If you’re a fan of the first five creations from Pixar Entertainment, there is absolutely no reason to believe that you won’t also fall in love with its latest offering, The Incredibles, a splendid action movie that begs the question, “What would happen to superheroes if they were forced to live and raise children in the throes of middle-American suburbia?”
Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson), a square-jawed Captain America cum Dudley Do-Right, is pushed into early retirement when a series of frivolous lawsuits shut down the masked crusader community. Forced into the superhero relocation program, Mr. Incredible must live as his unassuming alter ego, Bob Parr, a bland insurance adjuster with a spare tire and a mid-life crisis. He and his wife, Helen, formerly Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), live unspectacularly normal lives in Metroville, with their three super-powered children, Dash, Violet, and the baby, Jack Jack.
Bob and his superhero buddy Lucius (Samuel Jackson), formerly Frozone, get together once a week to reminisce about the good old days in the same way, say, Al Bundy used to muse over his football glory. They bitch and moan about the mundane struggles of everyday life just like the rest of us, stuck as they are in the confines of mediocrity. But, soon enough, Bob receives a nefarious invitation to fight a strange, robotic menace on a remote island, which is actually a set-up lure him to his demise at the hands of the villainous Syndrome (the brilliantly cast Jason Lee).
The Incredibles, in a way, adopts the Republican ethos of the current political climate, as the heroes battle the long-chinned French supervillain Bomb Voyage, all the while railing against our overly litigious, media-driven society and the evils of bureaucrats, which have ostensibly driven the superheroes underground. The Incredibles adopts the Ayn Rand approach to self-determinism, instructing us to embrace an individualistic society, while vilifying the type of culture where “everyone is special, so no one is.” The movie’s evil archetype, Syndrome, who as a young man is cast aside because he lacks superpowers, sets about to even the playing field (redistribute the wealth?), envisioning a world where everyone has superpowers and thus, “everyone will be super, which means no one will be.” There is also an unmistakable undercurrent in the film lauding traditional family values, celebrating the nuclear family even in its superhero form.
Political implications aside, however, The Incredibles is a stunning visual achievement. It is the first time that Pixar has really attempted to tackle the human form with CGI, and the results are often breathtaking. The characters are rendered more real and fluid than their real-life Bruckheimerian counterparts, yet their comic-strip origins are nevertheless clearly identifiable.
Pixar’s decision to cast Sarah Vowell as the moody Incredible daughter, Violet, illustrates exactly why this studio has never produced anything less than remarkable. Vowell, the irreverently wry author known primarily for her contributions to NPR’s “This American Life,” has an uncanny ability to mine the highest comedy out of the most ordinary of situations, and the film is filled with this quality. Perhaps the funniest moment in the movie, for example, is a scene in which the persnickety superhero costume designer, Edna Mode, lectures Mr. Incredible on the devastating consequences of the cape, demonstrated when one flying superhero comes up alongside a commercial airline and is sucked cape-first into the jet engine.
The decision to cast Vowell also demonstrates why Pixar is so much better than the hacks over at DreamWorks Animation. Pixar doesn’t shell out millions of dollars for high-priced voice talent and then build weak characters based, primarily, on caricatures of those star personalities. Instead of spending half the film trying to work out whose voice you are hearing, in a Pixar effort, it is the characters onscreen who are speaking, and not Eddie Murphy, Will Smith, or Robert DeNiro shouting “You go, girl,” or “Hammertime,” through animated mouthpieces.
While The Incredibles manages to confront all the major cultural touchstones one would expect from a successful parody, the film goes a little overboard trying to lampoon too many superhero conventions. The final act also gets bogged down with an extraordinary number of complicated action sequences, which push the running time to nearly two-hours, enough to exercise the patience of both the children in attendance and their parents. Additionally, while the emotional component of the film is clear, the director, Brad Bird, fails to bring the same level of heartwarming zest that the previous Pixar installments (and even his own underappreciated Iron Giant) are known for. Nevertheless, The Incredibles represents yet another stunning success for an animation studio that settles for nothing less.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent company, which prefers to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to public relations. He lives in Ithaca, New York.
The Incredibles / Dustin Rowles
Film | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()