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The Incredibles (2004)
Writer and director: Brad Bird

review by Jonathan McCalmont

Mainstream culture's a funny thing. A lot of fuss is made about it being all about the pursuit of the lowest common denominator but it's also something that changes constantly over time. The Incredibles is an excellent example of this phenomenon because, in my eyes, it constitutes something of a closing of a loop.

There was a time when heroes were square jawed Ubermensch. Flawless demigods able to out-think and outfight anything that got in their way. Then things started to change. The flaws in the personalities of heroes started to be explored, as were their lives behind the mask. Alan Moore explored these ideas in Watchmen: psychotics, fascists, people cut off from those who love them because of their incredible powers. That which made them exceptional heroes also made their problems exceptional. Over the years this basic idea has filtered through into popular culture, the mainstream has slowly been introduced to the ideas until the fantasy hero and the teen soap opera merged in Buffy, a story as much about battling demons as it is about becoming an adult. Last summer's Spider-Man 2 can be seen as one of the last instances in which this idea was central to the plot of a film before it started to get stale. The Incredibles closes this loop as the idea of the hero as a flawed real person encounters the average American family.

We first meet the 'supers' as Mr Incredible battles bank robbers, rescues kittens and rejects the attentions of an annoying fanboy. He tries to save a man plunging from a building, encountering the wonderfully zeitgeisty French supervillain Bomb Voyage before getting married to fellow super Elastigirl. However, the man that Mr Incredible tried to save did not wish to be saved and sues him resulting in the supers being outlawed and resettled by the government. We meet up again with Mr Incredible as he works a job in insurance. Mr Incredible misses the old days and misses helping people and, as a result, is interested neither in his job nor in his super-powered family. Eventually he gets fired, but is then hired by a shadowy organisation. Mr Incredible perks up and starts to get on with his family again until it's revealed that in fact he has been manipulated, his battles for the organisation were in fact part of the development cycle of a super-villain's latest weapon. Rushing to save him, his family re-discover each other in the process and, in the case of Dash and Violet, themselves and their superpowers.

The Incredibles looks and feels like a classic comic, Mr Incredible himself is a blond-haired, square jawed Adonis. Evildoers 'monologue' and have grandiose evil schemes involving rockets and robots and destruction. The original idea of superheroes as flawed people is seamlessly integrated into an incredibly fun and action-packed superhero film.

Brad Bird cut his teeth on The Simpsons and, in a way; The Incredibles owes as much to The Simpsons as any comicbook - from the moments of family comedy to the seamless integration of fringe ideas into a mainstream format. Just as The Simpsons once took 'grown-up' humour and satire and fed it to the mainstream public, The Incredibles processes and rethinks the ideas of Moore and others. As such this film is absolute genius and a godsend as once the idea of the troubled hero is repackaged and applied to a standard American family can one still present the idea as 'new' or 'edgy' or 'innovative'? The Incredibles puts the legacy of Watchmen to sleep in a blaze of Technicolor.

The animation is superb as is the character design. The effects are frequently photo-realistic and the animation of the characters almost shames recent big budget cartoons. The voice acting is spot on from all the main characters and Bird shows truly inspired casting in his choice of Jason Lee, who played the wonderful ranting fanboy Brody in Kevin Smith's Mallrats (see? Another loop closing as geek culture informs mainstream movie casting). The action is fast, furious and incredibly well directed. In fact, given the frequently poor level of CGI direction, other directors could do a lot worse than taking a page from Bird's book. The film has iconic moments which I am sure will be remembered 10 or 20 years from now (the family spat that sees mother literally stretching to control her two super-powered children) and has amazingly moving moments which, while predictable because of their subject matter (a family), are handled with a deftness of touch and a quality of dialogue which will melt the most cynical of hearts. The only slight let down is the increasingly typecast Samuel L. Jackson who voices Frozone - who is black and cool and has a bossy wife.

That minor disappointment aside this film is not only great fun I also think it's quite an important genre film. I would recommend anyone and everyone to go and see it.
The Incredibles (2004)
Writer and director: Brad Bird

review by Amy Harlib

Those peerless people at Pixar Animation Studios have just produced another paragon of a pixilated production to add to their panoply of pictures earning instant plaudits. Following the Toy Story duo, A Bug's Life, Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo, the CGI bar gets raised once again in a story wherein human characters come to the fore, superhumans that is, in The Incredibles. This loving homage to and parody of such comicbook favourites as The Fantastic Four, The X-Men and Superman, gets the Pixar box office bonanza trademark of emotional depth, clever plotting and meaningful, unobtrusive subtexts not to mention ever-improving visual dazzle - this time by an outsider writer-director, Brad Bird, invited in thanks to his stellar track record in the field for his work on The Simpsons and on 1999's unjustly underrated gem The Iron Giant. Focusing on humans (albeit those with ultra-abilities), Bird at Pixar wisely uses a somewhat stylised mode of digital rendering suitable for the limits of the medium, which also plays to its strengths in portraying the abundant fantastical elements of the opus.

