A film review by Craig J. Koban

THE INCREDIBLES jjjj

2004, PG, 115 mins.

Featuring the voices of:
Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible: Craig T. Nelson / Helen Parr/Elastigirl: Holly Hunter / Lucius Best/Frozone: Samuel L. Jackson / Buddy Pine/Syndrome: Jason Lee / Gilbert Huph: Wallace Shawn / Violet Parr: Sarah Vowell / Dashiell Parr (Dash): Spencer Fox / Edna "E" Mode: Brad Bird / Mirage: Elizabeth Pena

Directed and written by Brad Bird

The Incredibles Poster

Question:  Can PIXAR STUDIOS, which were the computer animation masterminds behind TOY STORY 1 and 2, A BUG’S LIFE, MONSTER’S INC, and FINDING NEMO, get any better? 

They are clearly leading the pack with  a steady string of exemplary quality CG animated films that has seriously put them at the top of the heap for dominance in this arena.  Their previous films were impressive efforts to be sure, but their newest creation, THE INCREDIBLES, just may be their most sophisticated, sly, funny, exciting, action-packed, and fun of all of their films. 

I think the key to the overall success of this film is in its change in mature tone from Pixar’s previous entries.  Their other films were clearly marketed with a younger audience in mind (not that they did not have a serious degree of sly wit), but with THE INCREDIBLES Pixar has accomplished what SHREK did for the folks at Dreamworks – they have made a film that will appease the young fry with its dazzle, colors, and energetic spirit, but it will leave the adults in the audience bowling over with laughter with its sardonic and carefully placed satiric jabs at not only the super hero genre, but of middle class families.  This is a real winner and pleaser. 

The INCREDIBLES has a painful amount of fun taking satiric jabs at just the right targets.  It's kind of a deconstructivist super hero film in the sense of posing specific questions that many other hero films don't ask,  (a) if super heroes existed how would they be treated if they caused unintended accidents (such as saving a person that did not want saving and, in the process of said saving, they got badly injured), (b) what would happen to super heroes if they were not allowed to be, well, super heroes anymore and (c) what if super heroes married one another, settled down into an early retirement, and led a “normal life” – how normal would it be for them, void of the ability to use their unique abilities? 

THE INCREDIBLES answers all of these tantalizing questions, often with very, very funny results.  This new animated film, on top of being gorgeous to look at aesthetically, may be one of the more subversively funny films of the year, and it’s a testament to Pixar’s growing realization that they have matured with their stories and scripts.  Sure, much of the satire will escape kids’ minds, but there is plenty here to please both young and old alike, which I believe is the true test of great family films (note the term “family”, which too often seems to mean "just kids"). 

The film opens during what appears to be the 1950’s and early 1960’s, where classic super heroes seemed to be idealistic beings made of enormously large jaws, noble ideas, and the strongest of moral character.  The super strong Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) is shown doing what every young man does on the night of his wedding, dressing in spandex and nabbing criminals and thieves, all while having the time and foresight to save a little old lady’s cat from a tall tree (in one of the film’s best sight gags).  Amidst all of these heroic deeds, Mr. Incredible still manages to get to the chapel to marry the love of his life, Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), who can stretch any part of her body with limitless length, with fellow super hero and best man,  Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) witnessing the proceedings (he can make sheets of ice with his hands). 

Unfortunately for Mr. Incredible and his fellow heroes, some members of the public are not too impressed with their feats of bravery, some even going as far as (gasp) suing them for things like “unlawful rescue” and inadvertent side effects from their deeds.  It seems that this small group of dissatisfied and ungrateful citizens seem to get their way, as the government decides to ban all super heroic activity.  Super heroes, thus, are forced into early retirement into the Federal Government’s Superhero Relocation Program.  Mr. Incredible is now forced to live the rest of his life as his alter ego Bob Parr (just not the same ring as Mr. Incredible, eh?) with his wife Helen and their children Violet and Dashiell.  What’s even worse, they have to move into the suburbs! 

We see early on that suburban life is not meant for the Incredibles, I mean, the Parrs.  It seems that life is awfully mundane and boring, especially when you are not able to use your powers for the sake of good in public.  Sure, they still use them behind close doors, in scenes at the dinner table that hit all the right comic notes.  During one heated exchange siblings Dashier and Violent get so incensed with one another that Dashier uses his super speed to run circles around her to which she responds with a force field to stop her unruly brother.  Of course, Mom stops them both by using her stretching capabilities to stop both of her kids.  Sending kids to their rooms for a “time out” just simply does not work when you children are as gifted as they are in this household.   

