The film The Incredibles was a story about a family that happened to have super powers. One of the reasons it was so good was that audiences could relate to the family and the problems the members of the group were each experiencing. Still, Bob Parr, Mr. Incredible, was in the lead role. For the sequel, it is his wife, Helen Parr (a.k.a. Elastigirl), who is at the forefront of the story. Some have wondered whether Pixar decided to develop a woman-led story following everything happening in the news, inside and outside of the studio. Brad Bird, director of Incredibles 2 has now gone on the record to state the facts about this. Read what I heard him discuss after the break.
During my visit to Pixar last month, I sat in on a press conference in which Bird spoke about his upcoming film. A member of the media (whose name I do not know) identified herself as “a black girl nerd” and asked the director to discuss diversity in the film.
Bird’s response was the following:
We are just telling the story we want to tell. Some people have remarked, because we’ve just started talking about this, that, we’ve geared this towards the Me Too movement because it’s got a female lead and all this stuff. I had that idea right on the heels of the first film – that’s the oldest idea in this current movie. That and exploring Jack-Jack’s powers. We don’t really respond to whatever the thing of the moment is because our lead times are so long. We just kind of tell the stories we want to tell. That being said, the first walk-around character in Disneyland that was black is Frozone and so I think we’ve done okay and we will continue to present that sort of world because that’s the world that we live in.
This is a fascinating point that gives us some insight into how Pixar and its filmmakers manage controversial issues, especially those that are making headlines. Bird is accurate when he points out that the films’ “lead times are so long.” A Pixar film’s development life is frequently four or more years, from concept to story to the animation process to completion. The Me Too movement began soon after producer Harvey Weinstein made headlines late last year for the horrific way that he treated women. Incredibles 2 had already been in development for years before the Me Too movement emerged. Actually, Bird indicates that the idea of a female-led sequel is one he had soon after he finished the first film (which was released in 2004). So no, the film placing emphasis on Elastigirl is not a response to the Me Too movement.
Still, there is no denying that Pixar has received criticism for lacking in the diversity department, whether it is the characters on-screen or the teams working behind-the-scenes to create the films. By diversity, I mean in terms of both gender and ethnicity. In recent years, there have been giant steps forward taken toward creating more diverse worlds – Sanjay’s Super Team, the short film, was about an Indian American child learning about his family’s religious beliefs; Coco, the studio’s last feature film, did incredible work in capturing the significance of Dia de Muertos as well as portraying the beauty of Mexican culture. Both of the aforementioned films were respectful of the culture being portrayed, were accurate in their representation, and perhaps most importantly, viewers did not get hammered over the heads with the fact that these were not white characters – they were people like us, with problems like ours, who also just so happened to not be white. There has also been increased diversity behind the camera – Sanjay Patel directed the previously mentioned short, Adrian Molina co-directed Coco and Domee Shi, a Chinese immigrant directing the upcoming short Bao (which will be attached to Incredibles 2 in theaters), is the first woman at the studio to direct a short film. Strides certainly appear to be being made.
The writer who asked Bird the question then responded to his statement by remarking that “it would be nice to see” “black females” represented. Bird’s answer?
We wanted to show Honey (Frozone’s wife) in this movie. We didn’t end up doing it because it’s funnier as a voice. We actually went to all the trouble of designing the character and the design appears in the movie but not as Frozone’s wife. We have used her design and she is a hero – there’s not a lot of screen time, though, on it. The problem is we have a lot of different things that we want the movie to be about and we’re already, the two Incredibles movies, are already the two longest movies at Pixar and they’re never happy about that. That’s our struggle and I hope you like the new movie.
It sounds like the option to have Honey, Frozone’s wife, appear in the film was on the table at some point during the film’s production process. We never see Honey in the first film, as she is simply presented as a “voice” who gives her husband a hard time. Perhaps the filmmakers weighed the idea of making her a more complex character, but that seemed to be in conflict with the purpose of her character. She was not meant to be a complex character. Rather, she was meant for comedic effect. Still, the fact that Bird and his team had considered giving her a larger role and have more than just her voice appear in the sequel demonstrates that they gave some thought to expanding her presence. That idea ultimately landed on the cutting room floor. Actually, Bird foreshadows a new super character who will use the design that was meant for Honey. We will have to wait and see more of that character when Incredibles 2 lands in theaters on June 15th.
Note: This article is part of a series covering a trip to Pixar, where Incredibles 2 was discussed in-depth. There will be more on the way. Click this link to see all the stories published so far.