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The Heart and Animation of ‘The Incredibles’ is… Excellent
(We’re Not Falling for That Punny Headline Trap)


by Jeremy Mathews
 
 
 

“The Incredibles”
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
Rated PG

(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 holders.

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.

jeremy@red-mag.com

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