How Brad Bird Overcame Superhero Fatigue to Make ‘The Incredibles 2’

Oscar Wrap magazine: “I thought, ‘There’s already too many superhero films — is the public going to be sick of them by the time this comes out?'” says Bird

The Incredibles 2
Pixar Animation Studios

A version of this article about “The Incredibles 2”  first appeared in the TheWrap magazine’s Oscar Nominations Preview issue.

Back in 2004, when Brad Bird’s Pixar smash “The Incredibles” came out, only one other film among the year’s Top 10 box office champions was a superhero movie: “Spider-Man 2,” the second-biggest movie of the year. But flash forward 14 years to the release of “The Incredibles 2” and you have a wildly different picture: Four of the movies in the Top 5 and six in the Top 10 are superhero flicks, with “Black Panther,” “The Avengers: Infinity War,” “Deadpool 2,” “Ant-Man and the Wasp” and “Venom” joining Bird’s film atop the charts.

“The landscape changed so radically between the first film and this one,” said Bird. “There were only a couple of superhero franchises that were active when we did the first film: Batman had gone dormant, Superman was on ice and Marvel was only Spider-Man and the X-Men. So we had a lot of elbow room.

“But now there’s a superhero every six inches as far as the eye can see. And at first that was depressing to me. I thought, ‘There’s already too many superhero films — is the public going to be sick of them by the time this comes out?’

“I was depressed for maybe an hour, and then I thought, ‘Remember, the thing that enticed you on the first one was not the superhero part,” Bird said. “Our secret sauce is that we’re not primarily a superhero movie — we’re a movie about a family that happens to be superheroes. And once I stopped thinking of it as a superhero film, I got very excited about it.”

But the emphasis on family also ended up complicating “Incredibles 2.” Bird, who had first thought of the idea for a sequel while he was promoting the first film, kicked around concepts while working on the Pixar film “Ratatouille” and the live-action productions “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” and “Tomorrowland.”

He had the idea for Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) and Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) to switch roles, with her getting a plum assignment that leaves him at home tending to the kids. He knew there would be plenty of material in the fact that at the end of the previous film, the audience found out that baby Jack-Jack had multiple powers, something the family had yet to discover. And he thought he had a good villain in artificial intelligence run amok.

“I pitched it, everyone liked it and we were greenlit and got on the Pixar schedule,” he said. “And then, because we sounded a little more figured out than ‘Toy Story 4,’ our release date got moved up and they took a year off our schedule, which was hellacious.”

And that’s when he realized that his bad guy didn’t work with the family story. “I had a release date looming, a crew, a year off my schedule and a story a third of which didn’t work,” he said. “But boot camp for me was television: I was on the first eight seasons of ‘The Simpsons,’ and you learned to think fast because you had to do 24 stories a year. So I quickly bailed on that first idea.”

He came up with another idea for a villain with family problems of her own, though completing the work in time was, he said, “a real race.” But it was also satisfying, because the franchise has always been special to a director who sees his future as a blend of animation and live action. “The first ‘Incredibles’ was the only film I’ve been able to take from the absolute initial spark to the finished film,” he said. “But the next films that I want to do are all of that ilk.”

As for what those next films are, Bird has lots of ideas.

“I could sit down and give you the titles and premises of six or seven different movies,” he said. “Some of them I’ve been wanting to make for decades, and I’m still excited about the ideas.”

And are they live-action or animation?

“Both,” he said. “The next one I intend to do — and we’ll have to see if I can get backing for it — is a live-action film with about 20 minutes of animation in it. The one that maybe I’ll do after that is animated.”

One thing they probably won’t be: sequels.

“I don’t want to sound cynical, because I love a good sequel as much as anybody,” he said. “But right now we’re recycling too much food.”

To read more of the Oscars Nomination Preview issue, click here.

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