For all its macho posturing in the still-to-be-resolved distribution deal with Disney, Pixar had to somehow recognize they were in desperate danger of falling into a funk.
Though entertaining, and the computer-generated animation studio’s biggest moneymaker to date, Finding Nemo was far from the brilliant, captivating flights of fancy of Pixar’s past.
Nemo resorted to the tired Disney death of a parent, was (let’s face it) boring for long stretches (Those stoner-surfer turtles? Ugh.) and was a little too technologically in love with itself.
It’s more than Mr. Incredible and his superhero family and friends who save the day, and the creative streak, from danger in The Incredibles.
It’s writer-director Brad Bird, an outsider to the Pixar crew, but nevertheless a filmmaker with a clear love for animation’s possibilities. And those possibilities are explored to their maximum potential in this, the studio’s best yet.
Because of the time-consuming animation process, the notion of illuminating the everyday hero in all of us through a superhero story is a little behind the curve. After all, there have been two X-Men and two Spider-Man films in the time it took to create The Incredibles.
And even though there are shades of those franchises (society-shunned superheroes, powers lessened by doubt and fear), The Incredibles avoids the overcrowding of the X-Men outings and the Peter Parker pity party of the Spider-Man films. This is a film aware and alive with the possibility of adventure in the unknown, whether it’s in an exotic island locale or the suburban experience.
Numerous lawsuits have resigned Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) to a normal, insurance-policy-adjusting life as Bob Parr (seems building jumpers took offense to Incredible’s presumption they wanted saving). He loves his wife Helen (Holly Hunter), aka Elastigirl, and their kids (Violet, Dash and Jack-Jack) but his growing dissatisfaction and midsection fly in the face of his glory days.
But Bob receives a strange invitation to fight a strange robotic menace on a remote island. It sets in motion a thrilling battle against an unexpectedly powerful acquaintance from Bob’s past that ultimately involves the whole family and his friend Frozone. (Think the Silver Surfer with Shaft’s attitude and the priceless Samuel L. Jackson’s voice.)
It doesn’t take long to realize The Incredibles unfolds from a new mindset, as there’s an early car chase, complete with bullets, in the first five minutes. The plentiful action sequences crackle (Dash, his super power denoted by his name, has a forest chase that puts anything that happened on Endor to shame), and the PG rating is definitely earned for the newfound fever-pitch frenzy.
But for all the low-rate live-action superhero junk we’ve seen for years, there is more palpable, identifiable jeopardy and danger for these animated characters. It’s because family fragility really creeps in for the Parr family in unexpectedly moving ways.
The only catch phrase in sight is from Elastigirl, and that’s “I know what I said, but …” — a real-life mom-ism if there ever was one. And when they strike a pose to finally fight as a family, it’s a fabulous quick moment of reflection while on the roller coaster.
To perhaps ease the newness of the blistering pace, Bird hasn’t forgotten the warm wittiness that makes Pixar films so effortlessly appealing.
That includes a deconstruction of the unnecessary talking villain (a cliché so hackneyed that even the targeted child audience should be able to spot and mock it), a charmingly retro/futuristic production design and 1960s jazz score and a scene involving Elastigirl, a corridor and several enemy guards that’s on the level of classic Looney Tunes slapstick.
Everything about The Incredibles abounds with such bristling energy and fun that even the squirmiest of kids won’t notice it takes about two hours to unfold. It’s the first Pixar movie since Toy Story 2 that really earns the endless replaying it will no doubt get, and one of 2004’s best.