In 2004, Pixar was on a hot streak, having released five computer-animated classics in eight years (“Toy Story,” “A Bug’s Life,” “Toy Story 2,” “Monsters Inc.,” and “Finding Nemo”). Then came the studio’s first movie to star human characters, “The Incredibles.” Like its predecessors, it was groundbreaking, and audiences clamored for more. Since then, Pixar’s output has been hit-and-miss, with “Up,” “Wall-E,” and “Brave” on the plus side, but “Monsters University,” “The Good Dinosaur,” and two “Cars” sequels on the minus side. But last year the studio was back in the win column with the joyous “Coco,” and now we have — finally — “Incredibles 2.”
It has been 14 years since the first one was released, but the action in this second one picks up right where it left off, as if no time had passed. That’s easy to do with animated characters, as they never have to age onscreen. Fortunately, only one of the original voice actors couldn’t reprise his role — Huck Milner now plays Dash, probably because Spencer Fox doesn’t sound like a young boy any more — but everyone else is back: Craig T. Nelson as Mr. Incredible, Holly Hunter as Elastigirl, Sarah Vowell as Violet, Samuel L. Jackson as Frozone, Brad Bird as superhero-costume-designer Edna Mode, and John Ratzenberger as Underminer. New cast members include Bob Odenkirk as billionaire Winston Deaver and Catherine Keener as his sister Evelyn, plus Isabella Rossellini, Sophia Bush, Jonathan Banks, Phil Lamarr, Barry Bostwick, and Jere Burns.
The plot of the movie is relatively simple. The Incredible family can’t fight the bad guys anymore because superheroes are still outlawed. But rich guy Deaver wants to legalize them and convinces the Incredibles to be part of a public relations campaign that will make the public enthusiastic about seeing them again. In order to achieve that, Deaver wants Elastigirl to take the crime-fighting lead, leaving Mr. Incredible at home to raise the couple’s three kids. There’s a villain, of course, named Screenslaver, who hypnotizes people to do evil with special messages transmitted through televisions.
Note that I didn’t say smartphone or tablet screens. That modern technology is non-existent in the Incredibles universe, because it takes place in the 1960s. Though nothing in Bird’s script sets the time frame explicitly, that’s my theory. As evidence I’d submit that: the shows the family watches on TV include “Johnny Quest” and “The Outer Limits;” there are jokes about New Math, which elementary school kids struggled with in that decade; even the cars look boxy like 1960s models. Moreover, in that pre-feminism era, the idea of a husband staying home to raise the family while the wife went to work was actually considered revolutionary, an attitude which hadn’t changed very much by the time Michael Keaton and Teri Garr starred in “Mr. Mom” in 1983! Plus, as my wife points out, the lead female character in “Incredibles 2” is called Elastigirl, not Elastiwoman.
As we’ve come to expect from Pixar features, “Incredibles 2” is visually stunning, particularly when it comes to hair and underwater scenes, the movie’s best action sequence in which Elastigirl uses a high-tech motorcycle to try to stop a runaway train, and a very funny bit in the backyard with baby Jack-Jack vs. a raccoon.
Unfortunately, there’s not as much comedy as I expected, and far too much of the family’s discovery of Jack-Jack’s superpowers. Writer/director Brad Bird could’ve trimmed some of those scenes (maybe about 15 minutes’ worth) to make the movie tighter. With its 118-minute running time, “Incredibles 2” is both the longest Pixar movie ever and the longest computer-animated feature to date. Of course, some of that run-time is due to a credits sequence that goes on forever, listing what seems like the thousand people who worked on “Incredibles 2.” We sat through them, expecting a bonus sequence at the end, but there’s none — so feel free to walk out without waiting unless you’re related to someone at Pixar.
As the studio has done with all of its features, “Incredibles 2” is preceded by a short film. This one’s called “Bao,” about a Chinese mom making dim sum dumplings when one of them comes to life. It’s cute, not too long, and the subject matter not surprising considering how important Chinese audiences are to the global success of any big-budget film.
Despite my minor complaints, I’m giving “Incredibles 2” an 8.5 out of 10.
It’s going to be a smash at the box office, and lots of families will end up buying it for repeated home consumption by their kids, too. I look forward to the next Incredibles chapter, which — considering the penchant for sequels and franchises of Pixar’s parent company, Disney — probably won’t take another 14 years to make.