The Incredibles is that rare Pixar movie that doesn't feel as if it were designed to rip your heart out and devastate you. It has nothing like the opening montage of Up, during which we experience the ups and downs of a shared life full of love in just a few minutes; nothing like the moment near the end of Toy Story 3, when it seems as if our heroes are about to end up where all toys end up; nothing like Bing Bong's self-negation in Inside Out.
This isn't to say that the film is entirely absent emotional beats. There's something stirring about the frustration that a family of superheroes feels at being forced to hide their powers from a world that fears them, government agents who want to imprison them, and legal leeches who want to sue them. I had never known I needed a mash up of Fantastic Four, Watchmen, and Atlas Shrugged, but I was quite happy with the result. That being said, the struggle at the center of The Incredibles was more intellectual than passionate. As such, it has always felt to me as though it is something of an outlier in the Pixar canon: as compelling and well constructed as the rest of the studio's legendary body of work, but maybe a little … chilly.
The Incredibles 2 is a bit more concerned with the inner lives of its heroes, and a bit more interested in how family dynamics might shift for the super-powered. Bob/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) is forced to juggle the kids when Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) is offered a professional superhero gig by Winston and Evelyn Deavor (Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener, respectively), a brother-sister industrialist duo. The Deavors hope that body cams worn by the Incredibles will show the masses and their leaders that supers can benefit society, which, in turn, will spark a movement to decriminalize superhero activity—a pressing concern, given the emergence of new super villain The Screenslaver (Bill Wise).
In the midst of all this, Violet (Sarah Vowell) is struggling with boys at school after a mind-erasure ruins a date, while Dash (Huck Milner) is struggling not to beat all the boys at school in athletic competitions, given his super-speed. And then there's Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile), a baby unable to control his emerging coterie of powers; his outbursts provide a challenge for fan-favorite costume-designer Edna (writer-director Brad Bird).
There's a lot to love here, first and foremost Bob pulling Mr. Mom duties while Elastigirl is out saving the world. An unruly baby, new math, and boy troubles combine to form a Voltron-like foe far more terrifying than any spandex-clad super threat.
Again, though, I felt more intellectual than emotional pleasure from The Incredibles 2. Bird and his team of animators have a fantastic sense of the physics of superhero-dom, the ways in which superpowers can be used to bend our perception of the laws of science in order to achieve extraordinary goals. The standout set piece in this film involves Elastigirl racing around a city on a motorcycle trying to stop an out-of-control train: she swings through the city using the propulsion of the bike and the elasticity of her arms; she dramatically expands her body to create a parachute, using drag to slow the train down; she takes advantage of momentum and centripetal force to slingshot around skyscrapers in an effort to keep up with the speeding locomotive.
The whole scene plays a bit like a science problem handed to a particularly gifted group of 15-year-old comic book nerds. As someone who will always be a 15-year-old comic book nerd at heart—and someone who currently has a great deal of empathy for Mr. Incredible's Mr. Mom alter ego—I can understand and appreciate what The Incredibles 2 is trying to do.
I'm just not quite sure I can love it as fully as I do some of Pixar's other properties.