Incredibles 2 review: Not groundbreaking, but wonderfully lively

Brad Bird, 118 mins, voiced: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Samuel L. Jackson

It may not be groundbreaking but Pixar’s latest Incredibles film (following a full 14 years after the first instalment) is a wonderfully lively, very witty affair. Brad Bird’s screenplay combines elements of an old-fashioned family sitcom with plenty of breakneck action and even a little satire about our obsession with screens.

The film (receiving one of its first UK screenings as the “Family Gala" at the Edinburgh Film Festival) also boasts one of the most memorable babies in recent animated history in the shape of the polymorphously perverse Jack Jack, the mischievous tot who turns out to have far more super powers than the rest of his family combined.

As the action starts, The Incredible/Parr family are in a downward spiral. They’ve been forced underground by politicians who have taken against their destructive approach to law enforcement. “If you had simply done nothing, everything would be proceeding in an orderly manner,” the authorities grumble to Mr Incredible.

The Incredibles’ blundering attempts to stop mole-like villain “Underminer” from hoovering up all the cash and destroying City Hall have just left a trail of chaos. The Parrs end up living in a sleazy motel. It looks as if they will have to get ordinary, civilian jobs to pay the rent. They have all the problems any other struggling middle-class parents might face. Their kids won’t wash their hands or eat their vegetables.

They can barely afford to pay the bills. Their adolescent daughter Violet, who has the nifty knack of being able to make herself invisible at will, bitterly resents the way her superhero life is getting in the way of school and teenage romamnce..

Enter Winston Deavor, a marketing tycoon with a soft spot for superheroes. He wants to re-brand The Incredibles, film them performing heroic deeds and thereby persuade the politicians to overturn the ban. His scientist sister Evelyn has worked out that Mrs Parr, or Elastigirl as she is more commonly known, is the most cost-effective and efficient member of the family.

She is therefore the one recruited to spearhead the superhero campaign while the thoroughly disgruntled Mr Incredible is left at home to look after the kids.

We’ve seen many of the visual gags before but that doesn’t make them any the less effective. Elastigirl is stretched to breaking point several times in the first few minutes alone without wearing down our patience. "Dash" Parr, the family's obstreperous young son, is shown more than once fiddling with remote controls and causing havoc as she does so. The charm doesn’t fade.

One reason the film feels so fresh, even as it rehashes such familiar routines, is that the writing is so sharp and the voice work so lively. We hear Samuel L. Jackson’s instantly recognisable tones as Lucius/Frozone, the superhero who can turn everything in front of him to ice.

Craig T. Nelson brings an engagingly world-weary and fatalistic feel to Mr Incredible, who sends himself to sleep as he reads baby stories to the uncontrollable Jack Jack or works himself into a lather trying to help his son with his homework. (“It’s not my fault they changed maths!”)

Holly Hunter sounds as zestful and impulsive as ever as Elastigirl. The filmmakers also introduce some new superheroes, most memorable a tubby and burping older man called Reflux. (“Medical condition or superhero? You decide,” is how he introduces himself.)

Elastigirl is pitted against a mysterious villain called “Screenslaver,” a libertarian and anarchical figure who takes over the airwaves, hypnotises viewers and berates them for experiencing everything in life at second hand, via their smartphones or TV screens.

Some sceptics had wondered if Pixar was losing its magic following the sexual misconduct scandal surrounding its founder, John Lasseter. Incredibles 2 makes any such worries seem absurd. On the evidence here, the magic that characterised its greatest films hasn’t diminished in the slightest.

Incredibles 2 hits UK cinemas 13 July.