Story artist-turned director Ted Mathot brings the iconic Edna E. Mode out of her comfort zone and into the spotlight in a new short film created for the home entertainment release of ‘Incredibles 2.’
Anyone who’s seen Jack-Jack Parr take on a racoon knows that the innocent looking tyke is not one to be trifled with. But even Jack-Jack meets his match when the indomitable Edna E. Mode steps in...as babysitter.
Directed by Ted Mathot and produced by Marc Sondheimer, Auntie Edna is a new “mini-movie” created as part of the home entertainment release of Pixar’s Incredibles 2, available now on Digital and in stores on November 6.
During Incredibles 2, superhero costume designer Edna volunteers to babysit the youngest Parr after learning he’s exhibiting a wide range of super powers of his own. The spirited fashionista -- modeled on the likes of fashion luminaries Anna Wintour and Rei Kawakubo -- then returns Jack-Jack to the rest of his family with a super suit built to accommodate the infant’s wide range of superhuman abilities. But one big question remained: what happened that night at Auntie Edna’s house?
Auntie Edna is the second short film to reveal an untold sequence revolving around the infant superhero: the original 2004 film had the short Jack-Jack Attack included on its respective home video release showing a cut sequence as teenager Kari had to suddenly deal with Jack-Jack’s burgeoning super powers while the rest of the family fought Syndrome in the film.
Mathot, who also served as story supervisor on Incredibles 2, first began working at Pixar as a story artist in 1999, and has since worked in a similar capacity on The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, Presto and WALL•E. He received an Annie Award in 2008 for his storyboard work on Ratatouille.
One of the things he loved most about working on Auntie Edna was how to bring out another side of the character -- who is voiced by director Brad Bird -- that audiences didn’t get to see in The Incredibles and Incredibles 2. “Getting her out of her comfort zone a little bit, because she’s always the boss, always in control, was really fun to explore,” Mathot notes. “What happens when she loses some of that control? What does that bring out in her character?”
In a sequence inside Edna’s lab, an abrupt role reversal takes place, putting Jack-Jack, at least momentarily, in the driver’s seat and leaving Edna inside an observation chamber. “I was just, like, ‘Let’s turn the tables on them,” Mathot enthusiastically recounts. “I wanted to get her into a place where things were not under her control, because we’d never seen that before. And to do it with time cuts and classical music just felt right to me,” he continues, noting how much he loves the animation created for the sequence. “We asked ourselves what she would do if she was in that chamber. In the beginning, she’s fascinated. The fact that her lab’s getting trashed? Fascinating. But then over time she becomes bored and restless, and finally just waits for things to calm down.”
At the same time, Mothet knew he couldn’t push such an iconic character too far, or it wouldn’t work with audiences or its creator. “If you’re not Brad Bird, it’s risky whenever you’re dealing with Edna, because he knows that character so well,” Mathot notes. “It’s probably one of the characters that’s closest to him. The risk for me is like, ‘How far can we push that character before it’s not Edna anymore?’ I felt like we did pretty good getting her right up to her limit of losing control, like losing her cool, but without going overboard. Brad will get very riled up when people want to do things with Edna that just aren’t a part of her character.”
Completed in just four-and-a-half months with a crew of roughly 40 artists, Auntie Edna proved to be an intense experience for Mathot as a first-time director. “We were on a short schedule, but what was great for me is that I worked on both of the features so I knew the characters, I knew the world. I had just finished the movie with Brad, so I had many, many things that I had taken away from watching him direct that I learned that I was able to apply to directing a short-form project with the character,” he recounts.
“I had pretty grand designs for what the short could be, but very quickly realized that our time and our budget were going to limit us, but what’s part of the fun is figuring out what you can do within limitations,” Mathot says. “To me that’s what makes things really creative, is when you are limited in certain areas. So we just took that and worked within it and said, ‘Okay, well let’s come up with the best stuff that we can within this framework.’”
One of the biggest challenges the short presented was how to pack in as many of Jack-Jack’s powers as possible. “We would have put more in if we could,” he admits. “But there were things from the film that we knew we had to set up for this movie. We had to have the Mozart. We had to have that particular piece. We had to have the multiplying babies. We had to have cookies. We had to have Demon Baby. So once you get all that in there, it’s like, ‘Okay, how much room do we have left for anything else?’ So as we were storyboarding and cutting the film together, we were always trying to find out, ‘Can we cram more in there?’”
According to Mathot, one of the biggest takeaways from working with the Oscar-winning Bird was the imperative to “always push for the things that you really want.” It wasn’t necessarily an easy lesson. “I realized, about halfway through, that I wasn’t doing that enough. I went and showed what we had to Brad, and he was like, ‘Nah, we need more. We need new powers. We need to speed up the timing. We need to da-da-da,’ you know?”
So he went back to it. “Brad’s always pushing boundaries whenever he makes a film,” Mathot continues, “and to me that’s one of the reasons why his films are so good. Because he’s generally not content with saying, ‘Okay, that’s good enough.’ He only does it in cases where it actually is ‘good enough.’ He’ll take that energy and he’ll help put it in another place and say, ‘We need more here. We really need to push the boundary here.’ That was a huge lesson for me.”