Parents face a lot of decisions, but one of the worst used to be: What movie can I actually, safely take my kids to?
Pick one that’s too adult, and you sit there squirming at inappropriate jokes. Pick one that’s too childish, and you just sit there snoring. For years, though, the animators at Pixar have kept hitting that sweet spot – movies silly enough for children, smart enough for adults, and fun enough for everyone.
One of the best was 2004’s “The Incredibles,” a sophisticated comedy about a superhero family (think “X-Men,” but with Dad holding down a 9-to-5 and Mom doing carpool duty). And now, after a long wait and just in time to jazz up the summer, we get “Incredibles 2.”
It’s not quite as incredible as the first one. But it’s often a lot of fun.
The original had two huge things going for it. One was its circa-1965 aesthetic, a mix of everything from mid-century furniture to spy-movie music. It felt like a movie that should have been made back then but never was, and this latest film revives that style, with nods to push-button homes, sleek monorails and “The Outer Limits.”
The other smart thing in that first film was that the superhero powers meant something. Dad had an oversized ego – and so he was the pumped-up Mr. Incredible. Mom felt pulled in five different directions – and so she, of course, was the bendable, stretchable Elastigirl.
The angsty tween daughter had the power of turning herself invisible, or hiding under a shield. Her hyperactive little brother lived at hyperspeed. Their too-cool family friend was Frozone, able to ice anything with a glance.
These weren’t just superpowers, they were super symbols, and that gave the movie a clever edge over the genre it was satirizing.
If there’s a problem this time around, is that what was a fresh idea 14 years ago – a self-knowing, self-mocking superhero movie – has almost become its own cliché. After various “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Ant-Man” and “Deadpool” flicks, it takes more than a self-aware joke or over-the-top villain to make comic-book fans crack a smile.
“Incredibles 2” is also missing some of the sly politics of the first film, whose superheroes were a gifted-and-talented elite that some do-gooders wanted to do away with, in a fight to make everyone feel equally good about themselves. It was a controversial point, of course – but how many cartoons even bother to have a point?
That edge isn’t here, and while the movie has a bit of a feminist idea – Mr. Incredible is annoyed when Elastigirl goes back to work, and he’s forced to take on primary parenting duties – it doesn’t push it very far. (In fact, its villain’s complaints – that Americans have gotten passive and spoiled – sounds more like something our heroes would have said once.)
But this new adventure still has the style and smart characterizations of the first, along with great music and terrific character design. And the story moves along far quicker than its nearly two-hour running time would make you believe, with our heroes – still fighting off some bad press – tracking down the Screenslaver, a mysterious nemesis who’s cyber-hypnotizing America.
A few old friends – like Edna Mode, the pint-sized fashion designer to the tights-and-cape crowd – make their return. And most of voice cast is back too, including most valuable players Holly Hunter – who brings all her usual storm-and-twang to the part of the put-upon Mom – and Sarah Vowell as the eye-rolling adolescent Violet.
We meet some new characters, too. Particularly terrific is the great Catherine Keener, who contributes her huskily querulous voice to the role of Evelyn Deavor, one of the Incredibles’ new mentors (and a dead ringer for one of those marionettes from the old “Thunderbirds” shows). And it’s great to see baby Jack-Jack developing his own superpowers – and trying (not very successfully) to control them.
In the end, if you loved the original movie, you’ll certainly like this sequel – even if you may feel you’ve seen some of it before. The angular art is stylized and singular. The action sequences are terrific, and some of the jokes are great. Plus – like so many films from the Pixar crew – even when you’re enjoying different things, it’s a film you and your child can truly enjoy equally.
And really — how incredible is that?