Pixar’s output is usually of such extraordinarily high quality that when it announces a sequel to a successful property, it’s natural to think of such things as pollutants.
Some sequels have felt needless (or awful: “Cars 2”), while others have been most welcome. The 20th Pixar feature “Incredibles 2” is definitely in the latter camp.
It comes a whopping 14 years after 2004’s “The Incredibles,” which exploded on the scene, outshining mediocre animated offerings such as “Shrek 2” and “Shark Tale.”
The sleek, energizing “Incredibles 2” is state-of-the-art, but does not outdo the first. It feels part of the same thread.
Naturally gifted storyteller Brad Bird, who made the classic “The Iron Giant” and “Ratatouille,” again writes and directs. (He also returns to voice supersuit designer Edna Mode.)
The new film takes place just after the first one ended, with an attack by the villain the Underminer. In the ensuing battle, the city is greatly damaged, which stokes the argument that superheroes are a menace and ought to be illegal.
Things look up when Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) and Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) are invited for a meeting.
Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), a wealthy telecommunications man, wants the superheroes back. He and his inventor sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) have a plan to change public attitude on superheroes by installing cameras in their suits and filming their exploits from the inside.
They choose Elastigirl to be first. The ploy works. People love her. It’s refreshing to see a super-cool, tough, adorable female hero doing her thing.
But Bob Parr (Mr. Incredible) is stuck at home watching the kids — Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (Huck Milner) and baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) — and is jealous, dismayed he wasn’t chosen.
Nevertheless, he finds parenting difficult, especially when Jack-Jack’s powers begin to manifest (as “Incredibles” fans saw in the short “Jack-Jack Attack” released on the “Incredibles” DVD in 2005).
The sequel offers a playful and clever reversal, asking audiences to reconsider traditional male and female roles.
While Elastigirl may get to stop a runaway train, chasing it on an electric bike (dazzling!), Mr. Incredible gets equal hero points for climbing out of bed in the middle of the night, brewing some coffee and learning his son’s math homework so he can help with it.
Eventually, all the heroes, including new ones (Sophia Bush voices the amazing Voyd, who can create portals in space) go to battle against a new baddie, the Screenslaver.
As the movie charges toward its final fight, characters are in danger and stakes are high. The action isn’t just for spectacle; it means something.
Not coincidentally, 1999’s “Toy Story 2” and 2010’s “Toy Story 3” carried the same weight, the same threat of enormous loss. That, and rich characters, are what prompt audiences to binge-watch TV. They’re also qualities of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films.
“Incredibles 2” could be a series, but even if another 14 years are too much to ask, and it all stops here, then, thank you, Mr. Bird. It has been incredible.
Note: Director Domee Shi’s powerful new Pixar short “Bao,” about a mother’s empty nest syndrome, accompanies “Incredibles 2.”
3 1/2 stars
Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner
Written and directed by: Brad Bird
Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes