15 Secrets About The Incredibles Revealed

It's been 15 years since Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl came out of retirement to save the world, this time aided by their genetically enhanced kids, prolonging Pixar's winning streak

By Natalie Finn Nov 05, 2019 11:00 AMTags
The Incredibles, Bob Parr, Mr. Incredible, Best Animated DadsDisney

It's been 15 years since we first met ordinary suburbanites Bob and Helen Parr, and their three kids.

Who, of course, had no choice but to come out of retirement and save the world. 

The Incredibles lived up to its name in every way—big stars, big laughs, big emotions and big box office—when it hit theaters on Nov. 5, 2004, at the time only the sixth film in the now prolific Pixar portfolio, the first one rated PG (for "action violence") and the first directed by Brad Bird.

Taking in $632 million worldwide, the movie's success also helped further convince Disney that, it didn't just need to keep distributing Pixar Animation Studio movies for the foreseeable future, it needed to buy the whole thing, which it went on to do in 2006 for roughly $7.4 billion.

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But what made The Incredibles one of the most special films in the entire Pixar canon? And why, when sequels start being conceived when the ka-chings first ring out during a movie's first blockbuster weekend, did it take 14 years to make another one?

This, and more secrets revealed in honor of the The Incredibles' 15th anniversary:

1. Brad Bird, who went to California Institute of the Arts with Tim Burton and future Pixar chief creative officer John Lasseter, turned down an invitation to join Pixar in 1995. But after he felt Warner Bros. failed to properly promote his feature directorial debut, the critically lauded The Iron Giant—which tanked at the box office but is now widely viewed as an underappreciated classic—he accepted an invitation from then-chairman Steve Jobs to come and work at Pixar.

"The only thing we're afraid of is complacency—feeling like we have it all figured out...We want you to come shake things up," Bird remembered Jobs telling him.

2. The original working title was "The Invincibles."

Bird has said that he wanted to make an action-adventure, spy-caper hybrid in the grand Hollywood tradition, but also a film about family and the ties that bind, inspired by his own experiences as a husband and father. "At its heart, I saw The Incredibles as a story about a family learning to balance their individual lives with their love for one another," he explained the movie back in 2004. "I really poured everything in my heart into the story," he said. "All these personal things—about being a husband, being a father, the idea of getting older, the importance of family, what work means and what it feels like to think you're losing the things that you love—all of these are tucked into this one big story."

3. Overall, Bird had a very specific vision—for The Incredibles and for Pixar in general—and he knew the status quo wouldn't help him bring that vision to life.

"I said, 'Give us the black sheep. I want artists who are frustrated. I want the ones who have another way of doing things that nobody's listening to. Give us all the guys who are probably headed out the door,'" Bird told the McKinsey Quarterly in 2008. "A lot of them were malcontents because they saw different ways of doing things, but there was little opportunity to try them, since the established way was working very, very well. We gave the black sheep a chance to prove their theories, and we changed the way a number of things are done here."

4. "I really empathized with him as a human being," Craig T. Nelson said about Bob Parr, who secretly longs so much for his glory days as Mr. Incredible that he's been sneaking out at night to dispense vigilante justice. "Here's a guy who is literally able to leap tall buildings and do all kinds of super-heroic things, but that isn't what makes him special. It's his value structure and his moral strength, not his mighty feats that I really responded to. He is one of those people I'd really like to meet and get a chance to shake his hand, because he knows what counts and he has a good sense of himself and his family."

 

"I quickly discovered that Brad and his team had an extremely specific idea of what they wanted because they'd lived with this story so closely for such a long time," Nelson said. "They perfected the script and knew this family inside and out, and every other which way. So it was up to the actors to bring to life exactly what they had in their mind's eye."

The Emmy winner did the voice work over the course of two years.

6. Holly Hunter, winner of a Best Actress Oscar in 1994 for The Piano, in which she's mute, had never done the voice of an animated character before—and after that never played anyone other than Elastigirl (in the sequel, video games, etc.) until October 2019, when she could be heard as Marjune Gamble in an episode of Fox's Bless the Harts.

As for why she was drawn to The Incredibles in the first place, she explained back in 2004, "Brad thinks musically. For him it's about finding a rhythm and an intonation that can be really more related to music more than anything else. The back-and-forth exchange is very staccato and very dynamic-and this was very interesting to me as an actress and a lot of fun." 

7. Jason Lee, who voiced the villainous Syndrome, did four voice-over sessions over the course of eight months—and apparently he got the role because Bird had much enjoyed Lee's performance as the loquacious demon Azrael in Kevin Smith's Dogma.

"I had gotten the offer from Pixar, which of course was very flattering," Lee told CNN in 2004. "When I saw the drawings of Syndrome, the big hair, and the fact that it was Pixar, I was in. But the director told me that a lot of it came from Dogma because I was very animated and evil in that movie. I was kind of all over the place with the inflections and the energy, and I guess that's what did it."

