The last time audiences saw Elastigirl, aka Helen Parr, she was following her husband, Mr. Incredible, as he worked to defeat a villain called The Underminer. Flash-forward 14 years, and Helen is still fighting crime — but this time around, she's not playing second fiddle to Bob or chasing after their super-powered kids. Instead, The Incredibles 2 is about Elastigirl, with Heln getting to be the leader of both her family's decisions and the movie's plot. It's a move that couldn't seem more timely, considering the current push for more female superheroes and gender equality on-screen, but according to The Incredibles 2's filmmakers, the idea for Helen to be the star came about long, long ago.
"Some people have remarked… oh, we geared this towards the Me Too movement because it’s got a female lead... but I had that idea right on the heels of the first film," explains writer/director Brad Bird, who also made 2004's iconic The Incredibles, when we chat at Pixar's San Francisco headquarters in April. "The idea of her taking the film is one of the oldest ideas in this movie."
Although many details of The Incredibles 2, out June 15, are being kept under wraps, the general plot is this: Helen is recruited to a new job that requires her to use her powers more than ever, while Bob stays home with the kids (Dash, Violet, and a highly skilled baby Jack-Jack). Much of the film's humor, at least from what I gleaned in the 25 minutes of footage shown to critics during our Pixar visit, stems from Bob's indignation over Helen being chosen for missions instead of him — an attitude his wife understandably has no patience for. For once, she gets to be more superhero than mom, and she revels in the new role.
But that's not to say The Incredibles 2 is meant to be an ode to female empowerment. Although it's set in the '60s, a time when women were beginning to fight for workplace equality and rebel against gender norms, producer Nicole Grindle says that "the social politics" of the time period don't factor into the movie. "It’s not commentary on that, it just is what it is," she explains, while Bird adds that the movie's fantasy feel separates it from the real-world movement. Says the director, "I don’t think [the gender equality movement] was as big in the early '60s as it became in the later' 60s and this is more of an early '60s, late '50s kind of thing. That said, it’s an alternate universe where holograms and things like that are not necessarily out of the question."
With that being the situation, don't expect to see much in the way of progress when it comes to diversity in The Incredibles 2, either. Although the first movie featured the black superhero Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) in a prominent role, many viewers were disappointed that his wife, Honey (voiced by Kimberly Adair Clark) never made an in-person appearance. During a press conference at Pixar, Bird explains that the filmmakers considered having Honey show up in The Incredibles 2 — which would have made her one of the few black women to be in Pixar movies — but ultimately decided against it.
"We wanted to show Honey... but we didn’t end up doing it because it’s funnier as a voice," says Bird. "We actually went through all the trouble of designing a character and the design appears in the movie, but not as Frozone’s wife." For fans hoping for more representation in The Incredibles 2, that news might be frustrating, but Bird doesn't seem concerned. "The first walk-around character in Disneyland that is Black was Frozone, and so I think we’ve done OK," he says at the press conference. "We will continue to present that sort of world, because that’s the world that we live in."
Perhaps when the inevitable Incredibles 3 comes around (c'mon, you know it's gonna happen), audiences will finally get to meet Honey. Until then, they'll have to settle for progress in the form of Frozone and the rest supporting Helen as she steps up to the plate after a very long 14 years.