When it comes to animation, it doesn’t get any better than this. From the award winning pool of talent at Pixar that brought us “Toy Story,” Monsters, Inc.” and “Finding Nemo,” comes “The Incredibles,” a hilarious and thrilling adventure about a family of former superheroes rediscovering their super skills. There’s Mr. Incredible with his super strength, Elastigirl with her flexibility, Dash with his super speed, and Violet with her invisibility and force field. This fantastic foursome gets pulled back into crime fighting action by a curious villain named Syndrome who is intent on world domination. Written and directed by Brad Bird, known for his work on “The Iron Giant” and contributions to the highly successful series “The Simpsons,” the film addresses underlying family and social issues while spoofing superhero comics and suburban sitcoms. And it’s so much fun. With state-of-the-art CG, delicious humor, and spectacular action sequences, “The Incredibles” exceeds expectations to deliver a superhuman experience.
Bob Parr, aka Mr. Incredible, used to be one of the world’s greatest superheroes, rescuing kittens from trees, children from burning buildings, and the world from super villains. But that was fifteen years ago, before a litigious society began suing these good Samaritans and forcing them into an early retirement. Now, Bob and his wife Helen, formerly Elastigirl, have taken on civilian identities, forced to live routine lives with their three gifted children and yet, have to make every effort to act normal. It’s a struggle for sure, particularly for Bob. As a clock-punching insurance claims adjuster, he becomes easily frustrated with his boss, his waistline, and his overall inability to help people. So it’s no surprise that when offered the chance to play hero again by the mysterious Mirage, he jumps at the opportunity and doesn’t tell a soul.
Back and forth, Mr. Incredible goes between secret missions and home, all under the guise of insurance business. Progressively, the missions get more difficult – bigger, stronger, faster robots to defeat. Ones that mimic and learn the moves of their opponents. Inevitably, Mr. Incredible meets his match and fails to return home. This has Helen worried. And after making a few calls, she is shocked to discover the truth about her husband – that he has been lying to her and resuming his secret identity. Rather than sit idle, she immediately goes back into action as Elastigirl. And with kids in tote, she heads to a secret tropical island to rescue her husband. Unbeknownst to her, the fate of the world hangs on the mission. And the only way to save the world is for the family to come out from the shadows and rediscover the incredible that was missing in their lives.
Since “Toy Story” first graced the screen back in 1995, Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios have been the perfect one two punch, dominating the box office while reshaping and pioneering the computer animation landscape. “The Incredibles” marks the 6th collaborative effort between the two and it is easily the most ambitious. For instance, it’s the first time an outsider has been asked to direct a Pixar project, it’s the first time Pixar has ever received a rating higher than a G, and it’s the first time a Pixar film stars an all human cast. Coming in at 115 minutes, the film is a technical marvel – the longest and most sophisticated CG animated film to date.
The technical achievement is literally enough to make one speechless. Out of the most difficult things to do in animation, Pixar takes on each one with unbridled enthusiasm. Clothing, water, skin tones, eye definition – all taken to the next level. Most prominently, you will notice the effects involving hair – Mr. Incredible’s receding tuft, Violet’s shadowy locks, Dash’s blonde hair whipping in the wind, or Syndrome’s pointy do. Each is handled with masculine or feminine movements and occasionally, the texture is so finite that you can glimpse the individual strands. If that doesn’t amaze you, try the scenes in which multiple effects are combined, like the scene in which Dash, Elastigirl, and Violet are floating in open water with their hair altered and weighed down by the moisture. Not only does “The Incredibles” advance the art of animation, it takes the genre out of the ballpark.
The film was written and directed by Brad Bird, who was also responsible for “The Iron Giant,” an underrated gem about a young boy and a robot caught in the middle of the Cold War era. Much like “The Iron Giant,” “The Incredibles” has a 1950’s noir-ish feel. The story is based on reality, with a twist of course. The father is bored and dissatisfied with his job, the mother is stretched in all kinds of directions, the son is hyperactive, and their teenage daughter is shy and withdrawn. The importance of emphasizing normalcy is that, while the characters have superpowers, they are grounded by their routine lives. These lives connect with audiences, who in many ways can relate and laugh at the exaggerations. It’s a simple technique, but one that goes a long way in relaying its message – that it’s important to balance dreams with family obligations and responsibility. And that a family is strongest and most powerful when it stays together.
Providing the voice for Mr. Incredible is Craig T. Nelson, an appropriate choice based on his comedic timing so evident in “Coach” and his authoritative presence on “The District.” Nelson is great as the fallible hero, coping with his weight, his job, and his family duties. And his voice teeters expertly between mid-life crisis and youthful exuberance. The glue that holds the family together is Holly Hunter. And Hunter’s character stands out because of the warmth and motherly nature she brings to the role along with flashes of confidence and ingenuity. The film also benefits from a slew of complementary characters with distinctive voices: Samuel L. Jackson as Mr. Incredible’s supportive old pal, Frozone; director Brad Bird as the riotous, cape sensitive Edna ‘E’ Mode; and Jason Lee as the diabolical Syndrome, delightfully rich when he swoons with superiority.
“The Incredibles” is everything that an animated film should be. It’s great looking, has great characters, and great action and humor in between. Additionally, it has a story that deals with modern family issues and individuals who are relatable, despite the appearance of super powers. Says Bob, “No matter how many times you save the world, it always manages to get back in jeopardy again!” But that’s what makes action comics so much fun. For every superhero around to clean things up, there is an equally dynamic super villain to mess things up again. And who would want a maid to clean up the world when you have “The Incredibles” around to save the day?