Movie review by Greg Carlson
The first Pixar release to earn a PG rating, Brad Bird’s “The Incredibles” represents a step toward slightly more grown-up fare than “Monsters, Inc.” and “Finding Nemo.” Pixar’s movies have always attended to the adults in the audience (in the case of “Toy Story 2,” one could argue that misty-eyed boomers mourning their bygone childhoods were a clear target market), and have been nearly unimpeachable in their dual-edged skill. At just a few minutes shy of two hours, “The Incredibles” is also the longest Pixar movie, which might try the patience of some of the youngest audience members. The film’s length will not likely deter legions of Pixar fans from clogging the box office or from netting the studio huge amounts of cash. A sequel is virtually guaranteed.
Following a flurry of frivolous lawsuits filed by average citizens against do-gooder superheroes, the chosen few have retreated into something akin to a witness protection program, where they must hide their amazing talents and gifts. Working one of comicdom’s golden themes (see: “X-Men”), writer-director Brad Bird – who created the moving cult hit “The Iron Giant” – explores the headier notions of how the truly privileged can inspire tremendous jealousy in the power-impaired. Superheroes have always had to negotiate the problems of being special, which is one of the chief reasons that secret identities are a key ingredient in the genre.
The first of the heroes to be felled by a lawsuit is Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson, absolutely perfect), a massive wall of muscle in the tradition of Superman. Mr. Incredible is exiled to suburbia as humdrum insurance adjuster Bob Parr, and his tiny cubicle can contain neither his gargantuan frame nor his disdain for monotonous routine. Along with his wife Helen (Holly Hunter), the former Elastigirl, and his children Violet (Sarah Vowell of “This American Life”), Dash (Spencer Fox) and baby Jack-Jack, Bob begrudgingly, uneasily, settles into his long journey into the middle. Only some late-night prowling with the former Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) provides Bob with a fleeting reminder of the glories of his former life.
One day, after being contacted by an enigmatic stranger, Bob agrees to don his old costume on a top-secret mission to a weird volcanic island. The old crimefighter chooses to withhold this information from his wife, which provides both an opportunity for third act heroics and a familiar but well-executed sitcom subplot that trots out the old misunderstanding about an imagined marital infidelity. Bird waits just a little bit too long to get the other Incredibles involved, but when he does, the movie really shines. Especially pleasing is Vowell’s turn as teenage daughter Violet. The manifestation of her own powers, including the abilities to turn invisible (a trick coveted by teens of both genders) and to generate force fields, sets the stage for a boost in self-esteem that encapsulates one of the film’s most pleasant self-empowerment themes.
One of the movie’s greatest assets – its stupendous, eye-popping animation – can also be one of its big liabilities, as the climax practically demands a loud, cacophonous cityscape battle. Sure, superhero movies depend on superheroics, so the complaint is a minor one. Even so, it would have been more impressive had the film cut a little of the action in favor of more exploration of the unique dynamics of the Incredible clan. Each of the family members borrows powers long enshrined on the pages of Marvel and DC, but computer animation is the ideal place to showcase Elastigirl’s supple malleability. Her feats of inventive daring, including a breathless set-piece where her elongated body is trapped in several automatic doors at the same time, fully exploit the imaginative promise that pixels can so readily provide.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 11/8/04.