The Incredibles are back, and all is right with the world.
Well, maybe not all. Superheros are still illegal, just as they've been for a decade and a half, and evildoers like the Underminer ("I am always beneath you but nothing is beneath me!") are still eager to empty the bank vaults of Municiberg and manufacture havoc wherever they go.
But for moviegoers who cherish the Oscar winning 2004 original that introduced Bob and Helen Parr, a.k.a. Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl, the good news is that writer-director Brad Bird has taken his own advice about not fearing to use your gifts to benefit the world and returned to animation with the sparkling "Incredibles 2."
Bird's animation resume includes two other exceptional films, "The Iron Giant" and "Ratatouille," but his last two feature credits were for live action, directing Tom Cruise in "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" and George Clooney in "Tomorrowland."
With "Incredibles 2," Bird has returned to what he is brilliant at, and if animation fans are tempted to slaughter a fatted calf in celebration of this prodigal son's return, it's to be expected.
It's not only the Parrs (voiced one more time by Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter) who reappear, so do their three kids, 14-year-old Violet (Sarah Vowell), 10-year-old Dash (Huck Milner) and superbaby Jack-Jack, not to mention close family friend Lucius Best/Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson).
Also returning is the first film's zesty mixture of whip-smart, knowing dialogue, hairsbreadth escapes and realistic family dynamics made more involving by being filtered through parents and children gifted and burdened with super powers.
Though it would be unrealistic to expect "Incredibles 2" to have quite the genre-busting surprise of the original, it is as good as it can be without that shock of the new -- delivering comedy, adventure and all too human moments with a generous hand.
The initial shock the Parrs have to face in this sequel is that the witness protection-type program that has helped them survive the superhero ban is being phased out. That means even their bare-bones existence living at the Safari Court Motel eating take-out Chinese food is going to be at risk.
Enter, not a moment too soon, the siblings Deavor, brother and sister telecommunications billionaires Winston (Bob Odenkirk) and Evelyn (Catherine Keener).
Big fans of Supers (that's what everyone calls them), Winston and Evelyn are determined to make superhero activity legal again by placing tiny cameras in super-suits and using the resulting footage to change public perception.
Mr. Incredible is all too willing to humbly offer his services, but Winston cuts him short. For a variety of reasons, including the fact that his heroic deeds tend to come with a lot of messy collateral damage, the billionaire and his sister feel "Elastigirl is our best play, she is the perfect launch."
Helen is nothing if not confident in her talents, and to emphasize the point "Incredibles 2" reprises a clip from the first film where she proclaims "leave the saving of the world to men? I don't think so."
After moving the family into one of their spare luxury residences, the Deavors want Helen to exercise her heroism in the big city of New Urbem, not Municiberg. She worries that the square-jawed husband she leaves behind is ill-suited to the manifold demands of parenthood.
But the family needs the money, and Helen accedes to Bob's insistence that he will be OK. Soon she's wheeling around on her zippy new Elasticycle and battling the nefarious Screenslaver, a villain who quite sensibly believes people spend too much time staring at screens.
Back on the home front, Bob has battles of his own, trying to assist Violet with a teenage romantic crisis and helping Dash with his New Math homework. "How," he groans like many a parent before him, "could they change math?"
Most daunting of all, however, he has to deal with infant Jack-Jack, whose superpowers (hinted at in the first film) come into full flower here.
And that is definitely powers, in the plural -- Jack-Jack has a ton (the press material helpfully lists 11 of them, including splitting into multiple Jack-Jacks) and neither the tot nor his dad have any idea how to control them.
That dilemma, and Bob's plaintive need for "a little bit of 'me' time," leads to an amusing interlude -- a callback for one of the first film's most memorable folks, diminutive and iron-willed fashionista Edna Mode, voiced once again by the director himself.
Bird's imagination is too active to be content with bringing characters back, and "Incredibles 2" also introduces a selection of second-tier superheroes like Voyd (Sophia Bush), who creates voids, Krushauer (Phil LaMarr), who crushes things, and the unnerving Reflux (Paul Eiding), who announces "medical condition or super power, you decide."
"Incredibles 2" takes advantage of the advances in computer animation since the first film came out, and the family's adventures look snappier and super-exciting, but it is the echoes of the original (including a dynamic new score by the returning Michael Giacchino) that hook us.
The Parrs may not quite understand why Helen "has to save the family by leaving it, and fix the law by breaking it," but pulling together turns out to be what they do best.
Rating: PG for action sequences and some brief, mild language
Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes
Playing: Opens June 15 in general release ___
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