What did I say in my paragraph on the latest from Pixar when I called it my #1 “Must-See” for the Fall? I just happen to have it right here: “it’s also written and directed by Brad Bird- who not only made 1999’s beloved “The Iron Giant,” but was also a director and consultant during “The Simpsons'” early stages (meaning expect some subversive family comedy).”
After watching “The Incredibles,” I feel vindicated in saying, I told you so. “The Incredibles” is a slyly subversive superhero epic that both kids and adults will love…just like “The Simpsons.” “The Incredibles” explores the dysfunctions of a family as they try to make ends meat and get involved in wacky adventures…just like “The Simpsons.” And by the end of the film, after all the trials and tribulations the family has been through, they are well adjusted, ready for a new adventure which will undoubtedly lead to more family bickering…just like “The Simpsons.”
Think about it, who is Mr. Incredible (voiced by “Coach’s Craig T. Nelson perfectly) but a superhero version of Homer, a not-terribly-bright lug who does his best and loves his family, but somehow manages to get himself into trouble at work- either as a superhero or as his alter ego insurance claims worker- and in life? And isn’t his wife, Elastigirl (I can’t tell you how much Holly Hunter deserves some sort of end-of-the-year hardware for her spot-on performance in this movie), just Marge Simpson- frazzled and trying to keep the family together when things get crazy- with the ability to stretch her body across the room? And then there are the kids- the bratty Dash (who’s mischivous Bart with the ability to outrun the fastest Olympic sprinter), insecure Violet (who’s the melancholy Lisa with an ability to create force fields and become invisible), and silent baby Jack-Jack, who- like silent tot Maggie- is able to show surprising dexterity at just the right times. Seriously, if Brad Bird hadn’t used this idea for his own hugely entertaining movie, wouldn’t this be an inspired idea for the long-in-gestation “Simpsons” flick? Given how surreal the show has been at times over the years (its’ 16th season is just getting underway), I certainly think people would accept it.
OK, before you start thinking “The Incredibles” is perfect, let me say that it does have the inevitable second act drag that makes you question the the need for a nearly two hour animated superhero adventure, and Frozone, the cool-as-ice (literally) superhero voiced by Samuel L. Jackson (in his second-coolest role this year after his five minutes as Rufus the organ player in “Kill Bill: Vol. 2”), just doesn’t have enough to do in the story. Plus, like Pixar’s “Monsters Inc.,” I love the action and inventive set pieces, but there’s not a lot of room to breathe once it kicks into overdrive. That’s what was so refreshing about the two “Toy Story” films, “A Bug’s Life,” and “Finding Nemo”- they found those moments for emotional grace notes and seized on them. That doesn’t make “The Incredibles”- or “Monsters Inc.”- any less entertaining; it’s a minor quibble compared to the creative block of some of Disney’s recent hand-drawn offerings (“Home on the Range,” anyone?).
The premise sets the tone early on. During the golden age of superheroes saving the day, all was well. Lives would get saved by a grateful population, and everything was…super. But you save one guy from jumping off a building when all he wants to do is commit suicide, and next thing you know, you’re entangled in lawsuits left and right and now, your selfless deeds are not greeted with such enthusiasm. This is what happens to Mr. Incredible and his fellow heroes, who are then forced into the Superhero Protection Program, which is exactly like the Witness Protection Program except for superheroes, who are forced to live only as their mild-mannered alter egos. Fifteen years down the road, who wouldn’t want to relive those glory days and help the helpless when they need it? Mr. Incredible- who hasn’t adjusted to civillian life nearly as well as his wife, Elastigirl, has- certainly does, and when he gets the opportunity to (supposedly), he jumps at the opportunity. But is he really back in the game, or is a psychotic new villain named Syndrome (a great, menacing vocal turn by funnyman Jason Lee) luring him into a trap? Take a wild guess, and enjoy the ride.
There’s a lot to love about “The Incredibles.” The animation, which is as good as anything Pixar has done in their feature films (though in that department, it still ranks below “Finding Nemo”). The characters, their personalities, and the actors who voice them (I can’t stress enough the brilliance of Holly Hunter in this movie; through nuance and intelligence (and a level of toughness that’s always worth seeing in a female character), she gives the movie its’ heart in the same way Joan Cusack did in “Toy Story 2” and Ellen DeGeneres did in “Nemo”). The storyline concocted by Bird (who no doubt had some help in the joke department from the familial colleagues at Pixar), and his uncanny ability to make it resonate (though I’m not the biggest fan of “Iron Giant,” its’ heart is unmistakable). The slyly entertaining, old-fashioned score by Michael Giacchino, who hits every emotional note with note-perfect clarity. The film’s tremendous blend of bright action and sympathetic heart, a Pixar staple that has made them the leaders in contemporary animation, box-office grosses be damned (“Shrek 2” will remain the year’s box-office champion, but “The Incredibles” more than deserves to win Pixar its’ second-straight Best Animated Feature Oscar). And finally, there’s the film’s unquestioned appeal to the kids, while finding places for some more adult humor and entertainment (and I don’t mean puppets humping in “Team America”-like humor; it’s strictly of the PG variety). In the end, in examining all of Pixar’s six films (has it really been nearly 10 years since “Toy Story?”), that may be the studio’s greatest piece of moviegoing magic.