The Incredibles

November, 2004, Animation

Directed by: Brad Bird<br/ > Supervising technical director:<br/ > Bill Wise

Starring:Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, and Jason Lee<br/ > Samuel L. Jackson<br/ > Elizabeth Peña<br/ > Brad Bird

As a production vehicle for feature films, animation has been historically aimed strictly at the children's market and dominated by The Disney Studio. But in the past few years, fueled by the success of the South Park series on cable television, a level of increased technical sophistication and a willingness to tackle mature satirical themes, the genre is finding a wider, more grown-up audience as evidenced by the recent release of the critically praised but R-rated Team American: World Police

This latest offering from Pixar (the company responsible for an impressive string of box office hits including Toy Story, Finding Nemo and A Bug's Life) will surely advance the cause, since it's packed with dazzling technique and a script which delivers a deliciously sly look at the adult world through eyes still young enough to enjoy a thoroughly cartoonish view of life. The result is a delirious return to the world of Road Runner, Yosemite Sam and the Tasmanian Dervish as they might have appeared in the pages of a hip action-hero comic book series. Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls and kids of all ages--fasten your seatbelts and enjoy the ride.

The Incredibles begins with a reasonable hypothetical; what if there really were superheros like Superman and Wonder Woman who went around protecting us from harm but who also created collateral damage in the process? Would lawsuits arise to compensate those unintentionally hurt as a byproduct of serving the greater good? Would the government have to cover these costs and finally outlaw the use of superpowers by those who possess them? 

Such is the case with the Parr family, comprised of Bob, (a.k.a. Mr. Incredible) his wife Helen, (Elastigirl) teenage daughter Violet, (who has the power to make herself invisible) and son Dashiell--Dash for short--who's literally "faster than a speeding bullet". Thanks to Bob's well-intentioned but frequently over-enthusiastic heroics, the family finds itself in a government-run program for superheros designed to insure their anonymity, (akin to the witness protection program) that has placed Bob in an insurance company as a claims adjuster reporting to Gilbert Huph, a sniveling little twit who thinks it's his job to avoid paying the legitimate claims of policyholders.

Feeling trapped, Bob does a bit of undercover moonlighting, which comes to the attention of a curious figure who offers Mr. Incredible an assignment pitting his powers against those of a destructive mechanized creature that's based on a remote island, far from the watchful eyes of the authorities. Helen interprets Bob's increasing absences as infidelity, thanks to a chance encounter with the designer of Bob's old superhero wardrobe, one Edna "E" Mode. Using a tip supplied by Edna, Helen tails Bob, her kids tag along without her knowledge, and all hell breaks loose as the various members of the family must then use their special gifts to discover the identity of the mysterious inventor of the monster Bob's been hired to outwit. 

The voices of these wonderful personalities are as delicious as their physical characteristics; Bob's dreamy cadences, (supplied by Craig Nelson) suggest a lovable hulk whose heart's as soft as the filling in a Twinkie, while Helen's gently burred tones, (from Holly Hunter) alternate between matronly concern and steely feminist determination. Wallace Stevens, at his damply lisping best, gives Gilbert Huph's voice exactly the kind of arrogant whine recognized by anyone who's ever been the subordinate of a corporate bureaucrat with an appetite for advancing his career on the backs of his employees. As Edna, director Brad Bird, (Iron Giant) employs his own voice to create a portrait of flamboyant Hollywood theatricality as over the top as Edna's goggle-sized horn-rim glasses.

The physiques of these characters compliment their voices; Mr. Incredible has developed a generous middle-age paunch from working behind a desk too long while Elastigirl's trim waist but overly generous tushy are enough to cause self-critical glances in a mirror even when she's in the middle of a rescue mission. Violet's crush on a cute boy at school makes her eyes widen, enveloping her already demure face while Edna's intentional resemblance to real-life Oscar-winning designer Edith Head is the epitome of affectionate caricature.

With a running time of 2 hours, Bird and his production team have made a really good film, but it might have been an even better one had they been disciplined enough to eschew the prolonged pyrotechnics that mar its final reel and simply end the movie a half hour sooner. But there are so many little tidbits tucked away in unexpected places, (an Easter Island stone carving employed by Mr. Incredible as a door-jam, Huph's ode to shareholder profits) that adults won't find themselves yearning for the final credits until well into the last stages of this wonderfully tongue-in-cheek adventure that's a slick riff on James Bond, Spiderman and reminiscent of the best of those old Warner Bros cartoons of yesteryear. 

If you have children (or grandchildren) old enough to sit still in the dark for a while, they'll have a fabulous time, and you'll be something of a superhero yourself for taking them to see this bright, intelligent entertainment.  

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