Directed by Brad Bird. Voices by Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Jason Lee, Spencer Fox, Sarah Vowell, Elizabeth Peña. (2004, PG, 115 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 5, 2004
An order-of-magnitude leap forward in animated storytelling, this seriocomic take on the superhero genre deftly mixes Pixar Animation Studios’ justly famed skill with CGI imagery with a script and direction by Brad Bird (whose animated 1999 film, The Iron Giant, remains one of the single most affecting films ever created). Much of what made Bird’s previous Fifties-era tale of a boy and his giant robot so immensely appealing is also on display here: The Incredibles overflows with slapstick and more gentle strains of humor, while a core of genuine emotion that is nothing if not ambitiously nuanced resonates throughout a script. This is Pixar all grown up, but still, at times, wonderfully silly. As comedies go, The Incredibles is like mainlining a snappy, heady mix of comic-book shenanigans and modern parenting, and the end result is a film that will likely impress parents even more than it does their offspring. Nelson voices Mr. Incredible, a Superman-style hero who, in the film’s faux-newsreel prologue, is seen falling victim not to an arch-nemesis, but to a wave of lawsuits from a public sick of being saved (and thus enduring whiplash). Forced underground and into a superhero relocation program, Mr. Incredible (aka Bob Parr) hangs up his tights and weds Elastigirl (Hunter). The pair settle down in the suburbs while Bob holds a job as an insurance-claims adjuster, and Helen raises the formerly dynamic duo’s three kids – Dash (Fox), who can run at supersonic speeds; Violet (author and NPR regular Vowell), who can turn invisible and create force fields with her mind; and the infant Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile/Maeve Andrews), whose superpowers have yet to emerge. The film’s narrative crux – and its most touching and realistic vein – comes from Bob’s yearning to once again be the savior of humanity, which is taking a toll on his marriage. Once a week he goes "bowling" with another former superpal, Jackson’s ice-wielding Frozone, and together the pair huddle in the front seat of their car, listening to the police scanner and leaping into action anonymously. When Mr. Incredible receives a mysterious communiqué offering him the chance to redon his tights and combat a real menace, he jumps at the chance, even though it means lying to his wife and family. The Incredibles is more than just another masterpiece of computer-generated animation (although Pixar’s skill with the form is unassailable); it’s an animated film that flows and feels – despite the bizarre comic-book proportionalities of its characters – just like a live-action one. Too often in modern animation the story takes a back seat to either the comedy (as has been the case with any number of recent Disney outings, as well as the recent DreamWorks also-ran Shark Tale) or the imagery, but here, via Bird’s more-than-capable directorial and screenwriting skills, it runs to the front of the frame and stays there throughout. There’s plenty of nail-biting suspense (especially when Mr. Incredible’s family is in jeopardy) and smart, family-oriented comedy, but The Incredibles succeeds most impressively by virtue of its adult themes. How great a role should one’s past play in one’s future? Can men ever really settle down and raise a family without neutering their internal superheroes? And where the hell does a guy get a new set of sartorially super Spandex, anyway? Pressing questions all, and The Incredibles, incredibly enough, answers every single one.