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The Incredibles

Reviewed by Eliza DoLots

I went into this movie not convinced it was going to be great. Though I've been a fan of Pixar Studio since they first showed their hopping lamps at Spike and Mike's Animation Festival around 20 years ago, I was concerned that Pixar had lost some of its vision. Both of the Toy Story movies were fun, amazing movies which targeted and appealed to all ages. Everyone in my family got a different kind of laugh out of the Barbie Party in the aisle of Al's Toy Barn, but we all did laugh. Monster's Inc. while funny for adults and older kids fell into the perennial Disney trap of being utterly horrifying for younger children. I found it tremendously disappointing. While I never saw Finding Nemo, my daughter assured me it was not a film for --all ages--but a film for children under 6. Had Pixar lost it?

The evening didn't start promisingly. As is tradition, the show opens with a Pixar short. Normally these are exercises in animation that are generally funny and always fun to watch. This one isn't. Starting out as a hyperactive, bouncy animal hootenanny, Boundin' degenerates into a sugary life lesson on going with the flow. You can see a sneak peak of Boundin' at the Pixar website. My suggestion is to avoid it, but if you're the type that has to look at the squashed bug, go for it. In the theater, you can consider this the perfect time to hit the restrooms or go for popcorn because it is the LAST time you will be unhappy with what's on the screen.

The Incredibles is simply fantastic. The premise is a world in which superheroes (called supers) are common. So common that they are called for routine jobs like getting a kitty out of a tree. So common that they ultimately become the target of lawsuits for the incidental damages done during their rescues. In a simply lovely bit of animation, the tale of headlines and court cases is told in gritty black and white. This scene was so wonderfully conceived and executed I told myself THIS is the best scene in the movie!. I found myself repeating this line many, many times during the next 90 minutes.

Animating realistic looking humans has been the downfall of computer animation since its beginning. They simply miss something and whenever such characters are on screen, I devote more time to noticing the flaws in the humaness than to appreciating the movie. Wisely, the characters in The Incredibles bypass this problem by being very stylized and unreal. Because of this, they are instantly more acceptable (consider how odd Timmy in the Toy Story movies always seems, yet the caricatured Al is engaging and funny despite looking nothing like a real human).

The Incredibles are a family of supers who are in the super relocation program. Given new names and new identities, they are under orders from the government to blend in and give up their superhero ways. Since marrying, they have produced 3 children. Violet, who has the power to disappear and can generate protective force fields. Dash, who can--as his name would suggest--move really, really fast. And Jack Jack, a baby who has not shown any powers.

Much of the humor in the movie comes from watching supers muddle through the mundane aspects of life in suburbia. Sibling rivalry takes on a whole new meaning when one child can project a force field and the other can speed around the room faster than the eye can follow. When Mom (Elastic Girl, voiced by Holly Hunter, whose scratchy, sly voice is just what you'd expect a superhero to have) steps in to solve the problem, her frustration is exactly what all moms experience, but her solution is hysterically tweaked by her superhero abilities. By the way, suburbia is beautifully realized and our first experience with Mr. Incredible (Bob, the Dad,voiced by Craig T. Nelson, who reaches back to his "Coach" years for both the masterful superhero voice and the beat down by life middle aged man voice) in front of his tract house is one more time when I felt the movie must have reached a peak.

Dad, like many middle-aged men, is having trouble settling down to life as a husband and father. He wants to relive his glory days, hang out with the friends of his youth, retell tales of past accomplishments and try to grab a bit of glory once again. In short, he's just like a lot of men his age, only instead of catching the game winning touchdown, he stopped a school from being destroyed by absorbing the energy of an atomic bomb with his chest muscles.

As with anything "comic book" there is a super evil bad guy. In this case, his name is Syndrome and he's a sort of Bill Gates meets Mark David Chapman kind of character who tricks Mr. Incredible into helping him. This takes the movie to the requisite evil lair on remote island and provides the animators with yet more opportunities to amaze us. Much of what we see on the island rivals the work George Lucas' people did with Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. Things you know are animated simply look real.

Meanwhile, back at the house, Mrs. Incredible has come to the conclusion her husband is having an affair. Her efforts to find the truth lead her to the fashion goddess of all super heroes: Edna Modeon (voiced by Brad Bird, who also wrote the movie). Edna threatens to steal the movie she is such a wonderful, amazing character. Think Edith Head meets Divine with a little Linda Hunt thrown in, all packed into a tiny body. Her demonstration of the suits she has designed for the whole family is possibly the funniest part of the movie.

Eventually the whole family is on the island. The kids, always told to repress their powers and keep them hidden, are suddenly costumed superheroes discovering for the first time how truly powerful they are. There are tremendous action scenes as the bad guys try to kill the superkids and the kids find, for the first time, that they value each other and can work together.

In the end, good triumphs over evil, love triumphs over hate, and people who do good for the world are, once again, treated like heroes. While that may seem trite, the road to that resolution is full of fallible, annoying, realistic super-humans who make it seem perfectly fine to have a happy ending.

I asked my daughter what the best scene in the movie was. She said: Jack Jack at the end: While I won't spoil the scene, I think it's worth noting that I first thought "best scene" less than 3 minutes into the movie and my family was still thinking "this is the best" at the very end. There are no lulls, no gaps, no points at which you wish the film makers hadn't been so entertained with themselves.

The Incredibles joins my list of movies I will own. No questions asked, this is a keeper.

 

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Writer/Director
Brad Bird

Released
November 5, 2004

Cast
Craig T. Nelson
Holly Hunter
Samuel L. Jackson
Jason Lee
Wallace Shawn

Full Credits at IMDb

Available on DVD and Blu-Ray