It would have been easy for this latest Pixar/Disney outing to pander to the cynical nature of a lowest common denominator movie audience. Easy to poke fun at its source material with an air of hindsight superiority. Easy to look down on the super hero/spy-fi efforts and styles of generations past. Easy to present us with a dysfunctional family that derides rather than supports, bickers rather than communicates. All for the sake of comedy. But this would have been the cheap and easy laugh. And there isn’t a mocking bone in this whole film.
Once upon a time, the world was rife with super-heroes. They patrolled the streets of our fair cities foiling criminals and keeping us safe. But as time passed, we became cynical and litigious, resenting their efforts on our behalf and ultimately demanding they cease and desist their heroics. Suddenly pariahs, the “Supers” found themselves the objects of suspicion and lawsuits, forced to give up their actions in the public good, and adopt underground existences with the aid of the government’s new Super-Hero Re-Location Program.
Forsaking their public, their gadgets, and their powers, the Supers moved to the suburbs to take on lives of quiet desperation at mundane jobs that squashed their spirits and their potential.
Such is the case with Bob Parr, a.k.a. Mr. Incredible. The strongest man in the world, he finds himself at a dead-end insurance job where he is “encouraged” to cheat his customers. Once a defender of the public, he now must put profit over people. And Bob is having a mid-life crisis.
Married to the wonderful Elastigirl, Bob and his family live innocuous lives as they try desperately to “fit in.” But Bob longs for the good old days when he felt special and useful. Then a chance comes along for Bob to relive his glory days and be of use. This sets off a series of events that ultimately leads Bob to appreciate his family even more, and to once again feel appreciated.
If The Incredibles were only a fun Super Hero movie, that would have been enough. But it’s much more than that. Much deeper. Even though the heroes are super, their feelings and motivations are all too human. They feel frustration, disappointment, loss, and they question their place in the scheme of things just as we mere mortals do. And we care about them and relate to them because of this. The Incredi-kids wrestle with the same problems as real-world children. They worry about what the cute boy at school thinks, and they want to live up to their potential and be true to themselves. And their powers underscore their personalities. Violet (see “shrinking”), the shy older sister has the literal ability to disappear, and the extroverted younger brother (Dash) can literally run circles around anyone. Helen Parr/Mom/Elastigirl is ultimately flexible, able to adapt and commit to any circumstance. And woe be-it to the villain who threatens her family. But whether they’ve yet to learn it, forgotten it, or repressed it, they’re all heroes under the skin. Just like us. And that’s why we relate to them.
Stylistically, The Incredibles fires on all cylinders. For those of us who remember, it’s the lost James Bond film, taking us back to a time (the 60s) before the disillusionment of Watergate and the total distrust of our leaders and heroes. The plot, art direction, devices, even the cinematography are vintage 007. And the score by Micahel Giacchino (TV’s Alias, Lost) is spot-on John Barry.
The villain is clever, believable and oh-so Bondian (he lives in a volcano, releases killer rockets, and has a beautiful assistant with an unusual name). And he is out to kill our heroes, not just capture them. This element alone own elevates the film from an adolescent outing to a more complex adult one — especially when children are the targets.
The vocal performances by Craig T. Nelson as Mr. Incredible, Helen Hunt as Elastigirl, and Seth Greene as Buddy Pine are subtle, effective, and believable. And the style of delivery is more in the mode of a Nick Park project (Wallace & Gromit, Creature Comforts) where not every line is billboarded, but some are under the breath — and more effective because of it. Samuel L. Jackson and Wallace Shawn turn in terrific performances in supporting roles, but Brad Bird himself steals the show as an Edith Head-type fashion designer named Edna, or just “E” (see “Q”) who is responsible for the Incredi-suits.
The trappings and the suits of “Whoa!” not withstanding, in the end, it’s the love and support of each family member for the others that makes them really super. And despite Bob’s assertion to his loved ones that he must work alone, he learns that they’re ultimately stronger together. Multi-faceted and intelligent, The Incredibles works on many levels. See it more than once.