In developing the story for Incredibles 2, writer-director Brad Bird happened on the idea that macho hero Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) would be flummoxed and reluctantly relegated to domestic duty when his wife, Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), gets selected to lead a superhero mission of her own. “I thought it would mess Bob up,” Bird reasoned, “and it would also bring out a side of Helen she’s had to repress, which we know is there because she says it at the very beginning of the first film: ‘Why would I settle down?’”
But Sophia Bush, one of the new cast members of Incredibles 2, says there’s more to Bird’s story. “He says, ‘I just thought it would be pure comedy to upset Bob.’ That’s his answer. But privately he says, ‘Look at my wife. She’s a superhero. She’s amazing. I want to highlight women like her.’ So he knew what he was doing.”
It was 14 years ago when Bird decided he wanted his sequel to explore the gender-role reversal of his two primary Incredibles. And yet, what nobody could predict was the unexpected timing of Incredibles 2’s arrival in theaters. After an arguably arbitrary 14 years, and with a surprise year removed from its production schedule to boot, the movie now finds itself landing amid one of the most significant social moments in American culture, a climate of female empowerment and calls for parity that makes the story of Elastigirl’s breadwinning and Mr. Incredible’s unintentional misogyny a sizzlingly relevant topic.
“It’s serendipitous that this is happening at the same time as #MeToo and Time’s Up, and who’s complaining?” says Holly Hunter, who reprises her voice role as Elastigirl a.k.a. Helen Parr. In recording Incredibles 2 over the past two years, Hunter relished uncovering all the new colors Bird had written for Helen, but it was particularly her character’s displays of competitiveness and ambition that delighted the actress and had her calling Bird “a true feminist” for writing such rich character development. “He says that he conceived of this idea years ago, of the tables turning and the role reversal, and I’m sure he did,” Hunter continues. “People have been doing this for years — men have been raising children and women have been in the workforce. But I still think that there’s a disconnect, a discomfort that people can still feel about it, obviously. There’s still a ways that we have to get to achieve a real, true, from-the-ground-up equality. But there is equality in this family. I love that from the very first time [Bob and Helen] meet in the first movie, there’s a competition between husband and wife in their superpowers, which I think is fabulous and funny but speaks to a certain equality that Brad feels they have.”
Bush also has a few thoughts on the matter. Joining the series as the pivotal new heroine Voyd, the actress is first and foremost a diehard Incredibles fan — she calls the movie “one of the best family-meets-coming-of-age stories that anybody’s ever done.” But as a founding member of Time’s Up, she’s keenly tuned into the film’s timely theming. To Bush, it’s not just the foresight of Bird having crafted a movie that happens to speak so well to current progressive conversations (which, she adds, “we should have been having [three years ago], but weren’t”). Rather, it’s the fact that such crucial themes are buried inside of an animated movie, an art form that somehow seems to perennially catch Hollywood off guard with its ability to tell vital stories.
“I find it so important because in so many conversations, especially with what a disaster politics seems to be right now, the minute you bring up gender parity, familial roles, women’s empowerment — people get tense. They feel like, ‘Here’s a big conversation coming,’ especially people who don’t agree with you. They feel like they’re getting ready for a fight,” Bush tells EW. “But this movie manages to pop the tension balloon and just remind people that all families are families.”
Bush cites “staggering” statistics that show growing percentages of families in America where fathers are staying home, of families where women are equal (or superior) earners to their partners. “We need to remind people that that’s not out of the ordinary, and why ever should parents figuring out how best to raise their children be imbalanced because of gender?” Bush continues. “It’s important to have those conversations in a way that is the opposite of tense.”
Enter: Incredibles 2, which addresses misogyny and familial parity in equal parts subtle and significant ways. “Somehow it’s actually funny, welcoming, gentle, amusing,” says Bush. “I heard so many people in the audience at the premiere calling out at the screen, ‘Yep! Been there! That’s me!’ in these deeply relational moments. And to me, that’s the best version of what storytelling can do.”
On the flip side, Catherine Keener, whose new character Evelyn Deavor is the creative genius behind a telecommunications company that employs Helen, says she most admires what actually goes unsaid in the film. The actress points to the nascent friendship between Evelyn and Helen, specifically in the way it doesn’t place itself into any context of their male counterparts. “There are scenes between us that are better than a lot of live-action movies I’ve done,” says Keener. “What I loved is that they actually didn’t comment on Mr. Incredible now being at home or the cliché of role reversal, because I find that that’s so dated. This is just reality. You know what? What I loved about this was to see Holly Hunter do a badass part again. That was exciting to me.”