HEAT VISION

'Incredibles 2' Director Reveals What He Had to Change About the 2004 Original

Brad Bird was joined by star Holly Hunter for an in-depth conversation about the past and future of the Pixar franchise.
Moderator Bruce Fretts with Brad Bird and Holly Hunter at the 92nd Street Y 'Incredibles 2' talk.   |   Rod Morata/Michael Priest Photography
Brad Bird was joined by star Holly Hunter for an in-depth conversation about the past and future of the Pixar franchise.

Incredibles 2 star Holly Hunter has done no shortage of press for the blockbuster film this year, often with costar Craig T. Nelson at her side — even though the two never recorded their parts together and only met for the first time about one year ago. Thus, it felt natural that Hunter paired with writer-director Brad Bird this time around, gathering for an intimate talk at 92nd Street Y in New York City on Dec. 1.

Alongside moderator Bruce Fretts, the pair shared inside stories about making both The Incredibles and its smash sequel, the latter of which passed the $1 billion mark at the worldwide box office, as well as their experiences directing and acting outside of the Incredibles universe.

At the core of the film is the relationship between Helen (Hunter) and Bob (Nelson) Parr — a partnership of equals that Bird worked hard to get right in the 2004 original. Bird revealed Pixar asked him to rewrite the fight scene at home between Bob and Helen in the first film, because everyone thought it seemed like Bob was bullying his wife. Bird left all of the lines alone, merely adding the bit where she stretches to be as tall as him when saying, “It’s not about you!” It's the only change he made, but everyone thought it was a great rewrite.

“All I did was make her stretch, because then visually, you're seeing that she's his match, that she's not intimidated by him, she's just as tough as he is,” Bird said. “And that kind of is a core moment — that's the character. And that's probably one of a thousand reasons why he loves her.”

Here's what else the audience learned from the conversation.

Holly Hunter didn’t think there would be a sequel.

There was the usual amount of joking about how Incredibles 2 took 14 years to be released (“This is like a public shaming!” Brad Bird said at one point), and Hunter admitted that she didn’t expect it would ever happen. "When the movie didn't happen after 10 years, I certainly didn't think that there was going to be one. So when I began to get wind that there might be one, I was surprised,” she said, laughing. “But I also thought, because the first one was so amazing, that Brad must have something going on. This was not obligatory. This was a story that he really wanted to tell."

The plotline in Incredibles 2 was not the result of Pixar hopping on any sort of trend.

The film sees Elastigirl (Hunter) go to work as a hero and Mr. Incredible (Nelson) stay home with the baby. Speaking to the role reversal between the two main characters, Bird said, "We've sort of gotten credit for surfing some kind of new wave — like I knew exactly what was going to be the zeitgeist, 14 years in advance! — but it's actually the same idea that I had back then. [Elastigirl] is not a different character ... rediscovering that 'action person' in her is there in the first movie."

Hunter herself became a parent between the two films.

"Playing motherhood on screen has never been really foreign to me ... I have my own powers of imagination, which have kicked in, but now it's real,” Hunter said of whether being a mother informed the role at all. She added that she prefers for that aspect of her life to remain private: “I tend to be a little squeamish about talking about being a parent. I keep it kind of close to the vest."

The Incredibles was Bird’s favorite experience directing.

Bird said he prefers the first film because it is the only movie out of the six he has made where he got to fully conceive the idea and see it through, rather than joining a film that had already been conceptualized, such as 2007's Ratatouille, or adapted from a book, like 1999's Iron Giant.

Hunter and Nelson didn't meet each other until about a year ago.

“Everybody assumes that they know each other really well,” Bird said, but because the voiceover recording process is so isolated, Hunter and Nelson were, in fact, never in the same room together.

Lily Tomlin was originally considered to voice Edna Mode in the first film.

After Bird met with Tomlin and gave her an example of how the character should sound, Tomlin kept the tape for a week, then told him she thought he “nailed it” and should be the one to voice the character. Brad also joked that he was "available and cheap."

When casting the first film, Bird chose Hunter because her voice embodied the exact personality he had dreamt up for Elastigirl/Helen Parr.

"There is a vulnerability and a strength [to Holly's voice] — the vulnerability is the first thing, but underneath it is this steel rod of strength and you can hear it, and though the character is elastic, she's tough,” he explained. “If I made that voice as a person, you'd know that voice is going to survive the winter."

Hunter lost that same voice during almost every recording session.

Bird saved the yelling and screaming for the end of each session, but there was enough of it in Incredibles 2 for it to take its toll on the actors. “There’s always a good amount of screaming,” Brad said proudly, while Hunter confessed that it was “cathartic.”

Hunter also spoke about Bird’s hands-on method of reading with the actors in the booth. She explained that she "craves intimacy" with a director, and that she feels such intimacy really went away once the video monitor was invented and the director no longer needed to be physically close to actors on set. She loved that Brad would read for the other characters in the sound booth right next to her as she recorded, and they would bounce off one another.

Bird’s secret to a great animated film is “underlying an idea that’s simple.”

“One of the rules on Incredibles was: it’s about a dance between the mundane and the fantastic, meaning you don’t do something fantastic for very long without some of the mundane showing up,” he said. Action scenes in his films are sprinkled with moments of normalcy; things you wouldn't normally see a superhero do.

Bird realized he had captured Helen’s character after an experience rewriting.

Bird was told to rewrite the fight scene at home between Bob and Helen in the first film, because everyone thought it seemed like Bob was “bullying” her. Bird left all of the lines alone, merely adding the bit where she stretches to be as tall as him when saying, “It’s not about you!” It's the only change he made, but everyone thought it was a great rewrite. “All I did was make her stretch, because then visually, you're seeing that she's his match, that she's not intimidated by him, she's just as tough as he is,” Bird said. “And that kind of is a core moment — that's the character. And that's probably one of a thousand reasons why he loves her.”

Bird used his experience directing animation to inform his time on live-action movies.

While Bird didn’t pick one or the other when asked which is harder, he did go into more detail about the challenges of directing animation. “Both live-action films I’ve done were complicated, but thinking about things that way, it helps to have done animation, because you have to pre-imagine everything. When I had to wing it on Mission Impossible [Ghost Protocol] with some complicated sequences, the fact that I'd done storyboarding before made it easy for me to pre-visualize what was going to happen. It's still the same language, just how you're getting the images up on the screen is different."

Brad Bird neither confirmed nor denied that an Incredibles 3 will happen.

When asked about a potential sequel, Bird deadpanned, "I don't know. You don't ask somebody who's just had a baby, 'How'd you like to out back and get another one?'” As the crowd roared with laughter, Bird cheekily added, “Don't ask me now."

  • Gab Ginsberg
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