What’s even worse than the monotony of the suburban home is the occupational front, especially for Bob.  Bob, once stopping speeding trains with his feet and catching crooks with his super strength is now selling insurance.  Office life is okay for some, but when you are a former Mr. Incredible, it’s awfully difficult to get your super hero physique into the cubical itself.  Bob, needless to say, finds that his job is slowly sucking the life out of him and his only escape is his weekly bowling nights with fellow hero friend Frozone, but they use this as a front with their wives to sneak into the city, listen to their police band radios and show up to help fight crime while wearing ski masks to conceal their identities (once you’ve saved people with powers, it makes being a super being the crack cocaine of emotional addictions).  Bob’s life is changed forever when he receives a secret telegram of sorts from a mysterious woman named Mirage who asks him to become Mr. Incredible again to battle a super robot on a Pacific island as a sort of test, I guess.  Problem is, Bob has gained quite a bit of weight since his last super hero days, making getting into that tight, form fitting spandex suit all the more unattractive and difficult.  Nevertheless, Bob goes, unbeknownst to his wife. 

The robot is eventually defeated by Mr. Incredible, although not so decisively, and is revealed to the audience a race of smart, thinking and learning machines that are the brainchild of an evil mastermind named Syndrome (voiced by Kevin Smith alumni Jason Lee, well at home here), as a former super fan of Mr. Incredible who gave hero worship a whole new sick definition.  Of course, all he wanted as a kid was to become Mr. Incredible’s boy wonder of sorts, but Mr. Incredible had no desire, at the time, to have a Robin to his Batman, wanting to work chiefly alone (c’mon, has there ever been something more impractical for a vigilante than having a boy sidekick?).  Well, this boy gets a bit obsessed with his hero’s lack of cooperation, and now he is all grown up and looking for a bit of revenge not only on his idol for turning him down, but on society as a whole.  Syndrome is a delicious evil creation, not too far off from a Bond villain (he has one of those secret lairs on an island with guards, whose only purpose is to shoot hundreds of rounds of ammo, hit nothing, and be crushed by the heroes). 

Brad Bird, who also directed one of the truly best and underrated family films of the last decade in 1999’s THE IRON GIANT, hits another home run with THE INCREDIBLES, his first foray into the world of computer animation.  I love the way he amalgamates the sort of sleek, glossy Modernist architecture and design with the Golden Age respectability and look of the super heroes themselves.  The heroes are kind of a staring line-up of super personalities that have been forgotten in our nihilistic age of anti-heroes and revenge driven vigilantes.  In our age of Hellboy, The Punisher, and Blade it’s nice to see a return to simpler, kinder, and gentler super heroes who had funky powers and whose ethics were as square as their jaws.  Every frame drips with the beauty of a painting, and Bird wisely manages to encapsulate so many divergent artistic sensibilities into a cohesive whole.  As with every successive Pixar picture, this one seems like just another step beyond the previous entry. 

Whereas the other Pixar films won us over with their intense visual opulence (like last year’s FINDING NEMO), the true genius to THE INCREDIBLES  is in its comedy and screenplay.  The story, on its surface, is a wonderfully realized spoof of the whole super hero genre, with enough pratfalls, quips, and sight gags to make many a comic book purist laugh uproariously.  There is an especially funny side character that is a sort of Q for the heroes.  She is Edna Mode, a tiny little firecracker of a woman that parades around and lectures on the genius of her super hero costumes she has created, and she is very adept at creating ones that go hand in hand with the heroes particular powers.  She makes a few wise and logically sound comments on capes that will forever make you think twice about Superman’s decision to wear one while saving the world. 

I think, more than anything, most of the laughs and satire has to do with the film’s overwhelming theme of uniformity among barriers placed upon people who could otherwise break them down.  Clearly, if Mr. Incredible wanted to, he really could not be stopped from still being a super hero, but it is his own social morality that makes him capitulate to conform to the majority.  He ultimately wants understanding and acceptance by society, but when that same society begins to question his deeds or worse, sue him over his good deeds, it makes conforming to societal standards all the more palatable for heroes.  Mr. Incredible retires not because he’s over the hill and incapable, but because it's what society wants.  The unfortunate thing for Mr. Incredible is that once you’ve been super for so long and you have to escape to an anonymous life of boredom and mediocrity, then it's almost too unbearable. 

Pixar’s THE INCREDIBLES is just a gleefully fun two hours, a terrific and energetic celebration of spoofing the super hero genre while still managing to have the time for some keen and perceptive social satire.  It’s gorgeous to look at, always engaging, and more action packed that any other previous Pixar film (it’s wisely rated PG, and is violent and tense enough to not be suitable for very young children), but its REAL strength is just how engaging it is on a more subtle and perceptive level.  At it’s heart, THE INCREDIBLES is not about larger than life figures fighting evil doers in spandex uniforms, it’s about the effects of how people with great powers and great responsibilities are forced into a life without powers and hardly any responsibilities.  In this way, the film is charming, smart, and insightful in ways that will surprise many.

 

CrAiGeR's other
Film Reviews

 

RATATOUILLE  (2007)  jjjj

 

WALL-E  (2008)  jjj

 

UP  (2009)  jjjj

 

TOY STORY 3  (2010 jjj

 

BRAVE  (2012 jjj

 

 
 

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