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If Jay Leno and
Conan O'Brien had
a kid ...
Review written by: Alex Sandell
Brad Bird, superheroes and Pixar Animation Studios, together in one film -- it's every cartoon fanboy's wildest dream come true. A really good dream. One where you get the girl. And the house. And maybe even a 55" high definition widescreen TV.
The Incredibles' writer and director Brad Bird created the best animated film ever made, with The Iron Giant. Whenever I start losing hope in humanity, I pop that DVD in and everything seems okay, again. If you're a fan of CG animation, just seeing the memorable Pixar logo sends chills down your spine. The thought of Brad Bird, who so movingly paid homage to superheroes in The Iron Giant, writing and directing a film to be animated by the gods at Pixar, had me using a drool cup for over a year. I couldn't stop salivating at the thought of this film.
While it wasn't quite the classic I thought it would be, I still loved almost every bit of the digital wonder. The Incredibles is a blast! You'll laugh and have a good time. But, unfortunately, you won't cry. That's because Brad Bird, who effectively put tears in everyone's eyes with the "Suuuuuuupeeeermaaaaaaaan" moment in The Iron Giant, forgot to add much heart and soul to the picture. Pixar, too, usually adds their fair share of handkerchief moments. How could you not get a lump in your throat when Jessie told Woody her story about being forgotten by her owner? "You never forget kids like Emily or Andy, but they forget you," she said. I felt so guilty, I ran to my parent's house, found my old toy box, and hugged every last musty doll and action figure buried within. I suffered from allergies for the next week, but it was worth it.
The Incredibles is essentially an animated version of Spy Kids. Or maybe Spy Kids meets The Fantastic Four. Actually, so much is borrowed from The Fantastic Four, I wonder if those not in the know, will think The Fantastic Four feature film, due out next year, is stealing from this. Hopefully there will be room for both. Ironically, I can't even begin to imagine The Fantastic Four being as action-packed and full of as much fun as The Incredibles. Despite its heart being two sizes too small, The Incredibles is a wild ride worth taking again and again.
The story is fairly basic, but still deeper than the majority of family animated features. Superheroes are adored around the world until Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) saves a man's life when he falls from a building, only to find out the man was trying to commit suicide. The man sues Mr. Incredible and, with dollar signs in citizens' eyes, lawsuits against various superheroes pop up all over the place. Eventually the heroes are put into a superhero protection type relocation program and are no longer allowed to use their powers for good, evil, or really anything else superpowers might come in handy for.
Mr. Incredible, now known only as Bob Parr and his wife, Elastigirl, now known only as Helen, settle down in a cozy suburban home and raise three children. Two of the children are "supers." The third, an infant, hasn't exhibited any signs of supernatural abilities. The Parr's daughter, Violet (Sarah Vowell, making a heroic leap from her deadpan vocal performances on public radio's This American Life to a hormone crazed teenage girl), has the ability to turn invisible and another to create funky blue force-fields. The Parr's son, Dashiell (Spencer Fox) can run at an exceedingly fast pace. He desperately wants to try out for track and field, but his mother doesn't think it would be fair to the non-supers.
Of course there's an arch-nemesis. This one goes by the name of Syndrome (Jason Lee). 15 years earlier, before superheroes were forced to go into hiding, Syndrome wanted to be Mr. Incredible's sidekick. Mr. Incredible made it clear that he worked alone. Syndrome went batty and spent the next decade and a half creating killer robots in his gigantic fortress, hidden behind a massive lava waterfall (very impressive animation). Mr. Incredible is contacted by the mysterious Mirage (Elizabeth Peņa) and given an assignment, where he's allowed to use his powers. Having just lost his job, Mr. Incredible can't resist. Hiding it from his friends and family he goes to work as a hero. Or at least he thinks that's what he's doing ...
Pixar and Brad Bird took a lot of chances with this film. It's the first Pixar movie to use all human characters, rather than toys, bugs, monsters or fish. Running just under two hours, it's also rather long for an animated family film (although it's a fast 115 minutes). There are quite a few serious moments in the picture; dramatic scenes that would play just as well in live-action movies such as Spider-Man 2 or Hellboy. This film isn't nearly as "kiddy" as you would expect. Still, it would be hard to imagine a kid not liking it. It lives up to its non-animated counter-parts, in almost every way. Not surprisingly, it surpasses every single one of them with its comedy.
The Incredibles has some genuinely hilarious moments. When the old lady who designs his costume explains to Mr. Incredible why capes are hazardous for heroes, I laughed so hard my girlfriend said, after the movie, that she wished I came with a mute button. The action sequences are dazzling and fun in a cliffhanger type way, but they're also hilarious. The mileage Brad Bird gets out of Elastigirl is, well, incredible. There's one joke after another, regarding the hero's power to stretch and contort, each of them funnier than the last. If the elaborate scene with the fortress security guards doesn't have you laughing, put a mirror under your nose and make sure you're still breathing.
When the family is reunited and reemerges from their solitude to save the world, the audience is given plenty of high-level action and adventure that would be damn hard to beat. The action sequences are up there with the greats; from the speeder bike chase in Return of the Jedi to the snake pit in Raiders of the Lost Ark. So far, this century, only the pre-credit opening to Hellboy and the scene where an angry Nightcrawler goes ballistic in the White House in X-Men 2, have been as impressive as the action provided in The Incredibles. I never, in a million years, thought I'd see this kind of action in a cartoon.
The Incredibles has upped animation to a whole 'nother level. Unless there's a gem out there that I have yet to discover, The Incredibles is unprecedented in its zealous eagerness to play with, and kick the asses of, the Hollywood big boys. This feels less like a Pixar film than it does a sequel to the X-Men. And Pixar's animation, which is breathtakingly beautiful, helps the film feel that much more real.
I can't say I like The Incredibles as much as I did Finding Nemo or the Toy Story films, but it's just as good, if not better than, A Bug's Life and Monsters, Inc. At this point, Pixar seems to be an unstoppable force of nature. Being the skeptic that I am, I thought The Incredibles would be their downfall. But, it doesn't look like Pixar is ready to give up anytime soon. When other studios are content to do nothing but copy, Pixar is busy setting new benchmarks. It would be an incredible mistake to miss this film!
Agree? Disagree? Have questions? Comments? Email this critic at firstname.lastname@example.org
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COMING SOON - Reviews of Seed of Chucky, Finding Neverland, Polar Express and, just because it's been requested more than ANY other movie yet to be reviewed on this site, Hellboy (so who says I don't listen to my readers?)!
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