With The Incredibles 2 breaking box office records and delighting audiences around the world, we’ve turned back to look a the genesis of the original film from 2004 with writer/director Brad Bird. As he explains it, while production was winding down on The Iron Giant — the hand-drawn adventure of a boy and his giant robot — Bird and his crew felt a certain sense of relief. After all, they’d managed to craft exactly the film they wanted to, which in itself was a fairly impressive accomplishment given Hollywood’s still-existing reluctance to take a risk on anything untried, and in the process felt they had created just a bit of movie magic. As such, they were excited to move on to their follow-up film, The Incredibles, a comedy-adventure about a family of superheroes that must balance their private lives with their efforts to save the world.
The concept for The Incredibles came to Bird in the early ’90s while he was a serving as a consultant on The Simpsons, a fulfilling position, but one that nonetheless fueled his desire to craft his own tales for the big screen. It was a desire complicated — if that’s the right word — by the fact that he was also married and raising a young family.
“Oftentimes these things just kind of come in quietly and you tinker on them in your mind until you have a critical mass of ideas connected to one thing and you act on them,” he muses. “I can’t say exactly what sparked the idea, but I think back to when I first came up with it, because the baby in the movie is named after my middle son, Jack. He was a little baby at the time I had the idea.”
Bird notes that at the time he was happy to serve as a consultant to The Simpsons as opposed to a full-fledged producer as it gave him the time to explore the possibility of moving into film, his true passion. It’s the same reason he served as executive consultant to the animated series The Critic and King of the Hill as well.
“With movies, I was constantly getting on the runway over and over again, pitching projects that would get backed and developed, but they would never get cleared for takeoff,” he says. “The ideas were just as good as anything I’ve made, it’s just that they would not get off the ground for, often, really frustrating, boring, bureaucratic reasons. An executive I was developing it with would get fired and the next guy wouldn’t want anything the previous guy had developed. Or the movie would be vaguely related to something that had just failed on the marketplace, therefore any idea that’s remotely similar is bad. Really cool films were not happening because middle-level management wanted to keep their parking space. So the idea of something fantastic not happening for very mundane reasons was on my mind.
“I was kind of frustrated, but at the same time I had a new family and I was worried about either not being able to do work that I wanted to, or being a lousy parent,” he continues. “In other words, maybe I would have to redouble my efforts to make it, but in doing so I would be an absentee father, which I did not want to be. Or I would be a great father and never commit the time or energy needed to have the work that I wanted. So the film idea came out of the anxiety of that choice: I wanted meaningful work and a great family life. I didn’t want to sacrifice either. I wanted both and was afraid I would lose one or the other. That kind of sparked the idea, in an unconscious way.”
The idea centered around the Parr family – parents Bob and Helen, teenage daughter Violet, son dash and infant son Jack-Jack – a seemingly normal bunch of people who, we learn, are living in something of a witness protection program. The reason? It seems that Bob and Helen are actually superheroes (Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl, respectively) who found themselves the victim of so many lawsuits from people claiming to be injured while being rescued, that they found it necessary to step out of the public eye. Unexpectedly, their children also gradually began to reveal their extraordinary abilities, with Violet having the power to turn invisible and create forcefields; Dash being endowed with super speed and Jack-Jack not quite coming into his own yet in terms of a power. Through the events of the film – which has The Incredibles back in action, teaming up with old friend Frozone (who has freezing power) against the evil machinations of old enemy Syndrome — the family learns that they must be true to themselves while drawing closer to one another.
It would seem that Bird is something of a superhero enthusiast, with the Iron Giant himself wanting to embrace the ideals of Superman and, of course, the whole premise of The Incredibles.
“People will think that and, truthfully, I like them and am entertained by them,” he says. “I think they’re our current mythology in a lot of ways. It’s a way to play Greek legends in modern settings. I think that’s kind of what we’re doing: giving people the power of gods and then seeing what that does to you, both good and bad. We’re just kind of replaying mythology. I’m interested in that aspect of it, but I have a number of film ideas that have nothing to do with superheroes and I’m equally enthusiastic about them. Several of the projects that I mentioned that are kind of in the freezers of various studios are not superhero things. The Incredibles is just the idea that I wanted to do next.”
Along the way to the new film, Bird directed 2011’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and 2015’s Tomorrowland. The Incredibles 2 is currently in theaters.
Images: Walt Disney, Pixar