Walt Disney Pictures
Written and directed by Brad Bird
Produced by John Walker
Starring Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L.
Jackson, Jason Lee, Wallace Shawn, Sarah Vowell,
Spencer Fox, Brad Bird and Elizabeth Pena
(out of four)
Ever since people started barraging super heroes
with lawsuits—for saving lives when it wasn’t
desired, damaging property while saving the world,
you get the idea—the heroes have been in hiding.
Ordered to stop fighting evil forces and processed
through a relocation program, “supers” now
work crumby and ineffective jobs, remembering the
days when they used to be important and helpful.
Such is the plight of Mr. Incredible and his stretchy
wife, Elastigirl, now known as Bob and Helen Parr,
and their family.
Brad Bird's “The Incredibles” is the
latest brilliant computer-animated film from Pixar
Animation Studios. This film marks the company’s
sixth artistic, technological and (almost certainly)
commercial triumph. Its observation and wit create
some of the studio’s best moments yet. Writer/director
Bird,whose credits include “The Iron Giant” (1999),
one of the best animated films in the last decade
and perhaps longer, transfers his knack for emotions
and human behavior from traditional hand-drawn material
to Pixar’s digital 3-D environment. Animated
feature filmmaking always requires a healthy slate
of collaborators, but Bird manages to leave his mark
of quality on the script, voice acting and visuals.
Bird’s uses the super hero genre to study
people who hide their talents in the name of conformity.
While the normal humans “celebrate mediocrity,” as
Bob puts it, the supers are relegated to lousy desk
jobs. Bob (Craig T. Nelson) even has trouble helping
people as an insurance clerk, because his company
is more interested in its shareholders than its policy
Rather than jumping straight into the flashy action,
Bird devotes a generous amount of time to the Incredible
family’s struggle with pretending to be the
ordinary (as the name indicates) “Parr” family.
While the look is successful the whole way through,
it isn’t always show-offy as it lets the characters
fumble through life. One particularly amusing conflict
between Bob’s strength and his crumby car begins
quietly before escalating into a sad mix of super-strength
and poor craftsmanship. Bob and his old friend from
the day, Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) sometimes listen
to the police radio, hoping to hear about people
who need help and can be saved without any negative
repercussions for the heroes.
Bob and Helen (Holly Hunter) face marital difficulties
due to Bob’s depression, and parental problems
with their misfit kids. Dahiell (Spencer Fox), or
Dash, is a troublemaker at school because he can’t
get over having to hide his super-speed abilities.
He can’t play sports because he would be inhumanly
good and draw attention to himself. So he rebels
with little triumphs, like putting a tack on his
teacher’s chair the split second before he
sits down—even a video camera can’t prove
he did anything to the tortured and humiliated authority
figure. By contrast, his older sister Violet (the
great writer Sarah Vowell) goes completely unnoticed
at school—one of her powers is to disappear.
Neither kid is comfortable with who they are in relation
to the world. The family baby, Jack Jack, meanwhile,
sets an example by not having any powers at all.
The peripheral cast members are just as amusing—particularly
Edna Mode, or E (voiced by Bird), a spunky, veteran
uniform designer with horn-rimmed glasses who is
tired of working for skinny models and is happy to
be doing real work again. She insistently declares “no
capes,” describing the logistical mishaps that
have occurred for the trivial purpose of adding style
to a costume.
While it’s inevitable that “The Incredibles” result
in an excellent action sequence, it’s just
a tad disappointing after the first two thirds of
the film. The plot toys with the super hero clichés
(like the old strategy of catching the villain “monologuing”)
and never ceases to be clever, but at the same time
there might have been an even stronger ending in
the unexpected places that the rest of the film is
willing to take us. Still, Bird supplies his films
with more heart and depth than can be expected from
many films made solely for adults, and with Pixar
has crafted another fine work of family entertainment.