2004, US, Directed by Brad Bird
Animation, Running Time: 111 minutes
DVD, Region 2, Disney, Video: Anamorphic 2.40:1, Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 EX
Like Tim Burton Brad Bird spent a small initiation period into the film world with Disney reportedly doing some work on The Fox and The Hound, and later on becoming consultant on such intuitive TV series as The Simpsons and King of the Hill. He established himself as a smart creative force in animation and this was compounded when he took up his feature-length directorial debut for Warner Bros., The Iron Giant, the enjoyably old fashioned animated tale of an alien robot that befriends an earthbound boy. Becoming mates with John Lasseter back in the California Arts Institute days it was probably destiny that they should end up working together under the Pixar banner at some point, thus eventually Lasseter asked Bird to come over and shake up the company’s well earned complacency a bit and The Incredibles was born. Executive produced by Lasseter, the film was written from ideas going back several years and directed by Bird (who also voices the fashion designer Edna), ultimately to possibly revive belief that Pixar are world leaders when it comes to 3D computer animation. Following an introduction where we learn that superheroes became victimised by the public years previously (people suing them for rescues that resulted in injuries, etc.; actually quite believable these days!) and pushed into hiding as ‘normal’ citizens, the story focuses on one particular family - the Parrs - who’ve taken up roles in society as any other average family might: getting jobs, rearing offspring, contributing to governmental wealth, etc. Father/husband Bob Parr is clearly unhappy with his mundane existence and yearns for the old days of ‘saving the world’ so much that he and old hero pal Frozone (think Ice Man) actually go out weekly wearing masks to save people from fires, etc. When Bob gets the opportunity to work as a real superhero - his old alter-ego Mr Incredible - for what appears to be a secret organisation he jumps at the chance. After being fired from his office job he’s able to slip out pretending to go to work without his wife catching on… for a while. But when he’s captured by an old nemesis (actually a pseudo boy hero who he snubbed years before) his wife is forced to take up her old role as Elastigirl to rescue him, along with the two children who’ve tagged along, themselves boasting some useful powers.
Watching The Incredibles you’re confronted with a relentless barrage of brilliant ideas, from the script’s dialogue to visual design to technical wizardry. The main concept is something that most working class people (with a brain) can relate to as they plod along maintaining a life of mediocrity with no means of escaping to something better. Bob Parr/Mr Incredible feels like this: he’s an exceptional person who’s been forced to retreat into a secret life of normality where standing out from the crowd is no longer a possibility thanks to the persecutions perpetrated by the narrow-minded public years before. His wife has been forced into the same retreat but she’s managed to accept her fate, probably as a result of producing offspring and having her maternal instincts satisfied, but each day she battles to prevent her children, genetically inclined towards super-heroism, from exhibiting their powers and using them to their (or anybody else’s) advantage. Thus most of the family are really in conflict with themselves, on one hand attempting to lead a life outlined as acceptable by others, on the other fighting to hold back talents that overwhelmingly threaten others in the sense that they might realise there’s someone else actually ‘better’ than they are (even though the heroes want to use their talents for the benefit of those that feel threatened). I suppose in some respects there are elements of The X Men in there as superhumans are forced into hiding, but where the film excels is in creating characters that we can identify with and, perhaps more importantly, sympathise with. I think this is where The Incredibles also helped to shake up Pixar a little - a relationship between the viewer and the characters is cemented much more so than their preceding film, though a commercial hit, Finding Nemo, plus the 2004 movie comes across as something less aimed at children specifically. While Pixar had managed to attain consistent quality they were in danger of falling into the same trap that Disney did - becoming formulaic and playing it safe (this probably not being helped by forming distribution partnerships with the granddaddy of feature film animation). In light of that, The Incredibles is just what Pixar needed. It’s worth pointing out also that the vocal providers on this film don’t seem to swamp the production with their larger than life personalities as they so often do on today’s bigger budget animation features - I remember seeing a poster for Shrek (if I remember correctly) years ago where the names of the primary actors were actually larger than the title of the film itself. On a technical level it goes without saying that the film is close to perfection, exhibiting animation qualities of a world class standard. The models are simple but attractive designs whilst the overall appearance suggests a stylistic yet realistic approach that works superbly on aesthetic as well as practical levels. Despite revolutionary 3D animation The Incredibles most importantly functions as a comedy, an introspective drama, an action movie, and a great story. Brad Bird’s already got an ego the size of Hollywood Hills but there’s no denying his innate brilliance as a film-maker.
Supplied on DVD with reference quality presentation you’ll enjoy a detailed, perfectly coloured image combined with amazingly aggressive sound guaranteed to give your home cinema system a workout while putting your friend’s smiles on the other side of their heads. There’s a fairly comprehensive array of extras including a couple of short films, one of which details the story of the Parr baby after the rest of his family head off to save Mr Incredible. Over an hour of documentary material gives good insight into the animation process without becoming boring whether you’re familiar with it or not, though I think I could only stand putting up working next to some of Pixar’s zany employees for a few hours without resorting to homicide or unemployment. One of the greatest animation films of all time receives fantastic treatment on DVD and should be picked up by just about anybody.