Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Incredibles (2004)

The Incredibles
Disney, 2004

Principal Cast:  Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Jason Lee
Director:  Brad Bird
Producers:  John Lasseter, Kori Rae, Katherine Sarafian, John Walker
Screenwriter:  Brad Bird
Cinematography:  Andrew Jiminez, Patrick Lin, Janet Lucroy

After falling out of favor with the public, the government forces all superheroes to give up their secret identities and stop their crime-fighting ways.  Bob Parr, once known as Mr. Incredible, struggles to live an everyday, mundane life as an insurance adjuster.  Parr, as well as his wife and children, are all blessed with superhuman powers, which he feels should be celebrated and not hidden.  When a mysterious stranger needs the help of "Mr. Incredible," Bob jumps at the chance, behind his wife, Helen's, back.  But when Bob is captured by the super-villain Syndrome, it's up to Helen and the kids to save him.

Awards & Nominations
Academy Awards
Best Animated Feature Film of the Year - Winner
Best Achievement in Sound Editing - Winner
Best Writing, Original Screenplay - Nominee
Best Achievement in Sound Mixing - Nominee

Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films
Best Animated Film

"Everyone's special, Dash."
"Which is another way of saying no one is."

Toy Story.  Finding Nemo.  Wall-E.  Up.  These are the most common titles you hear when people mention the best Pixar films.  While these are all fantastic films, it's a shame that no one remembers to mention The Incredibles.  Personally, I'd list every Disney/Pixar production in the Essential Films.  OK, maybe not Cars.

The point is, The Incredibles, simply put is a great film. It succeeds on multiple fronts.  It succeeds as a great cartoon.  It succeeds as a great family film. It succeeds as a great action comedy.  And it succeeds as a superhero film.

Let's start with story.  Brad Bird is a very accomplished screenwriter who knows exactly how to blend sentimentality with comedy and fantasy. Other great examples of this are Ratatouille and The Iron Giant.  More than that, he can pace a story well and really develops his characters well.  Let's look at the three main characters:  Bob (Mr. Incredible), Helen (Elasti Girl) and Buddy (Syndrome.)  Each of these characters' motives are clear and they are driven by something everyone can relate to.  Bob has superhuman strength... he's saved lives and fought bad guys.  Now he has to live in hiding because the laws of the country he fought so many years to defend made him give up his lifestyle.  He's stuck at a desk job, subjected to the tyranny of his diminutive, but tyrannical boss.  Bird uses Bob's secret return to a superhero lifestyle as an analogy to having an affair.  He starts working out, buys a new, flashy car... hell he even gets a new [super] suit.  It's a superhero mid-life crisis.

Helen, meanwhile is the homemaker, she gave up the superhero life not just because the law told her to, but because she clearly wants to be at home, raising children. She is protective of her family, and doesn't want them exposed.  Her motivation is clear, if she, her husband or even her super-powered children are exposed, it means a complete disruption of her family life.  But this protectiveness of her family takes an active role when she has to literally save Bob's life.  A woman saving a man's life in a superhero movie?  That's new.  

And finally Buddy, or Syndrome.  Every good superhero story needs a supervillain.  And most good supervillains need a reason to hate the hero... and oftentimes they are the hero's polar opposite.  Buddy worshiped Mr. Incredible during his hero days, he desperately wanted to be a "hero."  But after interfering in Mr. Incredible's business one time too many, and actually costing him a chance to get the bad guy (the hilariously named "Bomb Voyage"), Buddy is sternly warned to never come near him again.  Buddy, who possesses no special abilities, grows up with a vendetta and equips himself with gadgets to make himself special.  He succeeds in trapping Incredible, and unleashes a deadly robot on the public just so he can "defeat" it.  This proves to be Buddy's biggest character flaw:  wanting the glory and attention of being a hero. In the end, this proves to actually be a fatal mistake.

Aside from the story, the film just LOOKS gorgeous.  Like all Pixar films (yes, even Cars), the animation is absolutely top notch.  The character and set designs are also a lot of fun, it really looks like a comic book came to life and exploded on the screen.

The Incredibles is a great superhero movie.  It's clear that the creators of this film really love the medium of comic books.  I mean, let's face it, The Incredibles family are essentially the Fantastic Four.  Only they out-Fantastic Four the Fantastic Four.  Bird and company they didn't take the easy way out. This is Disney, which is going to market the film to children and families, so they could have easily given us a bland story with one-dimensional characters filled with lots of slapstick comedy, explosions and toilet humor.  They didn't do that.  Instead they created a smart, funny, well-paced, character-driven superhero story that also looked great and had some fun action sequences.  The Incredibles is an Essential Film.

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