It’s a question on every fan’s mind: If audiences can be surprised 14 years later by a sequel to The Incredibles, then who’s to say they can’t be surprised again in another decade and a half with a sequel to that sequel?
Hollywood seems more intent than ever on seizing lucrative franchises when they arise, and the inevitable box-office success of Incredibles 2 is enough to wonder whether this summer’s sequel is the last time we’ll see the Parr family onscreen. But the curious journey of the second film in the series offers a compelling twist to the argument for a third.
One of the key reasons for the development of Incredibles 2 was the lingering existence of important storylines in writer-director Brad Bird’s mind during the first film. Bird’s abiding interest in those plots — the revelation of Jack-Jack’s powers and a role-reversal for Bob and Helen — was the biggest driver for making the sequel happen, 14 eventual years later. After the first film made a splash in 2004, Bird kept his crime-fighting family out of the spotlight for well over a decade, always eager to revisit the world that birthed “the most fun [he’d] ever had making a movie,” but hesitant to return amid a growing multiplex glut of superheroes and sequels. Yet from a story standpoint, Incredibles 2 was never anything but obvious.
“It always felt like a sequel made sense,” says producer John Walker. “It’s just that kind of movie. When it looks like the family might be able to use their powers again and be crimefighters…what are they gonna do next? You do wonder it at the end of the film.”
Bird says he knew he had the broad basis for the sequel while he was doing press rounds for The Incredibles; he toyed with the concepts of Incredibles 2 even back in 2004, and Bird publicly talked about the slow-burn tinker of the story for years. (This stands in fair contrast to another long-lead Pixar sequel, 2016’s Finding Dory, which director Andrew Stanton would keep very close to the chest before ever confirming his interest publicly.) It was Incredibles 2‘s Jack-Jack storyline, in particular, that was planned for the first film but never found its proper place, thus making it prime narrative real estate for Bird in the follow-up.
What inevitably makes Incredibles 3 not so far-fetched of an idea is the way in which similar precious characters and storylines were sacrificed on this film, in part due to a truncated production schedule. When Pixar swapped the release dates of Toy Story 4 and Incredibles 2 back in October 2016, one full year of production was knocked off of Bird’s film. He talks candidly about the shift having frenzied effects on the creative process, one such byproduct being the loss of good ideas to problems that “you couldn’t linger on,” he describes. “It’s like the episode of I Love Lucy when she’s got the candies piling up on the conveyer belt. This film was like that. They took a year off our schedule, so if an idea didn’t work quickly, you had to just kill the darling and move onto the next. And I killed like a city full of darlings.”
Certainly, every major movie has left ideas on the cutting room floor that could stand to fuel an entire spin-off — and history would suggest that more often than not, lost ideas just tend to stay lost. But Bird talks passionately about plots and characters that didn’t ultimately serve the premise of the film’s two chief storylines (Helen’s solo mission and Bob’s domestic drama), yet would have been compelling and worthy new additions to the franchise. (He acknowledges that even the movie’s main villain, the screen-shaming Screenslaver, was a late creation “amid the chaos”; the original story involved a far more intricate artificial intelligence plot.)
“We storyboarded, and we designed characters, and they’re really good! Some of them were really funny and cool and explored certain things…” Bird says, trailing off. “You know, you never say never, because there might be an opportunity to use it. Maybe the idea shows up in a different film. There was an idea I had for an animated version of The Spirit that I ended up using in The Iron Giant. You never know how these things are going to get repurposed. There were a lot of ideas that we had on this film that could be [used]… whether it’s another Incredibles film, or something else.”
Perhaps the biggest indicator of a future for The Incredibles is the very fact that Bird hasn’t just flatly ruled it out. He talks very openly about not wanting to have felt pushed into Incredibles 2, which is partly to blame for the 14-year gap between films; similarly, he is admittedly not a fan of the current cultural environment wherein filmmakers are both encouraged to revisit their past work and simultaneously scorned for it (to say nothing of the skepticism they can receive for original ideas, too). But his feelings on sequels are clear — never say never, but too much pushing and suddenly a project can become a prison.
Still, there are allies in the cast who are hoping Bird continues developing the franchise. Samuel L. Jackson, who voices Frozone and who was perhaps the most vocal cast member of the original film to nudge Bird toward a sequel, expressed his hopes for a Frozone/Mr. Incredible origin story: “That would be cool, to know why Lucius is this lovable uncle figure, and how long he and Bob have known each other and what kind of things did they get into? Did they meet because they were superheroes? Did they meet one night by accident? Or did they just meet naturally and come to find out, ‘Oh, you’re a hero, too!’” Sophia Bush, a new addition to the franchise as portal-creating heroine Voyd, points to a promising moment toward the end of Incredibles 2 when her character and teen hero Violet meet: “It’s a great moment for those girls to start hopefully collaborating, whether that’s in the continuum left after the second movie or in an eventual third, which I think we’re all pulling for.”
It may not be realistic to bet on Incredibles 3 actually manifesting anytime soon — certainly not if it must be written and directed by Bird (which, to Pixar’s credit, is the studio’s de facto rule for producing sequels). But compelling storylines speak to a filmmaker in the same way money speaks to a movie studio.
“I wouldn’t ever rule it out,” says Walker of a potential threequel. “And if past is prologue, it’ll be another 14 years — and a lot of people will probably need oxygen to make a third one.”