After a 14 year wait, Pixar are finally releasing Incredibles 2, but for Brad Bird, it was an accidental journey by way of Tomorrowland.
It’s been 14 years since Pixar released The Incredibles, a pitch-perfect superhero comedy that lovingly parodied both the 1960s retro-futurist aesthetic and old-school era of golden age comic books. Brad Bird, formerly of The Simpsons, had ventured into animation with The Iron Giant, which disappointed at the box office but has since gone on to become a cult classic. The Incredibles yielded far greater results, grossing over $633m at the box office (making it the 4th highest grossing film of 2004), and winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. Incredibles 2 is projected to best those numbers. The teaser trailer released last November received 113m views in its first 24 hours online, making it the most viewed trailer for an animated film ever. Clearly, audiences are hungry for more Incredibles. So, why did it take 14 years? Brad Bird has kept busy in the meantime and talk of a sequel was plentiful, but it took a detour through Tomorrowland to get him there.
This Page: Brad Bird’s Road to The Incredibles
Brad Bird’s Road to The Incredibles
Bird had the original idea for The Incredibles back in 1993 and had tried to develop it as a film while he was still mostly working in television. At the time, he was gearing up to sign a production deal with Warner Bros., who were moving into animation in an effort to keep up with Disney. The fruits of that partnership, The Iron Giant, was a spectacular critical success but a huge box office disappointment. From a budget of $70 - 80m, it grossed only $31.3m, and essentially led to Warner Bros. Animation shutting down before it truly began.
The Incredibles was originally planned as a 2D animated film, probably in conjunction with Warner Bros., but after The Iron Giant, Bird reconnected with old friend John Lasseter, head of Pixar, and pitched the film to them. He was offered a multi-film contract and place of price among the beloved studio's brain trust. The film was a rarity not only in Bird being an outsider to the Pixar system but in having him be the sole credited writer and director. Once that film became a rousing success, Bird started working on ideas for his next project.
Bird Had An Idea for an Incredibles Sequel Right Away
Bird had talked frequently about plans for an Incredibles sequel since the first film's release. Talk picked up steam in 2007, following the success of his next film, Ratatouille. After discussing the upcoming third Toy Story movie, Bird told Coming Soon he would do a sequel to The Incredibles "if I can come up with a story that is as good or better than the first one. If I can come up with a “Toy Story 2” with “The Incredibles,” then I would do it in a second. I have pieces that I think are good, but I don’t have them all together."
In May 2013, while talking with The Hollywood Reporter, he repeated this claim:
"I have been thinking about it. People think that I have not been, but I have—because I love those characters, and love that world … I am stroking my chin and scratching my head. I have many, many elements that I think would work really well in another Incredibles film, and if I can get 'em to click all together, I would probably wanna do that."
In early drafts, Bird had considered a storyline where Bob and Helen Parr, a.k.a. Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl, switched roles, and the family would deal with baby Jack-Jack's burgeoning yet chaotic set of powers, but, as he told io9, "the part I needed, to feel like I could make it, was the more superhero villainy plot." Bird also said that he had thrown out almost three movies worth of material before he formulated his full sequel idea. One idea Bird had pitched to Pixar successfully involved A.I., but he hasn't said any more on the subject since "I don’t want to give it away because I might fix it one day." Incredibles 2 includes a villain named ScreenSlaver, who controls people's minds by hijacking their screens, seems to be a version of that but not so technologically focused. But getting to that point was tough work since Bird had deliberately made the world of The Incredibles one without cell phones. Perhaps the original sequel idea focused more on an A.I. gone rogue and the superheroes' attempts to stop it?
Page 2 of 3: It's Disney Who Wanted The Pixar Sequels
It's Disney Who Wanted The Pixar Sequels
For a brief time in the 2000s, Pixar was the defining success of The Walt Disney Company. Their own animation renaissance had ended with Tarzan and the subsequent animated films were mostly disappointments, and while Pirates of the Caribbean gave them a brand-new franchise to keep up with the blockbuster age, there wasn't much else on the horizon. Pixar was their guaranteed hit-maker for the longest time, and one way they wanted to ensure that remained was by demanding sequels to the studio's biggest hits.
Originally, Disney had a three-picture deal with Pixar, which the studio were keen to get out of. Toy Story 2 was intended to be a straight to video release, meaning it wouldn't be part of that deal, but was upgraded to a theatrical release during production. When Pixar tried to have the film count as part of the three picture deal, Disney said no. The deal, according to Pixar, was hugely unfair, in that it gave Disney complete sequel rights to all their work. At one point, Disney was ready to make Toy Story 3 without Pixar's involvement, but this was canceled once John Lasseter was put in charge of both Disney and Pixar animation following Disney's acquisition of the company. Sequels were put on hold by Lasseter, who said the studio would only do them if the story was good enough.
Iit’s always been clear that, for Disney, the big money is in those sequels. Half of the studio's top ten highest grossing films worldwide are sequels or prequels, with both Toy Story 3 and Finding Nemo having made over $1bn. These films also have massive international appeal. One of the reasons Disney bought Pixar was because studio President Bob Iger saw how beloved the Toy Story characters were in China.
