Dir:- Brad Bird
Starr:- Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Jason Lee, Samuel L. Jackson
Pixar have genuinely revolutionised the way that families experience the cinema together. Even in Disney’s golden-era pomp (Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Bambi, Pinnochio), or their second-coming (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin), there was always a sense that no matter how lovingly rendered and sophisticated the animations were, they were primarily aimed at children. Pixar have made no such complacent assumptions about their audience, and their wonderful computer animated worlds, frequently incorporate twin planes of meaning, that satisfy child and adult alike, without ever being condescending.
The Incredibles was the first Pixar movie to be helmed by Brad Bird, who had previously worked on The Fox and the Hound (back in Disney’s dark old days) and The Iron Giant, as well as providing the video for The Simpson’s chart-topper ‘Do the Bartman’. This appointment saw a slight change in approach at Pixar, showing the company possessed a willingness to attempt more daring material, that would ultimately lead to the later Bird masterpiece Ratatouille, as well as the moving oddity that was Up. For some reason, despite being a comic-book/superhero obsessive, I’d managed to give this Pixar effort a wide berth, despite the very best efforts of my young nephew. Although I can’t say the movie blew my mind, I am more than a little sorry that I waited so long to catch up with the escapades of the Parr family.
The Incredibles starts out with an America that has become complacently certain of its own security – ring any alarm bells. The super-heroes that have been patrolling society so well, for so long, are seen to be more of a hindrance than a help. After a particularly destructive days work, Mr. Incredible (so good to hear the reassuring childhood voice of Craig T. Nelson) finds himself being sued by the citizens and the town council, for all the unnecessary damage his super-hero antics lead to. In a wonderfully ironic touch he is also sued by a suicidal individual whose life he saves. It is these little jabs at our smug modern societies that makes The Incredibles, at times, a fairly impressive satirical piece.
From this promising opening, the movie fast-forwards a decade or so, to show Mr. Incredible as a family man, married to Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter), stuck in a dreary, dead-end office job (working for an insurance firm) and, like his fellow retired super-hero Frozone (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson), desperately seeking out the thrill of the daring rescue. What is fascinating about this part of the film is the way in which Bird establishes an all-too-believable domestic reality in which his super-heroes have sublimated there bolder civic urges. The children within this family Jack Jack, Dash and Violet are all struggling to cope with their various abilities, with Dash’s sports-day quandary illustrating this most clearly.
When the chance to get back into super-hero mode comes Mr. Incredible’s way, he cannot help but pursue it, even when there is a clear dubiousness in Mirage’s (voiced by Elizabeth Pena’s) proposition. It is this combination of neediness, attention-seeking, hubris and an over-arching sense of ‘duty’, that places the whole Incredible family in grave peril and propels the action along a storyline that has elements of Dr. No, Moonraker, The Running Man and Godzilla pulsing through it.
The Incredibles has some superb attention to detail throughout, which in many ways give it the air of a geeky fantasy. Two superb visual features grabbed my attention for entirely different reasons. I was first of all amazed by the lovingly recreated alien/monster/robot from Firaxis’s Sim City games. Seeing the spider-like cyclops scuttling around the city, intent on destruction was like stepping into a wonderfully precise time machine. The other thing of note was the improved imaging that Pixar were able to show-off when it came to the detailing of human motion. Throughout the film Elastigirl’s rotund, middle-aged mum butt was at once a supremely accurate caricature and a bewitchingly sexy thing of beauty, that would frankly never be allowed to grace a Hollywood live-action feature, with all the absurd idealisation of the female figure, inherent in that form.
The Incredibles was also packed with breathtaking moments of action, that genuinely impressed me with their innovativeness. One chase sequence through the forest, involving Dash and a band of guards could be placed alongside films like Bullit, Star Wars and Point Break, in the way that it broke new technical ground. Whilst early on in the film there were some wonderful high-perspective shots, that pointed the way forward for the use of CGI-technology in later movies like The Dark Knight.
Aside from the fluid action and attention to character detail, I was intrigued by the ideas that seemed to be battling each other at the movies core. The Incredibles is a very pro-family movie, clearly demonstrating how the combination of powers a loving family generates is preferable to their individual powers, used in isolation. However there was also a kind of veiled Randian idea of enlightened selfishness at work in the notion that an ‘evil’ character like Syndrome, would seek a world in which everyone had access to the ‘special’ powers that only the likes of the Incredibles presently have. In Syndrome’s ideal world everyone has special powers and therefore nobody is special. This is something that Mr. Incredible, in particular, cannot in good conscience allow to happen and he is regularly seen to advocate a need to flaunt one’s ‘special’ powers, rather than ‘normalise’, by not using them.
Ultimately the movie’s ending confuses matters further, by showing the Incredibles to have actually compromised, in essence only using their abilities for the purposes of ‘serving the greater good’, something that cannot be reconciled with the Randian philosophical elements that otherwise poke through the cracks. I am somewhat surprised to see that Pixar haven’t sought to cash-in on the franchise potential of this feature, in the same way as they did with the superb Toy Story trilogy. However, this is part of the joy of this consummately professional animation company, as they have yet to dilute the quality of their product, even when it must have been financially tempting.