It might be hard to remember now, but writer-director Brad Bird's The Incredibles seemed revolutionary when it came out in 2004, back when superheroes were just starting to gain a foothold at the movies. Here was a film that managed to have fun with everything goofy about superheroes while still celebrating them as icons of American popular culture and even treating their inner lives with some seriousness. And it did so in a way that fused an angular, stylized mid-century design aesthetic with the freewheeling fluidity and visual wit of Pixar. The new film Incredibles 2 mostly reproduces the template of the original. A superhero family, hiding in a world that believes it has little need for superheroes, finds itself faced with a villain who is targeting them personally. When one parent -- this time, Mom (Elastigirl, voiced by Holly Hunter) — gets duped by the bad guys, the rest of the family comes to the rescue. Dad (Mr. Incredible, voiced by Craig T. Nelson), goes first, followed by frustrated superkids Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Dash (Huck Millner), along with baby Jack-Jack, who the family thinks doesn't have superpowers — but, of course, he does.
Pixar's not-so-secret secret has always been that they understand parenting better than anyone else who makes movies for children. And Incredibles 2 is at its best — which is to say, its funniest and most exciting -- when it tackles the internal dynamics of the family itself. But the up-to-date variations on the original are topicality of the box-checking kind, more dutiful than inspired, and the action scenes, while fun, are predictable.