It's good business to make Incredibles 2. Disney's California Adventure have already updated one of their rollercoasters with an Incredibles theme to mark the occasion. It doesn't hurt that superheroes are all the rage in pop culture right now, with the most profitable examples coming from a subsidiary Disney owns. It is assumed that Bird still has a film left on his Pixar contract – the only other film he has directed in that period, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, was by Paramount. Pixar had even planned to expand into live-action production for Bird and his planned film about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, but that project has long since been in limbo. Instead, for his next project, Bird looked to the future.
The Impact of Tomorrowland
Tomorrowland and The Incredibles are bound by many similar ideas and visions Bird had as a film-maker. Both films are deeply influenced by classical science-fiction and the visual styling of that era of the genre. Bird is particularly enamored with stories of scientific innovation and a cultural optimism that has faded with time. He likes the brighter future, but one tinged with outsider cynicism. Given Bird’s success in live-action with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, it made sense for him to continue in this vein, and to pick a story already so in line with his interests.
Tomorrowland was Damon Lindelof’s passion project, one he had been working on in some capacity since 2010. Originally given the working title of 1952, the project was shrouded in secrecy for a couple of years, even when Bird officially signed on as director in May 2012. It wasn't until the following year that the project was officially confirmed as Tomorrowland, inspired by the Disney theme park ride of the same name.
While Bird saw the story more as an opportunity to explore some of his favorite themes, it presented an interesting blockbuster route for Disney. They had broken into that market with the Pirates franchise - another theme park ride - making them billions, and it offered a sharp reminder of the branding and creative possibilities available through their own iconic theme park property. This is something no other studio on earth can do, since Disney is the only company with unique theme park property that's recognizable to the general public. Most other films based on theme park property had failed for Disney - such as the Haunted Mansion film starring Eddie Murphy and a truly bizarre adaptation of the Country Bear Jamboree, featuring Christopher Walken as the villain - but Tomorrowland could be different: It was a property built on ideas, not narrative.
Tomorrowland allowed Bird and Lindelof to use the pre-existing structure of Disney's Tomorrowland attraction, which has its roots in the 1964 World's Fair, as a means to explore issues of technological progress and our society's penchant for buying into the grimmest possible outcomes for our planet. In many ways, the film has little to do with the attraction. If you didn't know the two were related, you probably wouldn't find much evidence of it in the story itself. Still, for Disney and Bird alike, this was a story that had immense potential.
Page 3 of 3: Tomorrowland's Flop Brough Bird Back to Pixar
Tomorrowland Flopped Hard
In hindsight, Tomorrowland never seemed like the kind of movie that was going to be a guaranteed hit. How do you sell a $190m blockbuster inspired by a theme park attraction to the masses when the property itself isn’t anywhere near as familiar as, say, Pirates of the Caribbean? It opened at number one on its domestic opening weekend box office, but only grossed $3m more than Pitch Perfect 2, which was in its second week of release. It wasn’t helped much by mixed reviews. Critics liked the earnest approach and themes but found the story and structure lacking. While it is technically credited as an adaptation, Tomorrowland is still an original blockbuster, and those are hard sells when the Summer competition is Mad Max: Fury Road or the latest Marvel release.
From an estimated budget of $180m, the film only grossed $209.2m worldwide. That's a calculated loss for Disney anywhere between $75 - 150m. To put that in perspective, the first Incredibles film only cost $92m to make. No matter how you spin it, Tomorrowland was a huge flop for Disney. It put a pin on future theme park adaptations until the recent announcement of a Jungle Cruise movie starring Dwayne Johnson. Fortunately for Bird, by the time Tomorrowland under-performed, he had already announced his next project: Incredibles 2.
Bird ran back to Pixar, much like his colleague Andrew Stanton had done when his live-action blockbuster for Disney, John Carter, became a near-legendary flop. Pixar keeps its big names close to the heart of the company, and Stanton’s Finding Dory became the studio’s second biggest film ever. Now, Bird had a chance to replicate that.
Incredibles 2 Was Delivered a Year Earlier Than Planned
Bird’s return to Pixar came at an interesting time in the company’s evolution. 2015 saw one of the studio's greatest achievements - the beautiful and highly successful Inside Out - and its biggest ever flop - The Good Dinosaur, which had seen a change-over in directors and major story shift during a troubled production. Following that, the studio seemed more interested in making sequels, like Finding Dory and Cars 3, with Toy Story 4 announced for 2018. Many began to wonder if the golden age of Pixar was over, although such conversations had been bubbling since Cars 2. What was different now was that their comrades over at Disney Animation were hitting new peaks thanks to work like Frozen, Big Hero 6 and Zootopia. The companies had switched fortunes: Now it was Disney making the guaranteed hits.
Incredibles 2 was originally set for a 2019 release date, but once Toy Story 4 was delayed by a year, Bird's film was bumped up to allow Pixar to keep that spot in their 2018 Summer schedule. That Bird has managed to adhere to such a tight deadline, while retaining sole credit as director and writer, is a testament both to his commitment and the strength of his relationship with Pixar.
Incredibles 2 is projected to gross upwards of $150m on its opening weekend. Fandango reported ticket pre-sales that exceeded that of Finding Dory. It's been a long time coming, from The Iron Giant by way of Tomorrowland, but Brad Bird's Incredibles 2 is finally on its way.