IMDB #181 The Incredibles

The story of Pixar is something of a legend- after slaving over the pioneering CGI-effort Toy Story for some time, the creative heads gathered for lunch, and in one afternoon generated the ideas that would become A Bug's Life, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, and lastly Wall-E.

Whether or not that's true, it's clear that from the start Pixar has built its success on compelling storytelling wed to dazzling animation- the question then, and now, is how long they can maintain such consistent heart and quality.

Lucky for them, then, that John Lasseter was finally able to lure Brad Bird away from Warner Brothers- he would seamlessly fit the brand standards in 2004 with The Incredibles, an ode to the struggle between career and family (when both career and family happen to be superheroic).

The Key Players:

Writer/director/voice actor Bird, before winning successive Animated Feature Oscars with this film and Ratatouille for Pixar, made the excellent traditionally animated The Iron Giant- which is not on the countdown (wha?) but you should see as soon as possible. Incidentally, if The Iron Giant doesn't make you cry, you're clearly dead inside.

Michael Giacchino's score is an important mood-setter for the film, and the scores of animators are of course the real key players.

There's some key voice-casting at work as well, in the welcome tradition of casting for the right sound and not star power: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Samuel L. Jackson, and Wallace Shawn number among the celebrity voices

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The Story:

The Incredibles begins with one busy night in the life of our main hero, Mr. Incredible himself. A generally invulnerable strong man (like The Thing), he patrols the streets of Municiberg, stops a suicide attempt, saves a cat from a tree, and nearly foils a bank robbery- this last is waylaid by a young fan named Buddy, who's invented rocket boots and fancies himself Mr. Incredible's new sidekick.

In the fracas, Buddy inadvertently causes an above-ground rail track to go out, and Mr. Incredible has to stop the car from plummeting. He's very nearly later for his own wedding later that night to Elasti-Girl, a stretchable superheroine with powers much like Mr. Fantastic. Frozone, an Iceman like elemental with Samuel L. Jackson's hip voice, is his best man. Life is pretty good for the heroes of the world.

Until the next day or so- the suicide attempter sues Mr. Incredible for injuries sustained in his own rescue, leading to lawsuits related to railcar-property damage, and thousands of other charges against society's so-called "supers." Soon the government is forced to relocate all known superheroes and essentially outlaw their efforts toward the greater good.

Fifteen years later, Mr. Incredible is now just Bob Parr, put-upon insurance adjuster and father of three: ordinary infant Jack-Jack, superfast fourth-grader Dash, and sometimes invisible high-schooler Violet. His wife, Helen, uses her stretchable limbs mostly for housework and separating squabbling children- it's a life of forced ordinariness that none of them seem to care for.

Bob loses his job, and nearly blows his cover (again) with some off-time viglante work- but then a mysterious woman offers him a job battling a giant, killer robot gone rogue on a mysterious island. He dons the old suit, gets back in fighting shape, and generally lusts for life once more.

But all, of course, is not what it seems.

The Artistry:

Even as the work that went into The Incredibles broke pioneering new ground in rendering CGI human anatomy, fabrics, landscapes, and so on, what makes the movie pop visually are multiple cases of nostalgia.

It begins in a grainy, golden-age comics 1955, and transitions to 1970 suburbia, with the Googie architecture, pastel, angular cars, and art deco furniture. Then Bob is whisked to an island/volcano lair of his mysterious new employer straight out of any classic Bond film.

But praising the compostion of Pixar films is nothing new. It's the heart of The Incredibles that make it a countdown entry- any old Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs can look snazzy. Bird drew from his own, early 90s struggles to make it as a filmmaker while raising a family to characterize Mr. Incredible's dual desires to be a good dad and relive his glory days.

And while the whole "society turns against superheroes" isn't an original concept, it hadn't been well done on film to that point, really. And though Bird sets it up nicely in the beginning, he sort of shrugs off that conflict in favor of the family's more personal story as the action picks up.

Which still makes for a fine film, but leaves The Incredibles a bit philosophically unsettled. Here's the thing: the little kid, Buddy, that Mr. Incredible scolds for wanting to be his sidekick, grows into the film's supervillain: the technology wizard Syndrome. And while yes, he hatches a plan to pretend to save a major city from his own killer robot that goes predictably awry, he also announces his intention to sell his technology when he's had his fun- then everyone will be special, and thus no one will be.

The film seems to view this as the worst thing possible- the Incredibles themselves are hamstrung and haggard even deigning to rein themselves in with us normal folk. It's a peculiar brand of faux-populism that Bird promulgates here and later in Ratatouille, albeit one that would bother me more if his stories were less snappy and his characters harder to root for.

Still, even the seemingly powerless baby ends up having the most super-abilities of all, and the family ultimately rewards their inhumanly fast son for intentionally placing second in a school race. What's the lesson here?


They stop Syndrome, save the city, are at least applauded on the scene by the public (the future legal status of superfolks is left unresolved). Violet becomes more outgoing, Dash goes out for sports, the parents mend their frayed marriage.

And a fresh supervillian at the very end provides all four another grinning opportunity to whip out their nifty raccoon masks.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Oh, higher. It's a movie, it shouldn't make me jealous that I don't have any powers. Plus it's too wonderfully made and downright fun.

The Legacy:

Bird claims he's waiting for the right idea for a sequel, so who knows. It picked up Animated Feature and Sound Effects Editing at the Oscars as well.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

No capes!

Leftover Thoughts:

-Violet's powers are a pretty obvious mimic of The Invisible Woman's from the Fantastic Four, straight down to the force fields. The rest are pretty generic, I suppose, as superpowers go.

Coming Up...

180. The Princess Bride

179. The Night Of The Hunter

178. Les Diaboliques

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