In Incredibles 2, Mr. Incredible is still incredible, Elastigirl remains fantastic, and Edna owns every scene she’s in. But if there’s one fresh breakout star from Pixar’s Incredibles sequel, it’s not one of the new villains or heroes conceived for this film. It’s Jack-Jack.
The youngest member of the Incredibles crew stole the show this time around. With more of a starring role in Incredibles 2, Jack-Jack the baby showed everyone his true nature: He’s “a Swiss Army Knife” of superpowers, as writer and director Brad Bird puts it. And because he’s, well, a baby, Jack-Jack uses what little control he has over his awesome powers in the most hilarious ways.
But how did Jack-Jack wind up this way? The baby’s mutating powers were a punch line in the original, a side joke that didn’t have much effect on the main story until the very end. But as GameSpot learned from Pixar recently, making the baby a Jack-Jack of all trades–and making him a main star–was always in the cards.
Long before Bird wrote and directed the original Incredibles at Pixar, he visited a comic book store to brainstorm powers for the heroic family he was envisioning. When he realized every power had been done to death, he instead drew from societal expectations of various family roles; the dad would be strong, and the mom would be able to be pulled in all directions.
“Babies are unknown,” Bird explained during a recent press conference at Pixar headquarters in Northern California. “Maybe they have no powers, maybe they have all powers. We don’t know. So that’s what Jack-Jack was. He was seemingly the first normal one in the family, and then at the end of Incredibles you find out that he’s a wild card and he’s sort of a Swiss Army Knife of powers. And that, to me, reminds me of the way babies can grasp languages really easily and adopt them easily.”
For the original movie, Pixar animator Tony Fucile followed his son Eli around with a microphone for an hour and got enough audio to use for the entire film. It’s been a decade and a half since then, so following Eli Fucile around with a microphone wouldn’t have had the same results–as Fucile revealed when he showed us a photo of his son during the trip to Pixar, Eli is a teenager now (obviously). But surprisingly, they were able to continue drawing from that original hour of audio for Jack-Jack’s voice in Incredibles 2.
That’s even more impressive when you consider all of Jack-Jack’s new powers. In Incredibles 2, the baby is able to generate fire, transform into a demonic monster, become malleable like silly putty, spawn multiple clones of himself, shoot lasers from his eyes, escape into an alternate dimension, levitate, alter his facial features to resemble other people, pass through solid objects, grow to a massive size, and more. Bird said even when they tried to put limits on giving Jack-Jack more and more powers, they just couldn’t resist.
“I didn’t put a lot of limits on [the story team] initially, so they started doing everything. And I think that we started to go ‘Alright, we’ve got to settle down a little bit toward act 3. We don’t want to have any new powers in act 3,'” Bird said. But that would go out the window when they’d think of yet another cool or funny way a new power could manifest and surprise or delight the audience.
“We told ourselves to stay strictly on our diet, and we kind of broke it a couple of times,” he continued. “We tried to pepper in realism in terms of what people think, how they react to having powers–he’s presented as a baby, so what interests him is what interests a baby. He never understands what’s going on and can anticipate the villain’s move, or whatever. It’s more like ‘That’s shiny! I like that! This makes me angry!’ You know? ‘I want to go there!’ It’s those kind of emotions. And then you build the superpowers around that.”
Jack-Jack’s powers, like the rest of the movie, look better than ever, as well. Jason Johnston, who works in the effects department at Pixar, gave a demonstration at the studio’s HQ that showed the process of designing the baby’s pyrokinetic powers. The artists and animators went through countless iterations on just the fire power, testing out every variable imaginable. Should Jack-Jack appear to be on fire, or be generating fire from his skin? Should his skin, hair, or eyes change color when his fire power is active, should his body become grey like ash, or should he look the same? The final effects that the team lands on for any specific situation are the results of months of debates, tests, and iterations.
“Even though we knew that some may not work, it’s good to see them,” Johnston said–especially with how much Pixar’s animation technology has changed and improved since the original Incredibles came out in 2004. “We used the opportunity to go in and try to keep everything rooted in the look of the original film, but definitely bring everything into the modern technology visual realm. We could put so much more detail and flourishy kind of things…Our skills and the technology and rendering time and everything has gotten so much better.”
One thing that isn’t new: Jack-Jack’s amazingly hilarious fight with the raccoon. That scene was originally designed for the first Incredibles movie by Pixar artist Teddy Newton, Bird said during another recent press conference. The original idea involved Jack-Jack confronting a gang of raccoons in a fight that would eventually take them to the bottom of the pool.
“It went a lot darker, believe it or not,” Bird said. But the catalyst of seeing the robber on TV and then conflating it with the raccoon in the backyard was there from the beginning. “I loved that,” Bird continued. “It was so visual and clear, and it was such an off-the-wall idea, that that was one of the things that I couldn’t wait to do if we got another Incredibles going.”
Bird said at the recent press conference that Jack-Jack’s powers were an “unexploded bomb” he always knew he’d want to set off in the sequel.
“We don’t have enough time to discuss the ideas that didn’t make it into this movie,” he said at Pixar HQ. “The two ideas that were in my head as the first movie was ending…is a role switch between Bob and Helen, and showing Jack-Jack’s powers, and exploring them, and making Jack-Jack a main character rather than a side character.”
Anyone who’s seen Incredibles 2 is well aware that they succeeded. Incredibles 2 is in theaters now. Read our full Incredibles 2 review, and read more about why Incredibles 2 took nearly 14 years to make, whether Incredibles 3 will take as long, the records Incredibles 2 has broken so far, why Incredibles 2 puts its female star in the spotlight, why Incredibles 2 begins exactly where the original left off, and the challenges of making Incredibles 2 in a post-Avengers world.