If a movie's this good, you take a shot!

The Incredibles is the name for a motion picture released by Pixar and directed by Brad Bird (of Iron Giant fame). Vocal talents include Craig T. Nelson as Bob Parr aka Mister Incredible, Holly Hunter as his wife Helen aka Elasti-Girl, Sarah Vowell as the lotus blossom-like Violet, and her adventure-seeking brother Dash (played by newcomer Spencer Fox). Jason Lee (Buddy), Samuel L. Jackson (Frozone), Elizabeth Peña (Mirage), and many others also contributed their voices to this project. The voice of Edna 'E' Mode is performed by Brad Bird himself, because no one who auditioned for the part did it the way he heard it in his head. Coincidently, E Mode is based loosely off a world reknowned costume designer named Edith Head who was in the Hollywood business for fifty years and worked on over four hundred films. Though Edna's a caricature of Edith, one can tell the intent is a loving tribute.

In brief, this film deals with a family that tries to be like all the other families, even though like most families, it's a little different. In not so brief, the film is about a man who once was in the prime of his life, but due to a combination of forces beyond his control and life choices he happily made and would make again, he now finds himself in a dead end job with a family who are strangers to him, and he can't help but reminisce wistfully at the good old days when he felt unstoppable and actions he made mattered. Strange, isn't it? That what is really a glorified cartoon might deal with such a maudlin issue. This however is its appeal. This film is simultaneously a glorified cartoon and a serious reflection of the Human Condition. It's fluff if all you want is fluff. It's art if you're the sort of person who likes some meat with your candy. In fact this film could find itself in the near future as one of those films that people measure subsequent efforts by: a benchmark for how to make a movie that is all things to all people.

The Incredibles opened first in the UK, at the London Film Festival, on the 27th of October 2004. A week or so later on the fifth of November, it opened to a wide release in the USA (and Finland). Then it swept the world in the months of November and December, playing in theaters from Argentina to New Zealand. The film cost a little under one hundred million American dollars to make, and almost paid itself off in its opening weekend at a box office rake of seventy and a half million. By the fourteenth of November, The Incredibles took in over one hundred and forty-three million, thus putting an end to the argument over whether or not crimefighting does pay.

Making the film took over two years, starting in April of 2002. As director Brad Bird likes to tell it, he's old friends with John Lasseter, one of the big wigs at Pixar, and Pixar was still reeling over their recent successes like Toy Story, A Bug's Life, and Monsters Inc. One might think Pixar would be celebrating, and there was a little of that of course, but there was also concern. As a corporate entity, its executives were consciously aware of a proverbial trap that other fledgling movie companies had experienced in the past. Oftentimes in Hollywood, when someone happens upon a successful film idea, it's turned into what they call a formula and from a technical standpoint, the same film is made over again as best as possible. Using as many elements as possible from the previous success, they try to make new films hoping the audiences won't notice. Sometimes this idea is successful, but more often than not it fails, because audiences aren't that stupid. Pixar's employees didn't want to make this mistake, and rather than tell the same old stories in the same way they had, they were seeking new voices to bring into the fold. So when Brad Bird confronted his old Pixar friend with a story idea that he unsuccessfully pitched to other studios, John Lasseter and Pixar jumped at the chance.

After the success of this film, there may be people out there kicking themselves for having said no to Bird, but at the core of this film's story there are problems that on the surface might turn many away. It's about a family of superheroes. Despite the success of past films like the Superman films with Chrisopher Reeve, the trinity of Blade movies, Bryan Singer's X-Men and X-Men 2 and others, the movie industry sees such films as financial risks. Audiences seem polarized by the concept of vigilante justice in their fiction. Some only accept it if it's not taken seriously. Others frown upon stories that belittle the concept. So to make a superhero film successful it's vitally important to either be moderate about the issue, or deal with it head on. The Incredibles does both. Because of the style of computer animation, which both embraces modern technology and reflects at times wistfully at the Silver Age of pulp comic artistry, we find ourselves in a fictional environment that is loosely based on our own, yet dramatically different. Here, not only are superheroes a common entity, they have become so taken for granted as to be discarded from society. The first fifteen or twenty minutes of the film focus on the dilemma of vigilante justice in a modern world. What happens if in the process of saving a building, you cause a trainwreck? What happens legally if you save someone who wanted to die? The answers to these questions thrust us into a world where being average is praised and being different is hidden and shun. There's more Ayn Rand, Henry David Thoreau and G. K. Chesterton potential influences going on here than there is Barney the Dinosaur or Teletubbies contemplations.

This movie's not for the weak-willed or the weak-hearted. It's fast and furious and then brakes almost to a halt, stopping on a dime to take a left turn before jetting off again. There's a chase scene featuring Dash at one point that is reminiscent at points of the pod race from Star Wars Episode One. There's other contemplative moments that reminded me of Terry Gilliam's Brazil or Joe vs the Volcano which starred Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. This film is a thrilling roller coaster ride but it expects you to bring your brain with you. There's a moment when the children are left behind to fend for themselves, and Violet tries to alert her brother Dash to the importance of the situation. She's concerned their parents might be close to death, "or worse! They might get divorced!" We're dealing with moral dilemmas of the modern nuclear family unit; things that Leave It To Beaver had to leave behind and Everybody Loves Raymond wouldn't love.

