Animation is not just for kids. Animation is for everyone. Walt Disney proved it years ago. In recent years, Pixar Animation Studios picked up Disney’s torch and trotted with it through stories about toys, bugs, monsters and fish. So, it seemed like a perfect fit when Pixar and Disney studios joined forces as maker and distributor, respectively, to co-finance such G-rated attractions as Finding Nemo. That union since has eroded because of money matters, and it may well disintegrate after the release next year of Cars. In the meantime, this partnership adds another gold tooth to its short blockbuster legacy, with the amazing, amusing action-adventure The Incredibles.
Four years ago, writer-director Brad Bird brought his Incredibles concept to the computer-generated-image gurus at Pixar. His track record included the impressive animated 1999 feature The Iron Giant, the classic “Family Dog” episode of TV’s Amazing Stories and eight years’ tenure on The Simpsons. His idea for The Incredibles was to pair dysfunctional, mundane family life with fantastic escapades. And the people at Pixar stretch the boundaries of their art form to complement Bird’s vision of stylized 1960s urban and suburban environments.
Mr. Incredible is a Metroville superhero who stops on the way to his own wedding to complete such good-Samaritan and crime-stopping deeds as uprooting a tree and shaking a cat from its limbs, nabbing a bank robber involved in a high-speed chase with police, and foiling the death wish of a suicide jumper. But Mr. Incredible’s good intentions are not met with universal praise. He is hit with a glut of lawsuits that crush his civic support and force him into anonymity via a sort of witness-relocation program for besieged public servants.
The film then leaps forward 15 years. Mr. Incredible now lives in the suburbs as Bob Parr, a bored, disenchanted insurance adjuster with a flabby, inverted-pyramid physique. His wife, Helen, the former superheroine Elastigirl, is now a full-time homemaker who uses her extreme flexibility in her daily chores. Teen daughter Violet hides behind a goth persona when not using her invisibility or force field to repel human contact. Preteen son Dash uses his warp speed to torment one of his teachers. And 2-year-old Jack Jack gurgles through family squabbles that can quickly escalate into mind-boggling chaos.
All this quasi-normalcy ends when Mr. Incredible is summoned to a remote island for a mysterious covert assignment, and the entire Parr family swings back into crime-fighting action that recalls the flavor, thrills and camaraderie of such adventure-saturated sources as James Bond, Fantastic Four and Spy Kids.
The intense action in some spots has earned a PG rating for the film. CGI humans are given lifelike form and movement by manipulating muscles implanted underneath their skin. And the script is both smart enough for adults and entertaining for youngsters.
The Incredibles is about the heartless, shareholder-driven cubicle nation in which many of us work; family dynamics; workaholic obsessions; hero worship that sours into evil conspiracy; a world that manages to get back in jeopardy no matter how many times it is saved; loss of control; greed; underground lives; the undervaluing of individual talent; and the pressure of being super all the time. It asks whether reliving yesterday’s glory is better than pretending it did not happen, whether questioning authority has its place and whether once again saving the world from destruction will snap Mr. Incredible out of an escalating midlife crisis.
Bird steals several scenes as the voice of Edna, a designer of superhero outfits based on legendary Hollywood costume designer Edith Head. And other actors contributing to the voices here include Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Jason Lee and the marvelous and inherently cartoonish Wallace Shawn.
In The Incredibles, says Bird, “a superhero can do all these marvelous things, but no one wants him to.” This statement often can be applied to the relationship between filmmakers and studio heads—a coupling that seems more like a committed marriage than an one-night stand for Pixar and its talented crews.