Incredibles, The

Reviewed By Lybarger
Posted 11/08/04 15:30:40

"Letís just say it lives up to its name."
5 stars (Awesome)

Unlike most Hollywood studios, the team at Pixar Animation spends an entire year on each of their mammoth productions on the scripts alone. Could this possibly explain why their movies are consistently clever and entertaining?

Since their debut feature Toy Story, Pixar has managed to deliver stories that melted the heart without making a viewer feel manipulated. Their new offering The Incredibles is considered a bit of a risk because it sports a PG rating instead of a G and was written and directed by studio outsider Brad Bird, a veteran of The Simpsons and the helmer of the grossly underrated The Iron Giant.

Thankfully, all the risks pay off handsomely, and the pairing of Bird and Pixar is a marriage made in heaven. His hand is evident right from the beginning as we see what looks like battered news footage of interviews with revered superheroes Mr. Incredible (voice by Craig T. Nelson), Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) and Fro-Zone (Samuel L. Jackson).

This footage sadly precedes an era when people who have extraordinary talents have to hide their gifts for fear of attracting public wrath. Thanks to a dangerously annoying fan (Jason Lee, in what may be his best performance to date) and some people who were injured when Mr. Incredible saved their lives, superheroes now have to keep their powers secret for fear of attracting lawsuits or insurance problems.

Ironically, when Mr. Incredible retires and assumes the more mundane name of Robert Paar, heís now a lowly insurance clerk. Sitting at a desk for 15 years has turned his physique from buff to blubber, and he chafes at working for a boss (an appropriately weasly Wallace Shawn) whoís more eager to gouge clients than to meet their needs.

At home, his wife, the former Elastigirl Helen Paar, has kept her flexibility by doing housework and keeping her super kids from squabbling. Her son Dash (Spencer Fox) is a trouble maker at school who uses his incredible speed to play mean pranks on his teacher, and her daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell from This American Life) is such a shrinking violet that she can literally turn invisible.

While The Incredibles has no shortage of action, wit or excitement, Bird spends a lot of the time setting up the situation early on so the heroics at the end have more impact. Yes, the characters may be cute and endearing, but by making them believably human, Bird makes their adventures more engaging and fun.

Robert and Fro-Zone still sneak off to do underground heroics, but the formerís life begins to pick up when a mysterious woman (Elizabeth PeŮa) offers him random missions for fantastic sums of money. With his neglected super strength and sense of altruism calling, itís an offer he accepts despite the dangers of being caught by the authorities or Helen.

Itís refreshing to see adult longings in a movie thatís squarely aimed at kids. For those who complain that the material is above toddlers' heads, the four-year-old sitting in front of me at the screening I attended was ecstatic throughout and asked me expectantly if I liked it, too after it was over. Furthermore, the Toy Story series also dealt with grownup worries like downsizing, and youngsters ate it up as well.

Pixar also makes their cartoons more intelligently than their Disney and Dreamworks peers. For one thing, they cast their voice actors not for marquee value but for simply being ideally suited for the roles. In A Shark Tale, the celebrity voices became a distraction. Nelson and PeŮa are so good that you watch the characters and donít try to imagine the celeb behind the microphone.

Another notch in Birdís favor is that he avoids topical humor that seems to overrun the Disney and Dreamworks flicks. While pop culture nods can be gut bustlingly funny in Aladdin or the Shrek films, in A Shark Tale, the references to other films got to be annoying and sank the story. With The Incredibles, Bird borrows heavily from Marvel Comics and the James Bond flicks. The bad guyís lair is something 007 set designer Ken Adam would be proud of, and Michael Giacchinoís score might nod a bit to John Barry but is rousing on its own. But whatís more important is that the world Bird creates is self-contained.

Without knowing that superhero costume designer Edna Mole (voiced by Bird himself) looks like the great Hollywood dressmaker Edith Head, you can still enjoy the character. As a result, The Incredibles will probably age better than many of its animated peers.

There are all sorts of nifty visual touches (the hair and the wind are astonishingly rendered), but Bird and Pixar know that great images and sounds are at their most impressive when they serve a terrific story.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.