Directed by Brad Bird
115 min; Featuring the voices of Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson and Jason Lee
"Everybody is special, Dash."
"That's just another way of saying nobody is."
The truth is that I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop with Pixar’s films. I thought both of the Toy Story films, and to a lesser extent A Bug’s Life, were great. I ended up liking Monsters, Inc. even more, and Finding Nemo has become a favourite of just about everyone’s. So rare is it that a company has such success in producing films that are not merely technically brilliant, but so full of humour and heart for just about all ages.
The Incredibles keeps the magic alive. The film begins in a world where superheroes are prevalent, catching villains, stopping train wrecks, and even saving kittens. However, when a prevented suicide sues Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) for saving him when he didn’t want to be saved (“You didn’t save my life, you ruined my dead!”), anti-hero lawsuits become too much for the government and the heroes are forced into a kind of witness protection program. Mr. Incredible, and his wife Elastigirl, then find themselves 15 years later, re-christened Bob and Helen Parr, and living a suburban life, eking out living as an insurance broker and homemaker, while starting a family of superpowered kids. The problem is that Bob misses the hero days. He and his friend Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) sometimes sneak out, their wives convinced they’re bowling, to do some adventuring. But mostly Bob is frustrated by a world that holds back people’s gifts, and encourages mediocrity.
From that brief introduction, it’s clear that while children will enjoy the surface of the film, that below lurks a story with themes that are targeted quite specifically at the adults in the audience. It’s critical of a society that is rife with litigation, and a society that promotes mediocrity by forcing the special people to “blend in,” lest they offend anyone with their powers. While this may sound preachy, it’s definitely not, but rewards those who want to come away from the film with something more than just superpowered antics.
As for those, however, the film has plenty. The computer animation is bright and vibrant, and characters seem like they actually have some weight and texture. Pixar proves film after film that they have little to nothing to worry about from the competition. As a huge superhero fan, I found a lot to enjoy in the conventions of superhero drama, including the enemy – Syndrome (Jason Lee), a former fan turned Bond-villian – who warns us of the dangers of “monologuing.” When Mr. Incredible is lured back into the hero life by Syndrome, his family comes following, setting up an adventure where their special powers will be put to the test, and a family’s ability to work together is key.
Director Brad Bird (who’s last film, The Iron Giant, was a critical, if not box office, success) manages to mix all the ingredients of a successful action film, while exploring the family drama of a superhero team, not unlike the Fantastic Four. Bird also voices one of the more humorous characters in the film, the Q-like Edna Mode, who provides the superheroes with their costumes and gadgets. Pixar manages to keep their winning streak alive with one of the strongest family films of recent years, as well as exploring some prescient themes as well. All in all, The Incredibles is one of the best films of the year, for any age, animated or not.