Once again, Pixar Animation Studios, the center of the creative universe in animation, gives us a film that is thrilling and thoroughly charming in "The Incredibles", the story of a family of superheroes. With the massive publicity campaign, only shut-ins and technophobes aren't aware of this movie, but few movies have ever deserved this level of hype. Pixar, in realizing that they have been running the risk of producing movies that are too much alike, brought in famed animation director Brad Bird to write and produce this treasure trove of entertainment.
We begin with the story of Bob Parr, a.k.a. Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson), who goes about doing what superheroes do - rescuing people. He pals around with his fellow superhero, Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson), and has some lusty reparte with the lovely Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) who becomes Mrs. Incredible early on. Things are going swimingly until one day Mr. Incredible saves someone who didn't want to be saved. The victim sues Mr. Incredible and begins a popular movement to villify superheroes as freaks and a general danger to society. Eventually, Parr and his family are forced, like all superheroes, to go underground in the Federal Superhero Protection Program. But after a few months of drugery as an insurance claims adjuster, Parr succumbs to temptation and together with his old friend Frozone, they start to go out at night and rescue people serrupticiously.
Having to endure a hum-drum life in his new identity as a low-level bureaucrat in an insurance company, a downtrodden Bob Parr receives a mysterious message. A seductive female voice threatens to expose him as Mr. Incredible unless he agrees to go on missions for an anonymous villain. From there, the forces of evil close in on him and threaten to destroy all of the Incredibles family.
Writer-director Brad Bird shamelessly rips off... err... pays homage to almost every comic book and action-adventure movie cliche from the past 50 years. The whole movie is overtly Bondian, from the evil mad scientist plotline to the thunderous musical score, with touches of The X-Men thrown in for good measure. It's a Baby Boomer's fantasy world with a twist, but its all done with a deft touch and fairly mindful of the sensibilities of the Disney/Pixar audience.
"The Incredibles" is aimed squarely older kids and adults with its big-screen action film look-and-feel. "The Incredibles" is funny without relying so heavily on an unending stream of silly gags, as they did in "Monsters, Inc." and "Finding Nemo." It's meaty and exciting, and above-all, a visual treat. There's an ocean of pop-culture references that will sail right over the heads of most youngsters while keeping older kids and their parents totally amused and thoroughly entertained.
"The Incredibles" is another step in Pixar's maturation process. You are apt to find that most reviews of this, the sixth computer-generated feature from Pixar, will scarecly mention the underlying technology used to create the images. I think there's several reasons for that. First, after 10 years of computer animated features, the basic novelty factor has definitely subsided. Between the five previous films from Pixar and however many Dreamworks has managed to churn out, and the merger of CGI with traditional animation in the Disney features of the last 20 years (yes, its been over two decades since Disney started to use CGI in animation, starting with "The Great Mouse Detective" and "TRON"), there's no OOH factor anymore. That's a bit of a shame since the animation in this movie is nothing short of remarkable. With every new movie, Pixar has taken their films to a new level of detail and sophistication, and "The Incredibles" is certainly no exception. The images are amazingly realistic, despite the comic-book theme of this movie. The characters no longer seem to "float" over the background images, and the textures are so finely crafted that they are completely free of that plastic-like appearance that was common in films like "Tin Toy" and the first "Toy Story" movie.
Animation fanatics and film buffs will appreciate the many tributes to the giants of the animation industry and Hollywood royalty. Most notable, of course, is the character of Edna Mode, the quirky mad-scientist character who designs the costumes for the superheroes. Perhaps not trusting an ordinary actor with this critical character, Edna is voiced by none other than Brad Bird himself who makes her a combination of legendary Hollywood fashion designer Edith Head and the cliche' of a superficial Hollywood artist or designer who is so totally self-absorbed that she scarcely pays attention to anyone else. Then there's the storyline right out of James Bond where the evil genius threatens the world from his headquarters on a remote island.
But that's not to say that the kiddies will be bored by this film. Far from it. In addition to the obvious appeal of the amusing superhero characters, and the children of the Parrs. The teenaged daughter Violet is having self-esteem problems and is worried sick that nobody will like her. The young boy Dash is going crazy because he knows he can run faster than any of his friends, but his mother won't let him try out for the sports teams at school because that would reveal their secret identities. It's all wrapped up in a free-wheeling adventure film that keeps up the tradition of family entertainment from Pixar while keeping audiences of all ages thoroughly entertained.
Brad Bird worked for Disney and notably directed many episodes of "The Simpsons," and then for Warner Bros. before being signed by Pixar to create "The Incredibles." His best-known theatrical work is "The Iron Giant" produced by Warner Bros., but there's no doubt he respects the foundation that the early Disney animators built. We were especially touched by his inclusion of Disney Legends Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, who at the time were the sole surviving members of the group of artists known as "Walt's Nine Old Men". If you ever want to learn how Disney produced such wonderful movies from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" through "The Rescuers," go buy or rent the video of "Frank and Ollie" which tells the life stories of these two pioneers of feature animation. These men embodied the spirit of those classic Disney films. You couldn't find two nicer gentlemen on this planet, nor two other animators who were more deserving of this accolade.
This review of The Incredibles is unquestionably biased by our love of animation. We have lamented the recent decline in the offerings from Disney and reveled in the child-like optimism of the Pixar films. There's no other studio that comes close to capturing the innocence of the child's imagination. Totally guileless and endearing without being cloying or saccharine. "The Incredibles" is a wild romp through comic book lore with a sweet touch that will surely keep audiences coming back again and again. We thoroughly encourage everyone to go see this movie or buy the home video.
One other thing we couldn't help but notice is the incredible marketing push that Disney and Pixar have put behind "The Incredibles." Not content with the simple, traditional advertizing blitz that Disney used to mount for its animated features, Pixar has been actively promoting the film with co-marketing programs with Yahoo!/SBC DSL Services, Safeway Food Stores house brand products with "Incredibles" on the label, and a host of toys from Hasbro and Thinkway, games for Sony's Playstation and the Microsoft X-Box, as well as the PC. If it wasn't for the election year ads and the sheer genius of this movie, we would be well and truly sick of seeing Mr. Incredible by now.
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