it…
Brad Bird: It’s in there. It’s not in the sections you saw. And we are just telling the story we want to tell, people have remarked that we geared this towards the “Me Too” movement because it’s got a female lead and all this stuff, but we were in production, I had that idea on the heels of the first movie, that’s the oldest idea in the current movie, that and exploring Jack-Jack’s powers. We don’t really respond to whatever the thing of the moment is because our lead times are so long. We just kind of tell the stories we want to tell. But that said, the first walk around character in Disneyland that was black is Frozone, and so we’ve done ok and we will continue to kind of present that sort of world because that’s the world we live in. Black female, we have a few, well should I say? We wanted to show Honey in this movie. But we didn’t end up doing it because it’s funnier in just the voice. So we actually went through all the trouble of designing the character, and the design appears in the movie but not as Frozone’s wife. We have used her design and she is a hero, there is not a lot of screen time on it. The problem is we have a lot of different things that we want the movie to be about. And we are already, the two Incredibles movies, are the longest movies at Pixar, and they are never happy about that. So that is our struggle and we hope you like the new movie
Q: How quickly did you tackle and find the story for this one, the fact that you have a bunch of people who love what you did in the original, so the sequel, the challenge of it?
Brad Bird: I think that’s it’s really distracting to think of that. If you think about pleasing an audience that has no definition, it’s old, it’s young, it’s east, it’s west, north, south, conservatives, liberals, everyone in between; if you try to think about pleasing that and what will they like two years from now you’ll just curl up into a fetal ball and never come out of your room. The better way to think about it is, I’m coming into a darkened movie theater, the curtains are opening, and I’m seeing what? What do I want to see? And if you ask that question of yourself that way, your always connecting with the person that wants to be told a story. That to me, I feel comfortable in answering that question. Rather than what will audiences like, what will critics like, what did they like about the last one and do I do it again because they like it or do I try to surprise them? And the answer is a little bit of both, you want the characters to feel consistent and you want the world to feel consistent, but you don’t want to be able to know whats going to happen next. So that is the challenge and its not an easy challenge to meet. Its your job if your making films.
John Walker: And the fact that we took 14 years to do it suggests that we took the job seriously.
Brad Bird: The thing is, many sequels are cash grabs, and there is a saying in the business that I can’t stand, where they go, “You don’t make another one your leaving money on the table.” And money on the table is not what makes me get up in the morning, making something that people are going to enjoy a hundred years from now is what gets me up. So if it were a cash grab, we would not have taken 14 years. It makes no financial sense to wait this long. We had a story that we wanted to tell.
Q: You mentioned Jack-Jack’s abilities, any specific guidelines you gave, don’t go this far with it, or other limits?
Brad Bird: Really the first limitations would go to the story team. When I was saying here is this scene, let’s explore it visually. And I didn’t put a lot of limits on them initially, so they started doing everything and I think we started to go, alright we need to settle down a little bit toward act III, we don’t want to have any new powers in act III. And then we got into act III, and there were a few point where we thought it be really cool to have a new power here, so we told ourselves to stay strictly on our diet, and we kind of broke it a couple of times. No, we didn’t have a lot of limitations, we try to treat this very unrealistic world, try to pepper in realism in terms of what people think, how they react to having powers, he’s presented as a baby so what interests him is what interests a baby. He never understands whats going on or can think ahead of the villain, its more like, “That’s shiny! I like that! This makes me angry! I want to go there!” Those kinds of emotions and then you build the superpowers around that, so he’s still a baby, even though he has these powers he has limited control over.
Q: Is there a type of aesthetic for the superheroes?
Brad Bird: I would say the movie has sort of a late 50’s early 60’s aesthetic, and we’ve tried to stay with that. It is a strange world, it doesn’t adhere strictly to the 60’s so we have an iPad in the first movie before there were iPads. Apple owes me on that one. So we have gadgets that are futuristic gadgets. But for instance, in this movie, we don’t have portable phones. In some aspects, it would have made things easier if we had cellphones, and in some aspects harder because you can always go, “well why don’t you just pick up your phone?” And that gets to be kind of boring storywise too. “Let me stop and check.” You’d have all these fantastic characters going [jaja on their phone]” So it’s always this blend of sixties futurism the way a bond film is or Johnny Quest or something like that. So that part of it has always been inspired by spy movies. But we kind of stay generally with the playbook established by the first one, its just we’re better at it now.
Q: How much leeway do you give the other teams on the film for an action sequence like the Elasticycle sequence?