It's not all soap opera and angst though. These elements work more like heady spices to hold aloft the real reasons why we came to this film: to laugh and be dazzled. This is an adventure film first and foremost and a comedy second. I know the advertising insinuated it was a comedy, but this film has more in common with the Sean Connery James Bond films or the Indiana Jones franchise than it does Parenthood or American Beauty. Don't get me wrong: The Incredibles is funny. It's just not as funny as the commercials suggest. As a matter of fact, the funny bit where Mister Incredible is struggling with his suit as he calls to his wife for a salad and then the belt buckle bounces around the room? That sequence isn't even in the film. I only mention that because I actually missed it. Not that I was disappointed, but the point in the story where that sequence might have at one time fit comes and goes and ..well I guess I have to say it was a minor disappointment, but one can understand why it didn't remain in the film, if it was ever really intended there in the first place. That funny bit is replaced by a poignant moment in the film where the lead character discovers his old costume gets damaged and.. well I'm trying not to give too much away.

The rating for this film is PG, in fact the first PG film Pixar has ever made. It's also the longest Pixar film to date: clocking in right at two full hours. Being a film about a family, it's obviously intended for a family audience. I'd recommend this for children six to ten so long as a parent is there to maybe cover the kid's eyes when GazerBeam's dead rotting body makes a special guest appearance about halfway through. That's the only thing I can imagine being even remotely bad for school age children to see. Kids younger than six, unless an objective and respectable source outside the family has determined the child to be mentally and emotionally exceptional, should be supervised by a babysitter and left at home; but that's for any movie.

Remotely objectionable sexual material is handled very delicately and I thought tastefully. What mid-life crisis male hasn't suffered the temptation of infidelity? The violence in the film is tame by today's standards, and I don't recall anyone actually dying on screen. Death is an issue in the film that's hard to ignore however, and some of the stunts are certainly not things you want your five year old attempting to repeat off the roof of your house when you aren't looking. If your child is so young they can't tell the difference between this sort of computer animation and real life (or if the kid cries a lot and I happen to be in the theater too), you might want to leave him or her at home with a babysitter.

Five stars. Zach Bob says check it out.

Reference materials include IMDb, an Entertainment Weekly magazine I found at at doctor's office awhile back, a number of websites I've skimmed recently about this topic, and my own experience viewing the film in a theater. A more detailed bibliography is probably not forthcoming.
Update: Sunday April 24 2005
I had copypasted the following into my scratch pad some time ago. Not sure why I did that. I guess I didn't want to lose it, but couldn't figure out how to include it in this entry. However, I now need my scratch pad for something else entirely, but don't have the heart to just delete the following without putting it somewhere. Since the following is all about this entry, I figured I'd just tag it to the bottom and hope no one notices. There's some intriguing insight and delightful opinions from others who have read this node. Perhaps you, dear reader, will find it of some interest. If you'd like to have your thoughts added, simply send me a personal message via the chatbox and if I am not absent minded at the moment I see it, it may or may not wind up here. Now, without further ado...

The Incredibles movie review advice and criticism from other noders.
(e2film) DejaMorgana says My number one criterion would be: no spoilers for recent movies, unless the movie is so bad you want to warn people away from it, and spoiler warnings in advance when you do so. In general, i like less discussion of plot points, more "criticism" than summary. A general summary is, of course, useful. A little thematic analysis, a little comparison to other films, list of major cast and crew linked to other works of theirs, maybe some trivia and a couple of quotes. This is, of course, the Ultimate Film Review Node - i don't mean to imply that this is what i do. What i write is usually more like What I Really Hated About This Movie , and i'm usually way too harsh about it. A learning process this is. I thought the Incredibles was all right, but could have been a lot better. Mystery Men still reigns as the best superhero comedy. Incredibles was much more a family drama with vicious giant robots - but that robot angle was also covered better in Bird's first movie (Iron Giant).

rootbeer277 says re The Incredibles : excellent movie review, spoiler free while very effectively whetting my appetite. I'm going to see this next week, and now I want to more than ever. Don't worry about the length, when something is this well written length is a non-issue.

Cool Beans says re The Incredibles : Hey Zach - what a great piece of writing. Sorry I can't give you more constructive criticism, but I really enjoyed reading your review. It's got all the elements of a great review already there - enough plot info. to whet the appetite without giving too much away. Lots of factual info about the film it's makers the process behind it's production, and your own opinions and judgement. It's a really good w/u - congratulations. What you gonna do next? I'll look out for it! ...Saying that I'm still pretty new to E2 myself, so I'm not too au-fait with the finer points of E2 etiquette, but as a w/u it reads well and is both entertaining and informative, and has no misspellings and good hardlinks - what more could you want?

althorrat says re The Incredibles : bah. I kept putting off writing this up, and now you've gone and taken it. Bah, I say. Good job.

DejaMorgana says The Incredibles review is nice, but i have to contest one point: it is not at all suitable for little kids. Well, depending on your definition of little kids... i took my 3-year-old daughter to it, and she spent most of the movie sitting on my lap with her face buried in my shirt, and had nightmares all night long afterward. The chase sequences and a couple of the killer robot bits are way too intense for that age group. Different kids handle these things differently, but i'd recommend this movie for kids 5 and up, to be safe. It's funny, but the more movies i watch with my girl, the more i find that the G and PG ratings are actually pretty appropriate - most of the time, anyway.

Update: Sunday February 5th 2006
Serjeant's Muse asked re The Incredibles: What parts reminded you of Brazil?
Maybe not so much particular scenes, but the overall approach to lighting, and some of the scenes on the island had an approach to architecture that reminded me of Brazil. Also there's some humor in The Incredibles that has a wit similar to that of Terry Gilliam's, but doesn't go as far as Gilliam does. Admittedly, the idea that one sidekick would fifteen years later be able to brutally murder twenty or so superiors; that's rather dark, but Bird doesn't go as far as Gilliam might have gone. Although the interplay between Mister Incredible and Buddy after he captures Parr, there's some darkness there and the dialogue reminds me rather adjacently of the incredible writing in Brazil.

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