When audiences catch up with the superpowered Parr family this summer in the long-awaited sequel to The Incredibles, a decade and a half will have passed in the real world — but mere seconds will have passed on screen.
There are a few reasons why writer-director Brad Bird decided to pick up the action of Incredibles 2 (out June 15) right where the first film ended (with the Incredibles facing off against the Underminer). On one hand, the climax of the 2004 film left more than enough unanswered questions to fuel the first act of Incredibles 2 — what the unleashing of their powers means for the kids, for instance, or how the family would react to Jack-Jack’s nascent powers, or even what the family’s very public coming-out of sorts means for the city’s banning of Supers.
But as Bird tells it, there is another significant reason why he made the specific choice to keep this hero train moving at the same speed: The Oscar-winning filmmaker doesn’t actually want you to notice the real-world time-lapse between films, and he certainly doesn’t want you to see, say, Dash and Violet in their 20s — in this film, or perhaps ever.
“To me, that’s a much more common idea, and I think that part of the intent of The Incredibles is to capture people and how their powers connected with the way they are at a certain age and their roles in the family,” says Bird. “That was actually kind of the ‘Aha!’ idea for me when I thought of the original film.”
In developing the concept for the original 2004 Incredibles, one of Bird’s first explorations was powers, the defining angle of the fantastical genre and a major barrier to crafting an original story within it. But by the end of the 20th century, almost 50 years removed from the genre’s peak creations, what else was there to innovate? “One visit to the comic-book shop for half an hour dissuaded me from thinking that I was ever going to invent some great new power,” laughs Bird. “I mean, every power known to man, somebody’s done somewhere. Even if a guy self-published 100 issues of Whatever-Man. So very quickly I realized that I didn’t care that much about the powers. What I did care about was that they were a family — and that was a very liberating idea.”
Bird turned his attention to the manifestation of familial roles and the emotional crises and connections that are borne specifically because of them. In doing so, he cracked his power problem — and it more than explains why Incredibles 2 not only maintains the same age for its characters, but why the franchise will likely not dramatically age the family up in any near future. “Men were expected to be strong, so I made the dad super strong,” Bird recalls. “Mothers are pulled in 20 different directions at once, so I had her be elastic. Teenage girls are defensive and shy and insecure, so I made Violet invisible and gave her force fields. Ten-year-olds are energy balls, so I made Dash super fast. And babies are unknown! So Jack-Jack either has no powers, or every power in the universe, because babies are all about possibility.”
“So, if you age them up,” Bird continues, “then they’re just powers. And that’s not interesting.”
Narrative integrity aside, Incredibles 2 is also able to maintain the characters’ ages because of the unique advantages of animation, a medium that inherently unlocks a plethora of possibilities that other 14-year-in-the-making sequels can’t achieve. “Animation does not have to observe linear time the way live-action films do,” he notes. “As long as people’s voices are the same, the characters don’t need to age. I mean, just ask the people on The Simpsons. You can do it in animation, just as long as the voices don’t sound older.”
And that’s largely been the case for the voice cast, all of whom are reprising their roles — except for one. Young Huck Milner, who now plays the super-speedy Dash, joined the cast in lieu of the original actor, Spencer Fox, who, at 24 years old, no longer shares the same voice he did when he played a 10-year-old.
Okay, so maybe Bird couldn’t completely ignore the effects of time.