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The Incredibles: Screening Review

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The Incredibles

Theatrical Release: November 5, 2004 / Running Time: 115 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Brad Bird

Voice Cast: 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), Elizabeth Peña (Mirage), Brad Bird (Edna Mode), Wallace Shawn (Gilbert Huph), Jean Sincere (Muriel Hogenson), John Ratzenberger (The Underminer)

In their first five films, Pixar Animation Studios tackled toys, bugs, monsters, and fish. In The Incredibles, the world's leading computer animation film studio delves into the world of superheroes. As each of the studio's previous features has met with critical acclaim, industry accolades, and remarkable box office reception and later home video sales, Pixar doesn't exactly have much to prove at this point. Yet, with nine years of success under their belts, the makers of Toy Story and Finding Nemo have flexed their creative muscles once again to give us The Incredibles, a fresh, rousing and delightful ride.

About the closest thing to a complaint that people could muster over Pixar's first five films was that a certain reliance on formulas was emerging. Finding Nemo offered a new director and a different Newman doing the music, but it echoed Toy Story 2's split narrative rescue structure. And elements of the buddy comedy well utilized in Toy Story had resurfaced to some degree in every Pixar film from its sequel on.

While some would argue not to tinker with success, Pixar has never settled with stagnancy. There is once again no need to question the studio's keen artistic judgment; The Incredibles avoids any kind of prominent conventions, instead opting to move forward with a a series of firsts.

This is the first time that Pixar has featured and focused on a complete family. It strikes several chords with its portrait of this dysfunctional clan struggling to find satisfying identities. And its intelligent depiction of a lasting marriage refreshingly shows the studio is speaking as much to adults as it is to the children who will see it in troves. There's not a bathroom joke to be found here, as Pixar refuses to pander to the lowest common denominator.

Up until now, in Pixar films, human characters had mostly played supporting roles in a world observed from a distance (the other side of the closet door, outside the fish tank). Undoubtedly, though humanity has always been present in the studio's films, even moreso than most live action films, which is more than a little ironic considering how largely computers feature in Pixar's creation process.

With The Incredibles, Pixar leaps fully into a human world, and embraces supercharged action (another new test) like never before, which merits the studio their first PG rating. The change to human protagonists doesn't feel too different, even if there's one less step in the allegorical equation.

Want to avoid any potential spoilers? Skip ahead to conclusion.

As Bob Parr, Mr. Incredible has a case of the cubicle blues.

When the film opens, we see young, idealistic superheroes expressing their stances on secret identities and how they view the challenge of saving the world on a regular basis. These superheroes include Mr. Incredible (a man of brawn), Frozone (an agile ice-thrower and Mr. Incredible's best friend) and Elastigirl (a headstrong young woman whose limbs extend further than you can imagine). Newsreel footage shows this heyday for heroes, a time when "supers" ruled the Earth, aiding endangered people and being adored by the masses.

That was fifteen years ago. Several lawsuits later, superheroes became subject to criticism and protest. They faded into everyday society, or as one character puts it, their secret identities became their only ones.

Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl, now married for over a decade, have had three kids and are settled into a suburban lifestyle as Bob and Helen Parr. For Bob, the thrill of being extraordinary and not being able to use his powers has put him in a bit of a slump. His days are spent in a too-small cubicle as an insurance claims adjuster whose willingness to help clients conflicts with the company's interest. When the day is done, Bob fights the rush hour traffic in a too-small car to get home to his family.

Two of the three Parr children have superpowers that they must keep under wraps as well. Daughter Violet, the oldest, can make herself invisible at a moment's whim, and she's currently trying to master the art of the force field. Dash, the enthusiastic middle child, possesses an ability to run with remarkable speed. Then there's Jack Jack, the adorable baby of the family.

Violet and Dash have their own problems at school; they are still struggling to fit in. Violet's shyness and self-consciousness inhibit her among the young teenage crowd, while Dash's powers go towards pranks, since competing on the school's sports teams is out of the question in order for the Parrs to maintain an ordinary existence.

As a result, bringing the family together for dinnertime is like pulling the lid off a blender, and letting everyone's issues swirl around with messy results. These disputes and the normal sibling rivalry often complicate things between the parental units. Helen is accepting of their current situation and only wants a normal existence for the family. On the other hand, Bob wants to relive the glory days, to which his study is a type of shrine. Wednesday's "Bowling Night" proves to be the only opportunity for Frozone (civilian name: Lucius) and him to pick up police reports on the radio and secretly prove heroic.

