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The Incredibles
Director: Brad Bird
Screenplay: Brad Bird
Voices: Craig T. Nelson (Bob Parr / Mr. Incredible), Holly Hunter (Helen Parr / Elastigirl), Samuel L. Jackson (Lucius Best / Frozone), Jason Lee (Buddy Pine / Syndrome), Spencer Fox (Dashiell “Dash” Parr), Sarah Vowell (Violet Parr), Wallace Shawn (Gilbert Huph), Brad Bird (Edna “E” Mode)
MPAA Rating: PG
Year of Release: 2004
Country: U.S.
The Incredibles
The Incredibles Brad Bird's The Iron Giant was one of the best animated films of the last decade, which made its being so criminally overlooked in the clogged summer of 1999 that much more of a travesty. It was an ambitious film, one that told an emotionally driven story with a medium that is often employed for either childish comedy or adult irony. In telling a Cold War parable about the follies of violence and xenophobia, Bird found himself in a cinematic no man's land, and it has only been with time and attention that the film has found an appreciative audience.

One can't fault Bird for going a bit more toward the middle with his latest film, the Pixar-produced The Incredibles. But, even here, Bird has maintained his unique cinematic sensibilities by taking the visual acuity of computer animation and ripping it from the Disney formula we've come to expect. This doesn't mean that the formula in and of itself is bad. In fact, it has produced a string of fantastic animated films, from 1995's Toy Story to 2002's Finding Nemo. The Incredibles, however, is a slightly different beast. Melding a chic modernist aesthetic with James Bond gadget-cool and an innate sense of subtle social satire, Bird has crafted a sleek and original homage to the derring-do of our most cherished superheroes.

The world in which The Incredibles takes place is a fluid amalgam of the bold, clean modernism that characterized urban-set DC Comics of the 1930s and 1940s and an amusingly retro suburban style that feels like it was pulled from the pages of Good Housekeeping circa 1965. The film's central conceit is that there is no longer a place for superheroes in our overly litigious society. Bankrupted by frivolous lawsuits, the once mighty superheroes of the past are now relegated to a humdrum life of anonymity, unable to use their superpowers in the name of good lest some money-grubbing slob haul them to court for jarring his neck while pulling him out of the path of a speeding train.

Bird, who wrote and directed the film, has particular fun with his characters' superpowers, using them to both reflect their personalities and jab slyly at social norms. The main character is Bob Farr (Craig T. Nelson), who was once the mighty and powerful Mr. Incredible before being relocated by the government. Mr. Incredible's all-around steely strength and individualistic resolve is the perfect embodiment of traditional masculinity, which makes him that much more emasculated in his mind-numbing day job as an insurance claims agent who, rather than helping people, is supposed to deny as many claims as possible to maintain the bottom line. Bird conveys Bob's feelings of impotent entrapment by encasing his huge frame behind a desk in a tiny cubicle or, even better, behind the wheel of his ridiculously small car.

Bob's wife, Helen (Holly Hunter), was once Elastigirl, able to bend and twist herself like Silly Putty, which comes in handy as a suburban housewife managing three children, two of whom have already developed superpowers of their own. The older daughter, Violet (Sarah Vowell), is a typically mopey junior high dreamer whose ability to turn invisible reflects every adolescent's intermittent desire to simply vanish. Her younger brother, Dash (Spencer Fox), is a typically hyperactive elementary school kid who can move at supersonic speeds, so fast in fact that he can't be seen placing a tack on his teacher's chair while the teacher is in the act of sitting down.

Of course, because they've been relocated and are in hiding, this superpowered suburban clan cannot use their abilities. Their constant familial bickering is less a sop to sitcom silliness than a reflection of their repressed anger about their inability to express themselves. Dash has the hardest time with this, as he complains to Helen that she and Bob tell him to do his best, but he can't go out for any sports because he'll obviously blow away the competition.

When there is an opportunity for Bob to once again don his red and blue tights and save the world, he jumps at the chance, and Bird generates laughs with the way in which Bob's rekindling his superheroic alter ego improves his home life. Eventually, the rest of his family is pulled into the life again, as they do battle with Syndrome (Jason Lee), an ego-driven wannabe superhero who stages destruction so he can play his dream role. Thus, Syndrome is an amusing reflection of the dregs of celebrity culture, in which people strive to be famous not for any genuine accomplishment, but simply for the sake of fame itself.

With all of Pixar Animation Studios' technology at his disposal, Bird has made an absolutely fantastic-looking film. With every new computer-animated film that emerges from Pixar, the textures are more realistic and the details more attuned. The characters maintain an appropriately cartoonish look (computer-generated human characters who try to look too real still have an uncanny weirdness to them), but the backgrounds and props are so three-dimensional in their photorealism that at times you forget you're watching an animated film. However, Bird is not the kind of filmmaker who allows the style to overwhelm the meaning, and The Incredibles soars because it always keeps the characters and the stories in the foreground. Despite the outlandishness of the concept, the characters are infinitely human, and we feel for the Incredible family's frustration and the way in which it materializes in recognizably mundane ways. Much like Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films, The Incredibles works because we are equally convinced of the characters' superhuman powers and their humanity.

Overall Rating: (4)

All images copyright ©2004 Pixar Animation Studios

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