The Incredibles came out in 2004. That’s four years before Iron Man came out and jump-started the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Before then, superhero and comics-based movies were far more hit-or-miss; 2004 also saw the release of Hellboy (beloved) and Catwoman (less so).
It’s now 2018, and the entire entertainment landscape looks very different thanks to the current superhero renaissance. It’s into this new era that Pixar is launching Incredibles 2, and that presents no shortage of challenges, according to director Brad Bird.
“It’s kind of like going out to the football field, and there’s been way too many games on it, and there’s kind of this dried dirt with a few sprigs of grass and everything’s kind of clunky. Life doesn’t grow there anymore,” Bird said during a recent press conference at Pixar’s headquarters in Emeryville, California. “There’s that aspect where you feel like, ‘Oh, Jesus, it’s really been covered.'”
Bird compared superhero movies now to westerns around the middle of the 20th century. “If you had a television, 95% of what was on was a western,” he said. “We’re in that phase a little bit, and it makes it very challenging on a story level, because not only do you have every superhero under the sun and cross-promoting films and blah blah blah, but you also have a bunch of television shows…It’s easy to freak out and go, ‘Well, why even try?'”
He said he ultimately returned to what makes The Incredibles unique: the idea of a family of superheroes living in a world in which they have to hide their powers. And he said they found plenty there to explore still.
“When we were trying to sell the idea of the first Incredibles, one of the criticisms of it was, ‘Well, what is it? Is it a family movie, is it a spy movie, is it a superhero movie? What is it? What is it? You gotta pick one,'” said Incredibles 2 producer John Walker. “And I think that’s been the strength of both the films, is that they are all those things, and that isn’t rooted in just the superhero genre.”
Bird said they aren’t necessarily trying to cater only to fans of the original or please any one group of fans.
“I think that it’s really distracting to think of that, if you think about pleasing an audience that has no definition–it’s old, it’s young, it’s east, west, north, south, conservatives, liberals, you know? Everyone in between. If you try to think about pleasing that–and what will they like two years from now? I mean, you just will curl up into a fetal ball and never come out of your room,” he said. “The better way to think about it is, ‘I’m going in to a darkened movie theater, the curtains are opening, and I’m seeing what? What do I want to see?'”
“I feel comfortable answering that question, rather than, ‘What will audiences like? What will critics like? What did they like about the last one? And do I do it again because they like it or do I try to surprise them?'” he continued. “And the answer is a little bit of both. You want the characters to feel consistent; you want the world to feel consistent, but you don’t want to be able to know what’s going to happen next. So that’s the challenge, and it’s not an easy challenge to meet, but it definitely is your job if you’re making films.”
As Walker, the producer, pointed out, it’s taken them 14 years to get this sequel made, which “suggests that we took the challenge seriously.”
“There’s a saying in the business that I can’t stand, where they go, ‘You don’t make another one, you’re leaving money on the table,'” Bird replied. “And it’s like, Jesus, money on the table’s not what makes me get up in the morning. Making something that people are going to enjoy 100 years from now is what gets me up. So if it were a cash grab we would not have taken 14 years. It makes no financial sense to wait this long. It’s sheerly we had a story we wanted to tell.”
Incredibles 2 hits theaters June 15.