The Parr Children, Violet and Dash.

It's a tough time to be a superhero, and the unease in the Parr family illustrates that clearly. So much goes on in The Incredibles that the film easily keeps you engaged throughout its nearly two-hour running time (Pixar's longest). There's a richness to the characters and great depth to the story.

In Syndrome, the fanboy-turned-madman, Pixar has crafted a well-defined villain you can revel in disliking. He has a clear motive and an interesting method to getting his way. Outside of Hopper from A Bug's Life, this is probably the most effective antagonist that we've seen in Pixar's fare.

The Incredibles was written and directed by Brad Bird, a former consultant on "The Simpsons" who made his directorial debut with The Iron Giant in 1999. A flop at the box office, Bird's well-reviewed film (a type of Cold War twist on E.T.) found an audience on home video and has a strong Internet following. The roots of this film about a family of superheroes go back more than a decade to a time when Bird envisioned it as a cel animation project. Bird brings to Pixar several unique characteristics, but he stays true to the studio's ideal of storytelling first and foremost.

In the winning action sequences that populate much of its second half, The Incredibles calls to mind the pacing and tone of the original Star Wars films, and it ascends to the heights of that grand crowd-pleasing epic with universal appeal and even more adrenaline. Brimming with action, the film never forgets the drama of its all-too-human superheroes and it remains moving and relevant during its flashiest spectacles.

Unlike the previous Pixar films, The Incredibles is not primarily a comedy. Instead the film is seamlessly fused with humor that neither sidetracks nor wait for laughs. There's a bit of an edge as the film earnestly tackles discontent in modern society, but there's also the warmth that layers the best of films, a warmth which never gets sentimental and yet doesn't feel sardonic.

Every new film that Pixar has released since Toy Story has seemed to have people saying "the bar has been raised." Well, it's fair to say that again, since The Incredibles has visual fireworks beyond anything we've seen before. The most obvious thing to notice is that Pixar has used the 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio here for only the second time.

Mirage with Mr. Incredible

The first and last time they did was for A Bug's Life, a film which also avoids any of the surefire Pixar conventions (even if that is mostly retrospective analysis for only the studio's second film) and has unfairly developed a knack for being the least strong link on the Pixar chain, with reviews and grosses that fall a bit below the others while still far on the side of positive. Like that film, which seemed to call for a grander canvas to tackle the natural world, the decision to utilize a scope format for the high-octane action in The Incredibles seems logical. (To be fair, such a rationale could be used to justify the same for any of Pixar's visually stunning productions.) The wide frame lends itself to creating some unique cinematic images, and the location animation is stunning, particularly in the geometric city blocks and in the remarkably detailed green hills of the secret island where Mr. Incredible is called on a mission.

The animation of the humans both is obviously stylized and remarkably convincing. When your primary subjects are characters that are not bound by the laws of physics, you're opening yourself to endless possibilities in depicting their motion and endless ways with which to fail. But in animation, as in everywhere else, the film excels, creating a consistent and realistic-feeling world where limits to speed, flexibility, and strength are thrown out the window.

While I try not to put much stock in the Academy Awards, it is a shame that with the recent creation of the Best Animated Feature Oscar, The Incredibles stands no chance to win anything more significant than that. Not even that can be guaranteed, with Dreamworks' Shrek 2 again in possession of the theatrical and home video release timing that in 2001 lent the original Shrek higher-grossing than Pixar's Monsters, Inc. and probably aided its path to the debut Animated Feature Oscar.

That's too bad since The Incredibles deserves all the merit it can get. I have no doubt that this film is one of the best we'll see this year. At the very least, it should be a legtimate contender for the Best Picture award, even if the value of that honor is mostly a feather in the cap of the marketing department.

To sum up, Pixar continues to amaze me. While its closest competitors may shun orginality (On ads for their latest animated film, Dreamworks has proudly displayed a critic's remark "'Finding Nemo' with an urban-contemporary tilt."), Pixar embraces it and the results have been wonderful each time. Fresh, funny, and everything a moviegoer could want, The Incredibles is the sixth time in as many tries that the computer animation studio has worked magic. As usual, the theatrical experience of seeing Pixar's stunning visuals on the big screen (plus the usual short and latest preview, see below) cannot be missed.

Sidenote: Legendary Disney animators Frank Thomas (who recently passed away) and Ollie Johnston lent their voices to a couple of "additional characters" in the film. While it's an in-joke that will fly over the heads of almost all of the hordes I anticipate will flock to see the film, it's a nice moment for two men who have contributed so much to animation over a number of decades.

