Directed By: Brad Bird
Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Spencer Fox and Samuel L. Jackson
Screenplay By: Brad Bird
Original Release: November 5, 2004
Nowadays, super heroes are everywhere you look. Batman is beating up Superman. Captain America is hitting Iron Man. Thor is…well…Thoring around somewhere. But today, I’d like to invite you to a different time. A simpler time. A time before Marvel owned the cinema. A time when Super Hero movies were few and far between. Every once in a while, a film comes along that we easily give the phrase “Instant Classic.” For all their tries, Marvel and DC have still never quite managed to achieve the greatness that is this film. So keep your X-Men, hold onto your Avengers, because today we talk about a super team that did it before these films and did it better than all of them. Today is all about The Incredibles.
Director Brad Bird first pitched The Incredibles to Pixar after the release of his incredible film The Iron Giant. Unfortunately, The Iron Giant was a box office failure. Fortunately, Brad Bird became Pixar’s first outside director and we are all very glad he did. Most of his animation team came directly from his previous film and the attention to detail definitely shows. The Incredibles was also Pixar’s first film to have an all human cast. As such, the animators had to learn more about human anatomy as well as clothing and hair texture. The initial idea was to have a family of super heroes suffering from the father’s mid-life crisis. The result is an epic film which explores family issues just as much as it does the life and times of super heroes.
There’s plenty of great action, espionage, twists and turns in this film, but what always gets me while watching The Incredibles are the smaller scenes. My favorite scene in the film is when the family sits down for dinner early in the first act. Helen, the mom asks her husband to get involved with the children, but he misses the mark entirely, encouraging son Dash to pick on the teacher in order to see how fast he can go. This then escalates as Dash picks on his sister Violet for having a crush on a boy at school. An argument ensues and pretty soon the family is fighting with each other, but using their super powers to do it. For me, this scene displays the very soul of this film. Sure it’s about super heroes living in a world that doesn’t want them. But at the end of the day, The Incredibles is about a family who has lost touch with each other, and specifically a father who doesn’t realize the power he has to bring his family together.
Bob Parr, or Mr. Incredible, is a very different hero for Pixar. He’s a middle aged man with a crappy job who has a hard time letting go of his youth. I actually find it interesting to think that kids liked this movie so much because this isn’t really a character you would expect to see in a Saturday morning cartoon. What I love about Bob is that he wants to be the good guy. He wants to protect and see the world be a better place. He’s so proud of his powers and hiding them is agonizing for him. In the years since heroes were forced to resign, he’s gotten overweight and in many ways seems to be distracted and depressed. I think the classic version of a character like this would probably cheat on his wife, but Bob just wants to be a hero again. He loves his wife, he just doesn’t think she’ll understand. This leads him to get mixed up with Syndrome, a villain from his past who wants to make the whole world super, because when everyone is super, no one is.
I love Helen, or Elastigirl, mostly because she is such a strong female character. She’s powerful not just as a super hero but as a mother. I adore her scene where she has a breakdown because her husband has gone off to play hero and she doesn’t know what to do. Edna Mode, an amazing character in her own right, says “What are you talking about? You’re Elastigirl! Pull yourself together!”
There’s this great reminder in the film that we are all much stronger than we allow ourselves to be and if we can only look inside at who we truly are, we can find that strong, powerful hero that we are meant to be. Not to mention Helen’s amazing scene of stretching through corridors only to get stuck in two doors. There’s this moment where, while super-ing around, she stops to look at herself in the mirror and then sighs. God, I just love that moment. It’s so human and pure. It’s such a simple wordless moment but it says so much. It’s the details that really make this film spectacular.
Think back, if you can, to the first time you saw Dash outrun the jets as he speeds across the surface of the water. Sure, nowadays scenes like this are a dime a dozen, but back then it was unlike anything I had ever scene before. The action is fast and furious and the animation looks gorgeous every second of it. I also love Violet learning to have self confidence and coming out of her shell. It’s especially great that learning to use her powers makes her believe in herself until the end when she actually asks the boy out.
Syndrome is a great villain. He really shows what happens when our heroes disappoint us and what can happen if we take that disappointment too far. I also adore his gadgets. All of them are so imaginative and cool. You can’t help but think that if he were a good guy, he’d be the Batman of this world. He has no powers, but he sure makes up for it with style. My only complaint is that it’s a little weird that he is the only character we don’t really see out of costume. I’d like to see a little more of his humanity, but as it stands, he’s a great character and an even better villain.
For me, The Incredibles is all about the little moments. The heavy sighs or the arguments late into the night. It’s a film that for all its stellar animation and gorgeous action sequences, is at its best when it is simply telling the story of a mid-life crisis and the effects it has on a family. Watching Bob find himself and thus help his family to realize who they are is a great story and every second feels fresh and new. All the dialogue and interactions feel organic and nothing is every forced. The characters and memorable and the coming together of this super family is incredibly heartwarming. You know what? I’m inspired. I too am going to go take up my mantle as a super hero. Now where did I put my super suit. Honey? Where’s my super suit? I said, WHERE IS MY SUPER SUIT!?
Next Up: Cars