This weekend, that low rumbling sound you
hear will be Avi Arad grumbling loud enough for the world
to hear. Any resemblance between the Fantastic Four and
The Incredibles may be purely coincidental, but comparisons
are inevitable. And right now, the Pixar film comes out
on top. You've got a super-powered family struggling to
remember that the most important thing is family,
while fighting to save the world. The trouble is, the world
doesn't want them anymore - or so it thinks.
Director Brad Bird opens the film with
a dizzying set-up, establishing a world full of supers.
Sometime in the sixties, on his way to a very important
date, Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) picks up word of
trouble in the city. From the second he activates his "Incredibile,"
the movie roars along a fast-paced action sequence that
provides the toppling dominoes for everything to follow.
After saving a would-be jumper's life,
Mr. Incredible gets sued for "ruining his death." When public
outcry and lawsuits multiply, the government steps in to
shut the supers down and put them in a sort of witness relocation
Fifteen years later, the former super,
now known as Bob Parr, toils in a cubicle, out of shape
and dreaming of glory days. Every Wednesday he goes out
bowling with his buddy Lucius Best (Samuel L. Jackson),
the former hero Frozone. At least, that's what they tell
Bob's wife Helen (Holly Hunter), once known as Elastigirl.
While she stays home with the kids, obeying the government
restrictions on her powers (and her children's powers),
Bob and Lucius go out looking for ways to perform heroic
Some wives get suspicious of lipstick on
their husbands' collars. Helen looks for rubble on Bob's
It may seem an unfair life, when you have
to give up almost everything you ever wanted to be. But
it's the life that most lead. With unerring story sense,
Bird has tapped into that middle-aged malaise. Instead of
football trophies, Bob Parr has keys to the city from a
grateful citizenry, and when he gets offered another shot
to use his powers, he barely questions it.
Despite the super milieu, the Parr family
seems entirely human, even in their stylized animation designs.
Like any mother, Helen has to stretch and be many things
to many people. Daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell) feels invisible
at school, and time just moves too slowly for their young
son Dash. The baby, Jack-Jack, is just cute and has no powers,
but come on, we don't buy that for a moment.
What we do buy is a tightly plotted action
film with moments of real warmth, pathos and of course,
humor. The Disney company should be sweating this one out,
too, because let's face it, so far Pixar hasn't missed.
The company had minimized their human characters
in previous films, for fear of them looking too strange.
Once again they've made amazing breakthroughs with their
Renderman software, and director Bird has the good sense
to not call attention to it. The characters aren't proportionate
to humans, falling somewhere between Bruce Timm and Tim
Burton in design, but they still feel real. After falling
into the ocean, Helen and the kids' hair really looks wet.
More importantly, and it's something Pixar has been able
to do with toys, fish and monsters, the Parrs and even their
arch-enemy Syndrome (Jason Lee) suck us into their emotional
Those lives are also a bit darker than
you may expect from a Pixar film. Though still a charming
and entertaining film, The Incredibles doesn't shy
away from the violence you would expect in a film about
superheroes. People die, not graphically, but it's clear.
Some of it is played for humor, such as in a montage from
costume designer Edna Mode (brilliantly voiced by Bird himself)
about why supers should not wear capes. Death is a fact
of life for the supers, and parents should be aware of this
element. (It's offset by the light-hearted opening short,
"Boundin,'" which kids will absolutely love.)
Don't let the slightly grimmer tone stop
you, though. The film has a lot to say, and also has such
wonderfully keen design elements that kids may zoom right
by the more intense moments. Syndrome's volcano lair owes
far more to James Bond movies than any comic book, and the
entire society that the Parrs live in is more what the early
sixties thought 2004 would look like than how it actually
is. Lordy, do I miss that sort of style.
This is also, again, a brilliantly cast
film. Nelson and Hunter play believable marrieds, both normal
and super. As in Monsters, Inc., their emotional
lives are as strong as any live-action film. Giving NPR
commentator and writer Vowell an acting role might have
seemed strange, but she is perfect for Violet. The only
possible mis-step in casting is a small role for Wallace
Shawn, whose voice and face are so indelibly bound together
that the character design here is jarring.
Voicing Syndrome, Lee should get special
notice. By turns funny, pathetic and menacing, this may
be the most complex performance the Kevin Smith regular
has ever given. Let's get him back into the running for
Have I given you the clue yet? This is
the best superhero movie ever made. And I really didn't
expect that. Incredible.