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The Incredibles Is Incredible

review by matthew webber

In blurb-speak, the latest Pixar/Disney film is perhaps "Pixar's best yet!" "The most fun you'll have at the movies all year!" and "Fighting the crime of inferior cartoons!" Or how about, "Fun, funny, clever, witty, thrilling, fast-paced, exciting, daring, edge-of-your-seat action-packed, awesome, wicked awesome!" (All this high-octane verbiage, and I'm not even out of the first paragraph!) The Incredibles is a kid's movie for the kid in all of us, especially the little boy in all of us, and it works because it's not made for (read: dumbed down for) kids. From the opening credits to the closing credits (including the credits themselves), this movie deserves such a gushing: Those Pixar guys are geniuses!


In The Incredibles, Mr. Incredible, his wife Elastigirl, and their three children are living nondescript suburban lives (as if there are any other kinds in modern American cinema) in the superhero-protection program. Superpowers were outlawed years ago after Mr. Incredible and other costumed superheroes caused too much property damage and were sued too often as a result of their trying to save the world. Now, the Incredible children merely use their powers to quarrel with each other, and the parents, when they aren't quarreling with themselves, use their powers to separate the children.

Of course, this Captain American Beauty-lifestyle leads to questions of conformity; and the traditional, Disney-approved message that the characters and the film itself espouse is that being different is special, is super. So, as the narrative progresses, the Incredibles resume fighting the good fight against bad guys - but more so, they fight against sameness.

In doing so, the characters and animators distinguish the movie from any big-budget Hollywood cartoon you've ever seen. Mr. Incredible is bored at his insurance job, and he yearns to wear the tights again. A secret message from a beautiful, exotic, smoky-voiced woman all too easily draws him to a secret island - and trouble. Elastigirl would rather forget the past than relive it, and she thinks her husband is cheating on her on his little vacations.

In the meantime, the Pixar guys obviously had a blast with their explosions and chase scenes, making this more of an action movie than a wholesome family entertainment, which it also, quite firmly, is. The sometimes-dark violence, which is not played for laughs, aligns this film more closely with recent live-action, comic-book adaptations, especially the almost-cartoonish Spider-Man films, than with recent Disney cartoons featuring animals and songs. Home on the Range this is not. It is probably most similar to M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable or the Alan Moore graphic novel Watchmen, two works that portray the burdens of being caped.

What Pixar has done, yet again, is create a cartoon that is somehow more than a cartoon. Through the magic of computers, they have drawn an intricate world of textures, facial expressions, and actions that are somehow more empathetic because of their cartoonishness, and more universal because they aren't so specific.

The goal of any Pixar film isn't technical acuity, although I suspect they could craft almost anything they liked in Renaissance-era detail. Their goal is to tell a story, and the fact that they are telling their story through a cartoon allows them to have more fun with it. Instead of being grounded in reality like a regular feature film, a cartoon can supersede reality. The further away from reality a cartoon is - i.e., the more cartoonish it is - the more a cartoonist can let the audience project their own experiences onto the characters and into the plot. The fact that I'm trying to combine my studying of works like Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics with my own childish enjoyment of one of the best films I've seen all year, I hope helps explain my excited mumbo jumbo.

The point is, Pixar might be the most successful movie studio of the past half-decade, and I, like the critics who have praised every one of their films and the millions of people who have seen the Toy Story movies, A Bug's Life, Monsters, Inc., and Finding Nemo in theaters and bought them on DVD, am a fan, no matter how skeptically I enter any movie.

Pixar isn't as concerned with blinding you with their animation science (although they certainly do it; watch how these characters zip and dash!) as they are with connecting with you on a human level, something Pete Docter, the director of Monsters, Inc. himself, once told me.

One of my favorite scenes in The Incredibles is when Elastigirl spies herself with her new tights on in a mirror and sighs because her hips look too big in them. Even though she's a cartoon, she has a real, human moment, which is more than you can say for many real-life actors. In a word, The Incredibles is incredible.

Issue 28, November 2004

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