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Pixar A Superhero Among Animators

‘The Incredibles’ a Fresh Blend of Cartoon and 007

By Kevin Der


The Incredibles

Pixar Animation Studios

Directed by Brad Bird

Starring Craig T. Nelson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jason Lee

Rated PG

Is there anyone who loves films who has not seen Woody and Buzz Lightyear lead Andy’s toys into adventure, or has not followed Marlin and Dory through an ocean of sea turtles, sharks, and seagulls’ jaws? Pixar’s films have become the favorites of children and adults alike, immersing us in worlds we do not forget.

Pixar clearly possesses some secret that other animation studios -- or film studios in general -- have yet to discover. Every film they have made is enormously special -- as well as a box office success. So I was worried when I first saw the teaser trailer for “The Incredibles.” Pixar has a talent for giving souls to the lifeless and thoughts to creatures we could normally not understand -- bugs, toys, fish. So with a topic of superheroes, I was afraid this new film didn’t have the potential to live up to Pixar’s past glory.

All my doubts were needless, because “The Incredibles” works amazingly well. The film’s divergence from Pixar’s past work turns out to be its greatest strength. In this world, superheroes (aka “supers”) exist, and regularly save the day using whatever powers they may possess. Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) boasts enough strength to weightlift train cars; his wife Elastigirl can stretch her body into any form; Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) creates ice at will and rides waves of glacier with the agility of a surfer and the grace of a ice skater.

Though these extraordinary men and woman are, at first, young and invincible, they soon struggle with the hurdles of life like any other human being. Condemned by the masses in a telling display of public ignorance fueled by the media, they fade into society, forced to deal with middle age, parenthood, and the morning commute. Mr. Incredible becomes Bob Parr, working an insurance claims job, and his wife becomes Helen, delegated to stay-at-home mom. Their children possess superpowers as well, but are forbidden to use them in order to fit in. Son Dashiell (appropriately nicknamed “Dash”) can run at supersonic speeds; daughter Violet can become invisible and create force fields. Soon after they begin to cope with their new, un-super lives, Mr. Incredible is drawn back into action, along with the rest of his family.

“The Incredibles” recalls a mixture of cartoon and James Bond. The characters use their powers in remarkably funny and imaginative ways, so the notion of superhero never seems formulaic; even their names, like Syndrome (Jason Lee) and Bomb Voyage, are fresh.

From the Bond side, the film has all the speed and action we could want -- machine gun fire, explosions, and actual deaths portrayed off screen. There is the evil villain and his lair, a plot for global domination, the seductive woman. Q’s counterpart here is Edna E. Mode, who supplies superheroes with their gadgets -- she’s indescribably quirky and one of the funniest characters I have ever seen on screen. She’s also, amazingly, voiced by director Brad Bird. Even the composer of the film’s score, Michael Giacchino, was chosen because his style is influenced by John Barry, who was the composer for nearly every Bond film up through “The Living Daylights.”

At its core, though, “The Incredibles” has its own special and very relevant message about acceptance and family -- it is not merely a tale about a plot for world domination.

From a visual standpoint, “The Incredibles” has set the bar for animated films to a new level, which is to be expected from a studio which has been doing exactly that for two decades. There are some fabulous displays of architecture in this film; my favorite is a skyscraping stone statue of a woman whose dress is formed by a waterfall. There are strikingly beautiful fires, forests, and lakes. Another amazing visual was the realism of characters’ wet hair when they bob up and down in the ocean.

Pixar likes to slip in cameos of past and future films everywhere -- the colored ball from their early animated short Luxo Jr. is in all their films, as is the Pizza Planet truck from “Toy Story.” Nemo himself actually appeared in “Monster’s, Inc.,” before “Finding Nemo” was even completed (Of course, “The Incredibles” is also cameoed in Nemo).

It should be clear by now that I regard Pixar with complete idolatry, but the fact is, “The Incredibles” is yet another in their legacy of producing films of the highest quality. I don’t know how I ever entertained the slightest notion that it would be anything less.