Warning: Light Incredibles 2 spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk!
Brad Bird loves Jonny Quest. So much so that he included a surprise cameo from his favorite childhood show in the middle of his summer tentpole Incredibles 2 (in theaters now).
“When I was a kid, just seeing the opening titles of Jonny Quest had every single thing a young boy could want in entertainment,” Bird says of the beloved 1960s animated series, which pops up on television toward the end of Incredibles 2 in the living room of fellow wonder-kids Dash, Violet, and Jack-Jack. “All represented in the opening titles, it has jet packs, it has mummies, it has robots, it has spies, it has lizard men and komodo dragons and Yetis and guns and bodyguards. It’s just insane! Judo and karate and levitation! It’s just, like, this salad bar of craziness.”
Bird calls it one of the “tragedies of the world” that the show, in its original iteration, only lasted one season. Jonny Quest obviously went on to occupy a cherished place in pop culture, receiving other spin-offs and incarnations including two (questionable) TV reboots in the ’80s and ’90s. Still, the primary 1964-65 Hanna-Barbera series left an indelible mark on the filmmaker, who has cited the show as one of the reasons he wanted to make The Incredibles in the first place.
Bird points out that the action series’ primetime placement added a crucial dimension to its influence. “A lot of people forget that when it was first on TV, it wasn’t on Saturday morning,” he says. “And people died in it! They didn’t come back. Animation always chickens out now, and they have endless fighting, but nobody ever dies. And in Jonny Quest, they die. The stakes were up there.”
To a different point: While Bird is vocal about his feelings toward the saturation of Hollywood’s culture of reboots, remakes, and sequels (yes, even as he agreed to make Incredibles 2), it’s a valid thing to wonder, given how passionate he is about the crowdpleasing cameo, whether he would ever want to write or direct his own take on a personally beloved title like Jonny Quest.
“Well, I wouldn’t say that I would” Bird admits. “But if I would, I would want to do it in animation, and not live-action.”
Perhaps what the filmmaker is not directly addressing is the long-in-the-works live-action movie adaptation of Jonny Quest, a project Robert Rodriguez reportedly signed on to co-write and direct for Warner Bros three years ago, but which has stayed largely quiet since.
Nevertheless, Bird points to two key blunders made by others who have tackled Jonny Quest, both tied to mussing up the original show’s timeline and DNA. “You just don’t want Jonny to age. In versions that they’ve done, he becomes, like, 17, which is not Jonny Quest,” says Bird. “Or they try to set it present-day… but no, man! If you’re going to do it, you do it early-’60s and rock that baby.”
For now, Bird fans should settle for the delightful cameo, or perhaps the second-closest thing The Incredibles has to Jonny Quest: masks that may or may not have definitely been inspired by the world’s greatest crime-fighting pup, Bandit.