Brad Bird: Leeway? I’m heavily into coordinating the shots and I have strong opinions. That said, I try to create an atmosphere where I get the shot that I want, but if somebody comes up with an alternate shot that they think could be cool, I can be persuaded. But I’m not one of these people that goes, “You’re good at figuring out action sequences, you go figure it out” I’m elbows in. I have very strong opinions about how I like to see things staged, ask people. There are a million different ways to make a film, and one of the best things about this company is that it allows for that, it accommodates for that. But I always look at other filmmakers like why would you give up any part of your movie.
Nicole Grindle: One thing I would say is that because of the limited schedule, the first movie you were able to choreograph a lot of that in storyboarding, so folks where throwing a lot of stuff up there and bringing it back to you…
Brad Bird: And you know, there were a lot of good ideas, that I used… I’m not opposed to other people’s notions, I just want to make sure I get mine in first.
Q: There was a very interesting idea in the first movie about what makes someone special, “Super”; to you, what’s the idea or ideas that this movie is exploring?
Brad Bird: It explores a lot of ideas. I don’t like to talk about the ideas as if that was the reason I made the movie, was to push some agenda. It’s more like you create something that is fun and entertaining and you create places where you can put a couple ideas here or there that add dimension to it. The first and most important goal of the first movie was to entertain the crap out of people. And the second thing was the other things we want to comment on, the roles of men and women, fathers and mothers, how do teenagers view the world? What midlife crisis? That kind of stuff, and certain things got more attention, that thing got attention. But we have things exploring the roles of men and women, the importance of fathers participating, the importance of allowing women to also express themselves through work and they are just as vital as men are, and there’s aspects of being controlled through screens. The difficulties of parenthood. All these things are in the movie but if I single out one of them, it doesn’t give you an accurate representation of the movie, it makes it sound like we are having broccoli and not dessert. I don’t mind nutrition but I’d like to have it in dessert if possible.
Q: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, who do you think really stood out in the voice booth, was it old guard, new guard?
Brad Bird: There is no weak link. I’m the worst person to ask because they’re all fantastic. I will say when I was an animator, I really hoped that I would have a good soundtrack to animate to, because what takes an actor five seconds to say, may take an animator three weeks to animate, and they have to listen to that dialogue over and over and over. And if it’s flat and boring, you just want to kill yourself. But if there is dimension to the line reading, something to grab onto and explore, you can dive deep on a single line and its endlessly fascinating. So I try to collect the kind of soundtracks that I’d want if I were an animator, and all of our actors delivered; of the new actors Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener and Sophia Bush just kick it out through the roof. There is a character named Voyd who is a new super hero, of the wannabes, and she admires Helen and is kind of a Helen groupie. And I described her to the animators like we had this dog that was this very big powerful dog and it only had two settings; one was in your face, “love me, love me, love me. love me!” and when you finally said, “Get off!” It was, “I’m sorry…” And then if you go, “It’s ok…” He goes back to, “LOVE ME, LOVE ME!” And she’s a little bit like that where she’s always kind of leaning in a little too much, and is a little too ready to ask you ten million questions and it’s a fun character. I’ve never seen that before in a super hero movie. We are always trying to juice it up, but I love our voice cast, and I love returning to working with Holly, and Craig, and Sarah, and we have a new Dash, who is amazing, just every bit as good as the first Dash who was also amazing. Jonathan Banks, the one who did the voice, Bud Luckey, who did the voice for Rick Dicker, was sick and we had to replace him and we got Jonathan Banks. I’m a huge Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul fan, so he took over the role of Rick Dicker. As Walker says, “The first Rick Dicker you can’t imagine that he possibly could have killed a man, and this Dicker you can accept that”. But Jonathan Banks is a wonderful actor and he’s really great as Rick Dicker. I would love to tell you that one person was excellent above all others, but they are all on that level to me. I’m the worst person to ask.
Q: In the fourteen years since the last movie was out, can you talk about how the story developed in your mind and maybe some of the ideas that didn’t make it into this movie? How it evolved?
Brad Bird: We don’t have enough time to discuss the ideas that didn’t make it into this movie. The two ideas that were in my head as the first movie was [the] ending was a role switch between Bob and Helen, and showing Jack-Jack’s powers and exploring them and making Jack-Jack a main character rather than a side character. Those were in from the beginning and never left the project. What changed is the plot, the super hero villain plot and that shifted endlessly and it drove me insane. Because I was always was faced with the release date and if something didn’t work I couldn’t sit there and try to bang on it. I had to throw it away immediately and go find another idea that solved some of the issues the first idea didn’t have. So that half of the story was shifting always.
The film hits theaters June 15, 2018.