Pixar’s movies seem to diverge into two camps: somewhat silly, madcap adventures that seem to be aimed more at kids than adults (Monster’s Inc, Finding Nemo), and slightly more intelligent fare with in-jokes, stronger characterization and subtler storytelling (Toy Story, Toy Story 2). Both camps are wonderful to watch, but the latter has more depth, in my opinion.
Thanks to writer/director Brad Bird (of The Iron Giant fame), The Incredibles falls into the latter camp. Like Toy Story, Pixar uses its magic to craft a story featuring the real-life story of fantastic things in a (stylized) real world. In The Incredibles, we see the human side of superheroes.
The movie opens with Mr. Incredible rushing to a wedding and being waylayed by people in need. He saves a cat from a tree and stops a criminal from getting away (using the same tree). He foils a bank robbery (by French supervillain Bomb Voyage), and shakes loose an annoying young superhero wannabe before finally reaching the church and marrying his love, ElastiGirl.
(One is left to wonder just how good Mr. Incredible and ElastiGirl’s love life is, given that she has the flexibility of a rubber band. Quite good, one thinks. During a montage set fifteen years after the wedding, while Mr. Incredible is getting back into shape, there are no less than three little scenes of Mrs. Incredible dragging her husband into the bedroom. It is this sort of tip of the hat to the adults that puts The Incredibles in the deeper camp of Pixar movies.)
Soon after Mr. Incredible’s wedding night, the unthinkable happens: someone Mr. Incredible saved, who didn’t want to be saved, sues for damages. The action produces an onslaught of copycat lawsuits, and the media coverage turns the public against superheroes. The government steps in with a superhero relocation program, forcing Mr. Incredible and ElastiGirl to live their new live completely under the cover of their secret identities.
Fifteen years later, the Incredibles (known to their neighbours as Bob and Helen Parr — I only just got the joke) have three children: the insecure teenager Violet (who has the ability to turn invisible and erect forcefields around herself), the superfast Dash, and newborn JackJack, who hasn’t shown any superabilities yet. The Incredible family struggle to keep their super abilities hidden from the public and, for the most part, they succeed. Mr. Incredible chaffes under the pressures of being a “normal” insurance adjuster, however, and when an offer arrives giving him the chance to relive his glory days, he jumps in, and doesn’t question the offer’s mysterious source.
As usual with Pixar movies, the vocal talents are top notch. Craig Wilson and Holly Hunter play Mr and Mrs. Incredible with considerable verve. Samuel L. Jackson has a good supporting role as the superhero Frozone. The animation is also what you would expect from Pixar, which might not be as groundbreaking now as Toy Story was back then, but I couldn’t help but notice that “hair and cloth specialists” took up half of the animation credits in this movie. The value of the time and effort that went into the look of this production, from its fifties art-deco feel to its stylized-but-very-realistic heroes cannot be overstated.
The Incredibles is Pixar’s first PG-rated movie. The rating is obstensibly for the movie’s action-related violence, but this is a very different movie from Monster’s Inc and Finding Nemo. The belly laughs are toned down in favour of complex characterization (although there is a hilarious scene where ElastiGirl is trapped and stretched between three sliding doors). The movie’s surprisingly countercultural theme eschews conformity. Mr. Incredible bemoans having to attend his son’s fourth grade graduation ceremony as it is “a celebration of mediocrity”. Dash himself struggles against his parents’ insistence that he avoid sports because, naturally, he’d excel at them. “Everyone’s special,” says Mrs. Incredible, to which Dash replies, “Which is another way of saying nobody is.”
Counterpointing this theme, nicely, is the theme of responsibility coming hand-in-hand with power. Mr. Incredible’s desire to go out and relive his glory days by illicitly fighting crime lands him into deep trouble, and though his family eventually come through to help him fight against the film’s major supervillian, it’s not before Mr. Incredible himself comes to understand that the value of being a father is as high as being a superhero.
The movie also surpasses some of the superhero stories it spoofs, giving its villains believable motivations, and giving one character very good reasons to switch sides.
This script fills out a movie that’s slick, fast paced, has a pounding James Bond-like soundtrack, and is surprisingly violent and mature. Some parents may be concerned by the life-threatening situations the characters encounter, as well as references to suicide and divorce, but I suspect most of this will go over most kids heads. The only danger is the lack of an animated Billy Crystal or seagulls crying “mine!” might leave children a little bored after the film’s lengthly 115 minute run time. I doubt it, though. The explosions and the action should keep them mesmerized. The Incredibles is a family film in the truest sense of the word; everybody’s welcome at the cinematic table.