The Incredibles was also Lee's first foray into doing animation voices. "You really have to put trust in the director's hands..." he recalled. "I would just show up, read a bunch of dialogue into a microphone, while being directed by Brad Bird and then three months later I would go back and do it again. And then I see the movie last night and there's a real, whole character there."

8. "Nobody sounds cooler than Sam Jackson," Bird said in 2004 about picking Samuel L. Jackson to play Bob's best friend Lucius Best turned crime-fighting compadre Frozone.

"And he makes it seem so effortless, too. He can be funny, soft, or tough as nails. I think he's one of the most versatile actors around today. We were blessed to get him for the part of Frozone and he just nailed it right away. The animators had a blast working with his voice because there's so much happening inside his performance."

8. The phone number Bob is instructed to call should he accept Mirage's offer to get back in the game not only spells out "866-suprhro," but it also turned into a working number for the film's DVD release. If you called, a recording steered you to the movie's website where, if you entered the number, you'd access secret information—which turned out to include a deleted scene.

9. Bird is a huge This American Life fan, hence the idea for Sarah Vowell, a goddess among the public radio set, to play daughter Violet, whose superpower is invisibility—reflective of how teen girls can sometimes feel. Vowell also had never done voices before, but having heard her on the radio numerous times, Bird wasn't worried.

10. Lily Tomlin turned down the role of Edna Mode, the superhero-costume designer modeled on Hollywood icon Edith Head, an eight-time Oscar winner whose impeccable taste made for sartorial magic in All About EveSabrinaRoman HolidayVertigo and dozens of other films in her storied career.

Unable to find just the right voice, Brad Bird provided the pipes for Edna himself. And, as it turned out, he wasn't the only close-to-home voice they found.

"The babysitter in the film is one of our animators," he told Radio Free Entertainment in 2004. "The government guy was one of the designers of Woody for Toy Story. He's been at Pixar a long time. He's an old animation veteran that's been around, and he was just perfect, so sometimes they stick. And I guess that was the case on [Edna]. It wasn't my idea to keep it in!"

11. Huckleberry Milner replaced Spencer Fox as Dash in The Incredibles 2, the only member of the family who was swapped out because, since the kids barely aged between where the original ended and the sequel picked up, 24-year-old Fox wasn't right for the voice of 10-year-old Dash.

Bird had Fox run around the studio so that the speedy Dash would sound authentically out of breath after his signature sprints.

12. Brad Bird and his wife Elizabeth have three sons, all of whom have made their mark in the Pixar family: Michael is the voice of Tony Rydinger, Violet's would-be boyfriend, in both Incredibles films; Nicholas was the voice of Squirt in Finding Nemo, "Little Boy on the Tricycle" in The Incredibles and Jack-Jack in monster mode in The Incredibles 2; and little Jack... 

He's the real-life "Jack-Jack."

13. The Incredibles was nominated for four Oscars, including an original screenplay nod for Bird, and won Best Animated Feature and Best Sound Editing.

14. Bird revealed in 2018 that he thought of at least two plot points for the sequel back when he was making the original.

"The two ideas that were in my head as the first movie was ending, like 'oh, this would be interesting,' was a role switch between Bob and Helen, and showing Jack-Jack's powers, and exploring them, and making Jack-Jack a main character rather than a side character," he told reporters at a press event. "Those were in from the beginning and never left the project. What changed is the villain plot. And that shifted endlessly. And it drove me insane. Because I always was faced with the release date, and if something didn't work, I couldn't sit there and try to bang on it. I had to throw it away immediately and go to another idea that solved some of the issues that the first idea didn't have."

15. Samuel L. Jackson told Collider that he got asked "five, six times" a week—for over a decade—when there would be a sequel to The Incredibles, and that request multiplies substantially if you factor in every main character getting the question even once a week for 12 years.

"The thing is, many sequels are cash grabs," Bird, who wrote and directed the sequel, told reporters during a promotional event for The Incredibles 2 in 2018. "There's a saying in the business that I can't stand, where they go, 'if you don't make another one, you're leaving money on the table.' It's like, money on the table is not what makes me get up in the morning; making something that people are gonna enjoy a hundred years from now, that's what gets me up. So if it were a cash grab, we would not have taken 14 years—it makes no financial sense to wait this long—it's purely we had a story we wanted to tell."

And when he did have his idea in hand after a decade, they actually finished ahead of schedule, enough to swap release dates with Toy Story 4 and come out almost a year earlier than planned.

Happily, The Incredibles 2, in which Elastigirl takes center stage to restore her family's good name, more than delivered: 94 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, $1.2 billion at the box office worldwide.

It did not, however, win best animated feature at the Oscars, losing this year to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. But only because Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl had made the cinematic landscape safe for other superheroes to spread their wings (or webs) and soar.