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Movie Review: ‘Incredibles 2’ Uses Its Period Setting and the Responsibility of Superpowers to Show How to Be an Adult

©2017 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Samuel L. Jackson, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Brad Bird, Jonathan Banks, Sophia Bush, Phil LaMarr, Isabella Rossellini, John Ratzenberger, Bill Wise

Director: Brad Bird

Running Time: 118 Minutes

Rating: PG for Action Sequences Involving Dangerously Heavy Structures

Release Date: June 15, 2018

The Incredibles films stick out among Pixar’s oeuvre for how much more adult they are than the rest of the animation brand’s features. That is not to say that everything else is merely kids’ stuff. Indeed, there is plenty for audiences of all ages to appreciate in the likes of Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Wall-E, etc. The difference is that the typical Pixar offering features childlike wonder presented with unusually mature storytelling sophistication, whereas The Incredibles and Incredibles 2 are primarily concerned with the struggles of being a grown person: how to raise a family, how to earn a living, how to reconcile the way you live with the self-identity you perceive on the inside. With this focus along with its period trappings, Incredibles 2 continues asking its franchise’s fundamental question of whether or not we have shaped society as it ought to be.

Incredibles 2, like the original, is vague about its time period, but based on the outfits, manner of speaking, and predominant technology, it is easy to peg it as 1960s America. With that in mind, if The Incredibles were to exist as a TV series, it is not too hard to imagine it as the first animated example of AMC’s stable of period dramas. (The presence of two of the stars of Better Call Saul among the voice cast certainly bolsters this perception.) Incredibles 2 features more stable (though no less harried) domesticity than Mad Men, but the concerns of Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson) are not terribly different from those of Don Draper, while Helen Parr’s (Holly Hunter) career-minded focus in the face of skepticism is absolutely of a piece with that of Peggy Olson. Writer/director Brad Bird’s grounded approach to the existence of supers allows all viewers to consider that no matter what their own unique abilities are, they ought to make the best of them, for the world’s sake.

The reflectiveness and contextualization inherent to a period setting are key to getting the point across. This outing, in which Helen/Elastigirl is recruited for a PR campaign to make superpowers legal again while fighting a mysterious villain who uses screens to carry out mind control schemes, touches upon issues of media manipulation, trust (or lack thereof) in institutions, and the power and limits of basing a campaign around a single figurehead. Anyone paying attention to the political scene in 2018 will recognize similar disturbances in Incredibles 2. It is important to be reminded that these crises are not new and to know a big part of being an adult is responding to these challenges.

Bottom line: if you loved the kinetic action and family dynamics of the first Incredibles, you will probably love them all over again in Incredibles 2. If the prospect of a baby growing into his impressively wide-ranging superpowers has you excited, just wait until you see what Jack-Jack is up to. And rest assured, Edna Mode’s (Bird) scenes do not disappoint. This entry is not as mold-breaking as the original, but it is reliably entertaining and has plenty to say.

Incredibles 2 is Recommended If You Like: The Incredibles, AMC period dramas

Grade: 4 out of 5 Eye Lasers

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