Set in a parallel-universe version of contemporary North America, the newsreel-type opening of the story informs us that superheroes comprise a significant portion of the population and introduces, among others, the eponymous protagonists - the Incredibles. The super-folk then embraced their secret identities perforce permanently when too many rescues-gone-wrong precipitated too many expensive lawsuits, resulting in the government legislated 'Superhero Relocation Programme' (a sort of witness protection arrangement). Fifteen years later, the plot kicks in, focusing on that best-loved couple of ultra do-gooders of them all: lantern-jawed Mr Incredible alias Bob Parr (voiced by Craig T. Nelson), once hyper-buffed and strong, now still powerful but paunchy, and his wife of all these years, the exceedingly stretchable Elastigirl alias Helen (Holly Hunter), both for this whole time living incognito in middle-class suburbia. Mr Parr, unhappily working as an insurance claims adjuster while Helen does full-time homemaking, raise their three children: teenage daughter Violet (NPR radio personality Sarah Vowell in casting perfection) who can become invisible at will and project force fields; Dash (Spencer Fox) who can run at super-speeds; and baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile and Maeve Andrews) who still awaits development of uncanny skills.

The frustrated Bob, allowing his profit-obsessed boss-from-hell to publicly intimidate him, yet an incorrigible nice guy, helps old folks by surreptitiously informing them about how to out-manoeuvre the insurance claims bureaucracy (an effectively sly dig at this corrupt industry). Bob's weekly relief comes on 'bowling night' when he and his best friend, another superhero-in-hiding, ice-master Frozone alias Lucius Best (Samuel L. Jackson), of African descent and refreshingly depicted as equal in ability to his buddy and deserving of a larger part - cruise in a car listening to police scanners in the hopes to still fight crime (without getting noticed). Bob's past comes back to hunt him in the form of Buddy Pine (Jason Lee) who, before all the 'supers' went underground, yearned to be Mr Incredible's sidekick. Repeatedly denied, the rebuffed, enraged youngster used his genius for invention to gradually fashion himself into Syndrome - a gadgetised, billionaire bad-guy.

After Bob is fired for being too generous in disbursing his firm's funds, his unemployment woes are solved by an agent, the sultry Mirage (Elizabeth Pena), who recruits Bob, before he can tell Helen, to act as Mr Incredible again, ostensibly on behalf of a secret government project located on a clandestine tropical island base intentionally depicted to riff off James Bond clichés. There, Bob successfully tests his powers against the might of the 'Omnidroid', a militaristic AI robot, and he returns to Helen reinvigorated, getting back into shape and buying a long-needed new car, etc.

Bob's odd disappearances (when summoned secretly for more assignments by Mirage), arouse Helen's suspicions, especially when, after a particularly lengthy absence, an old friend calls: the divine, diminutive superhero costume creator Edna Mode (voice of director Brad Bird himself in a delightful scene-stealing performance). When Edna hints that Bob may be back in the hero business (Bob via Mirage had new garb made), Helen, wanting to revive her true-calling too, also commissions new costumes for herself and the kids. Sleuthing leads Helen to discover that the activities on the island are part of an elaborate revenge plot perpetrated by Syndrome who now has Bob in a deadly trap. Helen, hiring a jet, sets forth to rescue her husband, not realising her offspring have stowed away on board.

Along the way to the dynamite climax, the characters and the action get equal attention. The torment of hiding true natures in a world of stultifying conformity gets tellingly portrayed and serves to subtly indict this pervasive attitude in our mundane world. The interfamilial interactions come across with utter believability thanks to the skilled performers' vocal work, and supporting characters and the antagonist are given depth and motivation too, due to the intelligent scripting and adept voice talent. Dialogue and derring-do are blended with wit and genuine poignancy at appropriate moments, keeping the viewer engaged by the riveting pacing.

Thus this film's thrilling adventure; hilarious parody packed with sight gags and in-jokes; social commentary about the need to nurture special gifts; heartfelt emotions; gorgeously detailed backgrounds, colours, textures, lighting and appropriately stylised people; superb cinematic sensibility; glorious Bond-style, perfectly complementary, jazzy score (by Michael Giacchino) - adds up to another classic sure to catapult Brad Bird to deserved top flight status alongside Pixar whose rep gets even more firmly established. Embodying the potential of the medium while promising further exciting adventures to come, this CGI feature just may be the best and most fun cinematic realization of the super hero mythos ever. The Incredibles is, well, incredible!
The Incredibles

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MEET THE INCREDIBLES...

Mr Incredible





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