Title: The Incredibles
Genre: Animation, Action, Adventure
Director: Brad Bird
Screenwriters: Brad Bird
Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Samuel L. Jackson, Holly Hunter
Pixar’s done it again, etc., etc. It’s almost boring at this point. The difference this time is that The Incredibles is not remotely a kids’ movie; it can’t even be classified as a “family film,” unless a movie can merit that label despite being decidedly inappropriate for those under the age of, say, eight. Disney in general and Pixar in particular are known for films that aim at children and entertain adults in the process; this one, closer in spirit to Dreamworks’ Antz than anything else, is a movie for adults that will just happen to entertain most of the younger set in the process.
The Incredibles is a superhero movie, a satire of superhero movies, a character piece, and, unexpectedly, social commentary in the vein of Harrison Bergeron. The latter is the first hint that this isn’t a kids’ movie, as those, with few exceptions (mostly the Pixar films), simply repeat the hoary “be true to yourself” mantra and try to pass it off as pint-sized profundity. The strong, simple, forceful theme here is that we live in a society that rewards mediocrity and punishes those who are in some way extraordinary. In a world where a man like John Kerry can win the democratic nomination for President, that doesn’t seem too far off the mark.
The movie was written and directed Brad Bird, who aside from having a successful run during the heyday of The Simpsons, is also solely responsible for the magnificent 1999 animated feature The Iron Giant. The Incredibles shares that film’s wondrous sense of adventure and big heart. Gone is some of the subtlety and elegance — Bird is much more concerned with sight gags and one-liners here — but that’s the kind of movie this is. It’s an action movie, with scenes of derring-do that rival almost any live-action thriller you’d care to name for excitement; it’s a comedy that at times is as sneaky and clever, if not quite as irreverent, as anything The Simpsons has ever done.
Craig T. Nelson does some wonderful voice work here, somehow managing to sound hapless and shy even while being superhuman and heroic. For some reason, the Craig T. Nelson roles that have stuck in my memory have been his harmless, unremarkable turns in films like The Devil’s Advocate and Poltergeist; of course, he headlined a long-running sitcom, so his sense of comic timing shouldn’t have come as a complete surprise. Even so, as both the heart of the movie and its comedic thrust, he outperforms all expectations. Jason Lee has fun as the superhero-killing supervillain, and Bird himself even shows up in a memorable role as the heroes’ costume designer.
This, if I’m not mistaken, is the first Pixar film to deal predominantly with human beings, and what’s refreshing is that despite the mega budget, there has been no attempt at photorealism. These characters look like cartoons, as well they should — they are cartoons. No creepy, animated Tom Hankses a la The Polar Express, or uncanny valley apparitions as in Final Fantasy. While computer graphics provide “live-action” filmmakers with tools to create or replicate anything they want and make us believe it, this is the direction that animation per se needs to go, away from naturalism and toward fancy. The Incredibles looks great — it’s colorful, complicated, and a universe all its own.
As every Pixar film is forever destined to be compared to every other Pixar film, I will oblige. The Incredibles doesn’t have the pure, uplifting goodness of Monsters, Inc. (the studio’s sole masterpiece), or the sheer inventiveness of the Toy Storys, but it beats the cheerful anthropomorphism of Finding Nemo and the unfocused silliness of A Bug’s Life. Of course, I now regret typing that last sentence, because this is a moronic exercise, but there you have it. The Incredibles is fun, fast, and even challenging in its way; certainly, none of the things you’d expect from Disney movies are to be found here.