Mark Reviews Movies


3 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Brad Bird

Cast: The voices of Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Jason Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Spencer Fox, Sarah Vowell, Elizabeth Peña

MPAA Rating: PG (for action violence)

Running Time: 1:55

Release Date: 11/5/04

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Review by Mark Dujsik

One of these days, Pixar is going to take a misstep, but now is not the time. With The Incredibles, the animation studio has recruited outside talent, namely Brad Bird, the man behind one of the best modern animated films The Iron Giant. The outsourcing of new talent for the studio holds a certain amount of promise for the company's future excursions, especially if the resulting material works as well as it does here. Writer/director Bird takes a skewed look at the lives of superheroes, imagining them forced to live in the workaday world and make a living just like everyone else. The problem is they aren't like everyone else, so Bird enjoys giving us a picture of the social lives of the typical, dysfunctional superhero family.  The first half of the film sheds a satirical light on suburban America, while the second half shifts gears to become an inventive, exciting action film. The whole time, Bird plays theme and variation on staples of the superhero and spy genres, and the mixture leads to yet another Pixar success which can be thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated equally by children and adults.

The age of superheroes has come to an end. After Mr. Incredible (voice of Craig T. Nelson) saved a man attempting suicide only to be sued for rescuing someone who didn't want to be rescued and the resulting injuries he received, a number of superhero-related lawsuits (I suppose these are what are meant by frivolous lawsuits) led the government to relocate the former heroes to everyday lifestyles. Now Mr. Incredible is only known by his secret identity Bob Parr and lives in the suburbs with his wife Helen (voice of Holly Hunter), formerly Elastigirl, and kids Dash (voice of Spencer Fox), Violet (voice of Sarah Vowell), and seemingly normal baby Jack Jack. When Bob finds an anonymous envelope with a video message from a mysterious woman named Mirage (Elizabeth Peña) offering him the chance to don his super-suit again, he jumps at the opportunity. After shutting down a robot gone berserk with only minor back problems, Bob receives a hefty paycheck and is called again for another task  Little does he know that the job is a setup by his new arch nemesis, a grown up, disillusioned fan-boy who calls himself Syndrome (voice of Jason Lee).

The scenes of the family's ordinary life play upon familiar themes to admirable comic effect. Bob takes his position as a claims agent for an insurance company as an opportunity to do good, helping clients find their way thought the company's internal structure to aid them in their time of need. This sets him at odds with his anally retentive boss (appropriately voiced by the impeccably weaselly Wallace Shawn) and leads to a very funny scene where Bob punches out for the last time at his job. The boredom of such tedious work leads itself to Bob's midlife crisis, although most men going through the same thing aren't capable of ruining the family compact by grabbing the roof too tightly (the neighborhood child who witnesses the events following the initial damage is an amusing running gag). The children also have their own problems adjusting to the world of normality. Dash uses his super-speed to torture his teacher, who tries to convince the principal that Dash's slightest movement on a tape of his classroom points to the young Parr's guilt. Violet turns invisible when her crush passes by so he doesn't catch her staring at him. The familial tension leads to a hilarious dinner table argument where teasing turns to superpowers being abused.

This and similar scenes only hint at the action that is to come. The film's opening scene is one of those most effective set pieces where each new incident raises the stakes on the last, starting with Mr. Incredible simultaneously saving a cat from a tree and apprehending escaping bank robbers and ending with him stopping a moving elevated train from falling in a gap in the track. Once Bob's family comes to his rescue, all of their powers come in handy. Of particular excitement are scenes involving Dash and Violet coming to terms with their powers as they need them to evade the henchmen on to their presence on the island (a certain visceral joy accompanies a moment when Dash learns that, yes, he can run on water). And even though Helen's life in the regular world is essentially overlooked, a scene involving her, a set of guards, and a series of automated security doors makes up for it. The final battle puts the family and friend Frozone (voice of Samuel L. Jackson) up against Syndrome's robot as it rampages through the city and gives and exhilarating sense of teamwork only suggested at in earlier scenes.

As in all of Pixar's previous outings, the film boasts exceptional production values. Setting up the contrast between the fantastical world of heroics and the commonplace world of nine-to-five living, Bob's office is a drab, colorless space, with row after row of cubicles, each far too small for his bulky frame. The Parr's house is a cozy abode, part of a lineup of similar homes. After so much of the mundane, the world to which Bob was once accustomed seems all the more fanciful. Whether it be Syndrome's fortress inside a volcano (complete with a parting magma wall), the jungle on his island, or famous superhero costume designer Edna Mode's (voice of Bird) fancy, retro digs, the animators have compiled an assortment of visual treats. Also adding to the retro feel of the film is Michael Giacchino's catchy '60's style score, but the film's distinct look of realistic backdrops acting as the stage for heavily stylized caricatures cannot be ignored. The voice work is solid as well, with Craig T. Nelson, mixing the vocal stature of your typical hero with an inherent boredom, and Jason Lee, as a smart-ass version of the evil megalomaniac, standing out.

It's that kind of attention to character that has separated Pixar's work from the crowd, so even when the moral of the story (allowing yourself to be exceptional in the areas you excel in) doesn't touch the heart, on a certain level, the character's do. The Incredibles has all of the elements of its comedy and action turns down pat, but because we identify with this family, we laugh at our own shortcomings on display and root for their triumphs.

Copyright © 2004 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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