Boundin'


PRE-FILM ENTERTAINMENT

The first thing attached to all theatrical exhibitions of The Incredibles is our first glimpse at Cars, Pixar's seventh film which is due to arrive in theaters November 2005. Up until now, I've been a bit skeptical about the subject matter (talking cars and a prominent racecar plot), but the Pixar name and John Lasseter's return to direction both have me as intrigued as any other upcoming film.

This teaser does not reveal much of anything, and I imagine most of it won't make it to the final film. It opens with two cars (one voiced by Owen Wilson) travelling down a barren highway where the challenge is to avoid getting bugs on the windshield. What follows this standard Pixar buddy teaser is a lot of very fast-paced footage of the racecars in motion on tracks. I was most intrigued by "The Makers of..." credit at the start, which this time mentions Finding Nemo, Toy Story and A Bug's Life (the score of which is borrowed for the beginning of this teaser).

Next is the staple of the Pixar filmgoing experience, the pre-movie Pixar short. This time, it's 2003's Oscar-nominated "Boundin'", which tells the story of a sheep who's well-known and well-liked for his hill-top dancing skills. When the time comes for him to get his coat sheared, the sheep is traumatized. He's a laughingstock, and he can't dance right. Enter a good-natured American jackalope who helps. I enjoyed this short. Even if it felt more like Rankin/Bass than Pixar (in part due to the presence of rhyming narration), some of the former's strengths in animation do seem to have inspired certain things in Pixar films, so the comparison seems reasonable and is certainly not a bad thing.

Reviewed October 30, 2004.

EPILOGUE: BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE & COMING SOON TO DVD

The Incredibles has had quite the successful box office run. As of mid-January 2005, its gross of over-$255 million domestically makes it the fourth highest-grosser of 2004 and Pixar's second biggest earner. The film has earned even more in international markets, bringing in well over $300 million in just a couple of months. Pixar's sixth film comes off this potent theatrical run with no shortage of film awards and nominations and the fastest DVD release for a Pixar film.

On March 15th, The Incredibles will arrive on DVD in a 2-disc Collector's Edition, offered in separate widescreen and fullscreen formats. The DVD will include 2 filmmaker audio commentaries, a half-hour making-of documentary, two Pixar shorts (theatrical accompaniment "Boundin'" with commentary and featurette, plus the all-new cartoon "Jack Jack Attack"), several deleted scenes including a lengthy alternate opening, character profiles, theatrical trailers, Incredi-blunders, "How We Did It" featurettes on various aspects of production, a trailer for Pixar's next film Cars, a number of Easter Eggs, and more. You can now pre-order The Incredibles DVD from Amazon.com. Read the complete DVD press release.

The supervillain Syndrome

Related Products (See All)

Buy The Art of Incredibles book from Amazon.com Buy The Incredibles: The Essential Guide from Amazon.com Buy 12" Talking Mr. Incredible from Amazon.com Buy Jabberin' Jack Jack from Amazon.com Buy The Incredibles Interactive 3-Pack Action Figure Set from Amazon.com
The Art of The Incredibles
Hardcover Book
Also available:
Art of Incredibles Journal
The Incredibles:
The Essential Guide

Hardcover Book
Mr. Incredible
12" Talking Figure

w/ free poster
Jabberin' Jack Jack
talking doll

w/ free poster
Interactive Action
Figure 3-Pack

Dash, Syndrome,
Mr. Incredible
Buy The Incredibles: Amazing 3-D Adventure from Amazon.com Buy The Incredibles soundtrack CD from Amazon.com Buy The Incredibles (Playstation 2 Video Game) from Amazon.com Buy The Incredibles Quick Changin' Incredobile from Amazon.com Buy The Incredibles Battle Cinema Scene Figures from Amazon.com
Incredibles:
Amazing 3-D Adventure

Hardcover
Book with
3-D viewer
The Incredibles
Soundtrack CD

score by
Michael Giacchino
Incredibles
Video Game

Playstation 2
Also available:
GB Advance
GameCube
Xbox • PC
The Incredibles
Quick Changin' Incredobile

w/free poster
Cinema Scene
Incredibles Battle

six 3" figures
and poster

More on The Incredibles: Official Website / Teaser & Trailers

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Other Pixar Films Reviewed:
Toy Story & Toy Story 2: The Ultimate Toy Box
A Bug's Life: Collector's Edition
Finding Nemo: Collector's Edition

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