It’s a heady revelation when, as an adult, you realize that everything you see in an animated film is not an accident. Every pencil stroke or pixel, every shape and every color — they are all conscious choices made by countless animators working together to tell a cohesive story. It’s really kind of mind-boggling just how much work goes into animated movies — short or long, 2D or 3D — and in a CGI-heavy medium, it’s something audiences take for granted.
This isn’t the main reason it took Disney / Pixar and writer-director Brad Bird 14 years to finally create a sequel to 2004’s The Incredibles, but it certainly helps explain why every choice in Incredibles 2 is the right one. Everything about this sequel improves upon (but never detracts from) the original, and it’s partially because Bird and his team took their time in fleshing out the Parr family to show us the next chapter of their superheroic — and superbly normal — lives.
The character-driven focus of Incredibles 2 is so well-done in the movie itself that it’s almost invisible, but the work behind it shows in every moment of the DVD / Blu-ray special features of the film’s release this week.
Normally, the only special features to be found on the first disc of a two-disc issue are audio commentaries (not skipped here!), but Disney wisely includes a select few on the feature film disc, presumably for quick access. The best and likely most sought after among them is Domee Shi’s short film Bao, which is just as beautiful and alarming on the rewatch as it was in theaters. Auntie Edna, another animated short depicting Edna Mode’s night babysitting Jack-Jack, is a fun follow-up to 2004’s Jack-Jack Attack, though it never quite recreates the hysterical magic of poor Kari’s trials when she babysat for the polymorphic exploding baby. Still, both shorts are precise examples of Pixar’s excellent work, packing more of an emotional punch in five minutes than most live action movies do in ninety. (Hot time-saving tip: Watch Bao instead of Hearts Beat Loud.)
Also on the first disc is “Strong Coffee: A Lesson in Animation with Brad Bird,” a featurette which is half about Bird’s love of and history with Disney animation and half about his directorial style and the process under which Incredibles 2 was created. This is the meatiest of the bonus features (which is saying a lot considering it’s maybe 10 minutes long) and the one most worth watching. Although I probably could’ve done with a full-length documentary piece that goes into minute details about the Pixar process, “Strong Coffee” is definitely the appropriate length for kids interested in animation and how their favorite movies are created.
Among the best tidbits “Strong Coffee” offers is a snapshot of the insanely in-depth discussions Bird and his animators had every day during production. Going over animation dailies that may only be 30 seconds in length, Bird and his team figured out together what worked, what didn’t and what could be improved by the most minuscule of changes. This is the clearest example of “everything in animation is there on purpose” that you see in the bonus features for Incredibles 2, as well as the best example of Bird’s directorial philosophy. Every comment he makes goes back to the character onscreen and how a raised eyebrow here or a dropped shoulder there serves that character’s viewpoint at that moment in the story. It also reminds you just how visual animation is, and that while in live-action body language is a given, that’s not the case for animated films. Animators have to create body language that feels natural to a real-life human audience while also restricting that language to reflect a certain character’s unique personality.
Again: mind-boggling. When you think of it this way, it’s kind of a miracle that any animated movie gets made, and it’s even more miraculous when they’re actually good.
The second disc contains special features that, while fun, are a little less essential. The best ones are the short character breakdowns in the “Heroes and Villains” section that offer behind-the-scenes peeks into all the creative decisions that went into realizing the Parr family, Frozone, the Deavors, and the Wannabes (aka the new supers). My personal favorites were the ones that focused on costume design (Edna Mode and Evelyn Deavor) and facial design (Winston Deavor) in the way that both visually signify character, but Frozone’s is the best breakdown of the bunch thanks to animator Frank E. Abney III. His insight regarding African-American representation both onscreen and behind the camera is a welcome addition to the largely Bird-centric special features, which tend to focus on Bird’s big personality more than anything else. Because of this, Abney’s joy at getting the chance to animate a character that looks like him in an industry that is predominately white is palpable when he talks about Frozone, and it really helps to show the human side of the less-famous names that help to bring characters like him to life.
The remaining features are split between the “Vintage Features,” which include amusing but repetitive theme songs and toy commercials for Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl and Frozone, and the 10 deleted scenes. The deleted scenes are particularly interesting, because they’re less “deleted” than they are “alternate.” Many of them originated either as alternate openings for the film (the funniest of them involves Kari the babysitter and some recapping from Jack-Jack Attack) or as scenes from when the movie was about something entirely different. It’s fascinating to see snippets of what Incredibles 2 could have been, from a takedown of show business and the corporatization of superheroes (which would’ve been a weird move for Disney) to the dangers of artificial intelligence.
Most studios would omit such deleted scenes because no studio really wants you to know all the bad ideas they had before they found the good ones. From a creative perspective, though, these deleted scenes are invaluable. None of those stories would have been bad, exactly, but none was the right story for Incredibles 2, and it’s just cool to see Bird and his team willing to show their decision-making process — most importantly, that storytelling is a process. Your first idea isn’t necessarily your best idea, and it’s worth taking the time to figure that out.
Incredibles 2 is a little lighter on the special features than most Disney outputs, but overall, the features suit the film and fit into the “just right” portion of the Goldilocks scale. You can get through them all in about an hour and not feel like you’ve wasted your time — or, better yet, lost the interest of your kids. If nothing else, the DVD / Blu-ray for Incredibles 2 is worth the addition to your media collection simply because the movie is so … incredibly good.
Yes, I went there. Hyperbole or not, this movie deserves no other adjective. It really is just incredible.
Incredibles 2 is out on DVD and Blu-ray November 6.