- Rated PG
- Buy the BD
All photos © Walt Disney
Reviewed by David Medsker
ne wonders why it took so long for someone to come up with an idea as seemingly simple as the premise for “The Incredibles.” A superhero always has enemies with matching powers; what if his wife and kids had them, too? The potential for both social commentary, as well as parody, is unlimited, and the makers of “The Incredibles” work it, paying homage to the superhero genre while gleefully subverting it at the same time.
This is a far cry from Pixar’s lighthearted tales about toys, bugs or fish. “The Incredibles” is much longer than your typical animated feature (just shy of two hours). It’s also rated PG, and not for the reasons that the gross-out “Shrek” movies are: People actually die in this movie, and not just Bambi’s mother. This is a full fledged action movie, not some silly kiddy ride. (The number of childless couples in the audience proves that there’s much more to Pixar’s movies than as video babysitter.) “The Incredibles” has an adult sophistication that few live action movies, both superhero and non-superhero alike, have ever touched.
The central character is Mr. Incredible (voiced by "Coach"’s Craig T. Nelson), a Superman-type who wins the heart of fellow superhero Elastigirl (Holly Hunter). The superheroes, however, are forced to go underground and enter witness protection after an ungrateful recipient of Mr. Incredible’s generosity sues him for damages. Flash forward 15 years, where Incredible, now known by his given name of Bob Parr, is a drone at an insurance company, and is absolutely miserable. Elastigirl handles the transition to anonymity admirably, though her speedster son Dash (Spencer Fox) and introverted, sometimes invisible Goth daughter Violet (NPR’s Sarah Vowell) resent having to pretend to be normal.
But opportunity arises when Bob is contacted by a mysterious woman named Mirage, who gives him the chance to be a superhero again. Knowing that wife Elastigirl would disapprove, Bob secretly takes on the job, living a double life not unlike Arnold Schwarzenegger in “True Lies.” He soon realizes, however, that his dream job is a setup by super villain Syndrome (Jason Lee), and it’s up to his heretofore oblivious family to save the day.
Writer/director Brad Bird is quick to dismiss animation as not just a genre but a medium, and he puts his money where his mouth is here. This is not an animated action movie as much as it is a high-octane action movie that happens to be animated. (Look no further than Dash’s “Return of the Jedi”-esque chase sequence for how thrilling an action piece can be, animated or otherwise.) In fact, there are moments of “The Incredibles” that actually look better than the superb special effects of “Spider-Man 2,” which is no mean feat. When the movie is not upstaging superhero movies, it’s deliciously sending them up, taking particular note of the tendency of villains to “monologue,” thereby giving the hero a chance to put them away for good. It’s a fatal flaw that the genre has carried with it to this day, so it’s a pleasure to see a film that respects its audience enough to point that out and play with it.
The movie also excels, like all of Pixar’s movies, thanks to its spot-on casting. Craig T. Nelson’s barreling baritone lends Mr. Incredible a perfect blend of manliness and, when necessary, vulnerability. Likewise, Holly Hunter has that suffering-yet-spunky tone down to a science, and it fits Elastigirl well, since she is just as eager to get back to work as Bob is. But the movie belongs to the supporting players. Wallace Shawn, in his first Pixar performance since “Toy Story’s” Rex, is a great choice to play Bob’s bureaucracy-loving boss at the insurance company. And then there’s Jason Lee, who just runs away with the role of Syndrome (bonus points for his Heat Miser haircut), but the director himself steals the movie from them all as the two-feet-tall Edna Mode, former costume designer to the superheroes.
“The Incredibles” shows once and for all what was right in front of our noses all along, that Pixar is not an animation studio but a movie studio. And not just a movie studio, but the best movie studio.
Four-Disc Blu-ray Review:
Following in the footsteps of past re-issues (or, more specifically, Blu-ray debuts) like “A Bug’s Life” and “Monsters Inc.,” the four-disc combo pack for “The Incredibles” is loaded with bonus features both old and new. All of the extras from the previous DVD release (like the audio commentary with director Brad Bird and producer John Walker, the making-of doc and production featurettes, deleted scenes, and the short films “Boundin’” and “Jack-Jack Attack”) have been ported over, along with a collection of brand new bonus material. The highlight of the set is without a doubt “The Incredibles Revisited,” a 22-minute roundtable discussion with Bird and several key contributors that features some funny and insightful anecdotes about the production process, including one about Steve Jobs declaring the animatic version of the film good enough to be released in theaters. There’s also a new installment of “Paths to Pixar” that focuses on story artists, another “Studio Stories” short narrated by Bird and Walker, a short featurette on the end credit sequence, and an interactive feature that lets you tour Syndrome’s Nomansian Island after being redeveloped into a vacation getaway. Rounding out the set is a “Cars 2” teaser, as well as DVD and digital copies of the film.