Creating The Incredibles' Superheroes Caused Some Legal Problems For Pixar

One cool aspect of watching the 2004 Pixar film "The Incredibles" as an adult is just how dark and intricately imagined the story and the world are. This is a kids movie with a big subplot about a wife suspecting her husband of cheating on her. It's a movie where the heroes take care of the bad guys by killing them, and it has an early scene where a man tries to die by suicide and later sues Mr. Incredible for stopping him. Pixar is a studio that often seems more interested in appealing to the parents in the audience than their kids, and if we ignore "Toy Story 3," "The Incredibles" is the best example of this.

Perhaps the clearest showcase of the movie's more adult sensibilities is Edna's "no capes!" monologue, where she lists off a bunch of old superheroes who died because their capes got unexpectedly caught in things. It's a montage that features one superhero getting his cape caught in a missile, another one getting sucked into a tornado, another getting dragged into a plane's turbine and presumably being shredded to bits. On another dark note, the montage foreshadows the villain's eventual death, where he's also dragged into a jet turbine. Except in his case, we get to see him screaming and struggling before he's sucked in. (If only Syndrome had talked with Edna before designing his costume!)

But the biggest challenge with Edna's monologue was not sticking to a PG rating. It was trying to avoid any copyright issues with the one-off superhero names.

Coming up with superhero names: surprisingly difficult

Because the world of "The Incredibles" used to be full of superheroes, and because a significant part of the story revolved around Mr. Incredible learning that Syndrome has killed all his old superhero buddies, this meant the writers needed to have dozens of superhero names at their disposal. They all had to be at least a little bit believable, a little bit memorable, and almost completely original. Director Brad Bird told The Washington Times at the time:

"I would just write down pages and pages of names that I thought sounded like superheroes and were fun, and then I would narrow the list down. We then had to clear the names to make sure they were not already used. If anybody publishes 10 issues of something from his basement in Ohio, if he has registered it, we cannot use it."

This created a slight problem with Elastigirl, a superhero title that was created completely independently, but turned out to have already been used. As Bird put it:

"In a couple of instances, there were obscure uses of the names. Elastigirl was a character that was in a couple of DC Comics from the 1960s, and we actually had to make an agreement with Warner Bros."  

It was a lot of work, but considering how much attention to detail went into "The Incredibles" in every other aspect, it's not a surprise that they managed to come up with so many non-copyrighted superhero names in the end. Most of their success came down to Bird's strategy of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks.