The Incredibles

Almost...well...incredible. Almost...

Released in 2004, certified UK-U. Reviewed on 01 Dec 2004 by Craig Eastman
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Superheroes. Where are they when you need them? Like when your Peugeot catches a flat out in the sticks, or at two in the morning when, blind drunk and stumbling home from the pub, you drop your house keys into a bloody hedgerow. WHERE ARE THEY THEN, EH?. It would appear they're living their lives in anonymity, hidden from public scrutiny and disguised as average suburban Janes and Joes. The reason? Well, according to writer-director Brad Bird and the folks at Pixar it's because the government is fed up forking out compensation for damage caused during their extravagant heroics and derring-do. Alan Moore, creator of the Watchmen comic series might raise an eyebrow at that concept, but nobody much at Pixar seems to care, and it's unlikely any of you lot will either as The Incredibles turns out to be quite the enjoyable ninety minutes.

Part family drama, part costumed crime-fighting caper, The Incredibles marks a welcome deviation from the standard formula thus far employed by John Lasseter and Co. in that it ditches all the buddy-buddy schtick and narrative clutter it entails to deliver a more rounded, satisfying study of character than we've come to expect. Finding Nemo might have been fun for the kids, but this reviewer for one found it hugely unsatisfying and formulaic. With The Incredibles, Brad Bird makes a daring attempt at involving the more mature viewer, although we are of course talking relatives here.

And indeed it's relatives of a more literal kind that supply the heart and soul of the movie's narrative thrust. Craig T. Nelson voices Bob Parr, AKA Mr Incredible; an inactive superhero of yesteryear who now lives a more reserved life with his wife Helen (formerly Elastigirl, voiced here by Holly Hunter), daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell) and son Dash (Spencer Fox). An insurance underwriter by day, Bob dreams of a time when crusaders like himself can once more lend themselves to saving the day without fear of backlash and has a hard time controlling his urge to save the needy and helpless. Enter Syndrome (Jason Lee), a figure from Bob's past intent on proving his cretinous credentials as a superhuman after being snubbed by Mr Incredible as a child. Having dedicated his life to perfecting super power-mimicking gadgets and constructing, yes, you guessed it, a secret volcano headquarters, Syndrome vows vengeance on Parr and the world at large, and it's going to take more than a white collar desk-whore to stop him.

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But wait. Before rushing into all the fun and frivolity that super powers, secret lairs and, for all we know, sharks with laser beams on their heads entail, let us first develope an understanding of our protagonists. The Incredibles differs from the Pixar norm not only in it's central relationships, but also in how effectively it explores them and the structure by which it achieves this. Spending the first half of the movie getting to know Bob, Helen and the kids may sound like a chore, but Bird's scripting and direction ensure that rather than bore us to tears, this is one family that proves most entertaining to spy on. By the time we've explored the family dynamic not only have we been exposed to all the necessary exposition of each member's powers and past, but we also come to realise just what we're missing in character depth from the likes of Nemo and Monsters Inc.

By the time the second act kicks in it's nice to have some background to work with, and it certainly enhances the whizz-bang of the fireworks that ensue. The second act is all about the money shot, and from a technical standpoint The Incredibles delivers as much, albeit in a different fashion, as any other CG feature out there. Peel back the layers of flashbang extravagance and there's a solid core of fantastic production design to be found. The pallete of this movie might not be quite so psychotropic as the positively contrast-tastic Nemo, but the set design and implementation thereof is arguably superior. 60s kitsch interior design melds seamlessly with a spangly modern veneer and provides a fantastic canvas for the deceptively simple character design. At first glance The Incredibles might appear like a step backward for the power of the pixel, but look more closely and there's a heck of a lot of hidden depth here.

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Let's not be waylaid by the technical merits of the movie, however. The Incredibles might have been hailed by many as a risky move into darker territory, but in actual fact it's nothing of the sort. Just because Bird takes the time to indulge in a little humanity, it doesn't exactly signal a quantum shift into adult territory, and despite the "extended peril" (bloody BBFC) inherent in it's latter half there's never really any sense that The Incredibles would dare to jeopardise the health of any one digital cast member for the sake of an easy emotional bullseye. Indeed there's as much to hoot and holler at here as any other Pixar movie, although curiously it's worth noting that despite taking a more even approach in targeting it's demographic the movie is noticeably bereft of sly "over-the-kids-heads" moments for the adult audience members. At the end of the day though, it'll always be the young 'uns who gain the most from these flicks, and judging by the near-constant hysterics of several kiddies attending the same screening as The Disko, The Incredibles quite clearly delivers in spades.

Throw in some nice character support from Frozone (a nicely reserved Samuel L. Jackson) and Bird himself as superhero costume designer to the stars Edna, and The Incredibles is clearly a polished package. Some great use is made of the various powers of the Parr family in several moments of inventiveness, and barely a minute passes by without a nice gag or a bit of visual flair realting to said abilities, most notably Elastigirl's "parachute" party trick. Despite all this though there's still a feeling that Pixar have yet to achieve the zenith of their abilities. With one more picture to go until they finally split from Disney and make out on their own, perhaps Pixar are awaiting freedom from studio constraints before they unleash their Citizen Caine on an unsuspecting world. Until they do, so long as they keep knocking out polished gems like this and freshen the formula every now and then, you're unlikely to hear many complaints from this or any other corner of the press.

Disko awards this mofo 4 out of 5 "golden bee-bees". I can get behind that...

Brad Bird
Cast list:
Craig T. Nelson (Bob Parr/Mr Incredible)
Holly Hunter (Helen Parr/Elastigirl)
Jason Lee (Syndrome)
Samuel L. Jackson (Frozone)