Review by Dustin Putman
3 stars out of 4
It takes a fresh, imaginative, and smart computer-animated effort
like "The Incredibles"—much like the bright past features from Pixar
Animation—to call particular attention to what a snide and pseudo-hip
throwaway Dreamworks' recent "Shark Tale" was. If Pixar's oeuvre,
nearly without fail, dodges condescension and bewitches widespread
child and adult audiences through timeless storytelling, "Shark Tale"
is a flash-in-the-pan dim bulb that will be out of date in five years
and never manages the same sort of creativity.
Written and directed by Brad Bird (1999's "The Iron Giant") with a
giddy glint in his eye, "The Incredibles" is boundlessly enjoyable,
extravagant to look at, and a frequent adrenaline rush. It also happens
to be a slightly more adult-oriented film, as the typical animal/toy/creature
characters have been traded in for human figures, and the premise
itself takes a large page out of the superhero genre that older audiences
will more clearly understand and savor. Still, "The Incredibles" is
a crackerjack entertainment for almost anyone over the age of six
or so, and if it doesn't quite reach the lofty, emotionally resonant
heights of 1999's "Toy Story 2" and 2003's "Finding Nemo," it remains
the equivalent of 2001's almost-as-delightful "Monsters, Inc."
Set in a world relying on superheroes to keep the streets clean and
the cities safe, ultra-strong Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson)
and stretchable new wife Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) suddenly find themselves
out of a job when a number of lawsuits are placed against all of the
so-called "Supers" and they are forced to secretly relocate under
alias identities. Switch forward fifteen years, the Incredibles—going
by the names Bob and Helen Parr—now have a family and a comfortable
suburban lifestyle. Their two older children, shy teenage daughter
Violet (Sarah Vowell) and gleeful troublemaker Dash (Spencer Fox),
are blessed with superpowers of their own but must conceal them, while
insurance claims specialist Bob has begun to tire of his nine-to-five
job and itch for his old danger-filled life. Through the maniacal
workings of disgruntled inventor Syndrome (Jason Lee)—an archvillain
with past ties to the hero and living on a desolate, extra-security
island (are there any other kind?)—Bob and, later, his family, are
suddenly swayed back into action. Their goal: to defeat a giant, exceedingly
intelligent robot creation of Syndrome's from taking over the world.
The crowning achievement of "The Incredibles" is in nearly matching
the awe-inspiring action and all-important humanity that have made
2002's "Spider-Man" and 2004's "Spider-Man 2" pinnacles of the superhero
movie. Because the picture is animated, the limits of what can be
done in live-action have no consequence here, free to take its characters
anywhere and have them do anything without compromising the story.
And, perhaps most impressive of all, writer-director Brad Bird has
concocted the plotting of "The Incredibles" freely of his own invention
and without the reliance of comic book source material. With today's
alarming reliance on cinematic adaptations and remakes, it comes as
an invigoratingly welcome change to experience something new and inspired.
As for the computer animation, it approaches the best of its kind.
"The Incredibles" is absolutely gorgeous from a visual standpoint,
amazing in its painstaking details (pay close attention to its use
of shadows) and overall realism. Certain shots of the landscapes—the
city streets and buildings, and the look of the jungle island, for
example—could easily be mistaken for live-action footage. The animation
aids in bringing what surrounds it to life, from the thrilling opening
action set-piece, to Mr. Incredible's initial face-off with Syndrome's
robot, to the large-scale climax that takes its characters from the
island to the city to a suburban neighborhood as they fight the robot
and try to stop Syndrome.
The characters are nicely developed, too, with the Incredible family
being the heart and soul as they come together, learn to trust each
other, and find a newfound love and appreciation for each other. Also
notable is Edna "E" Mode (voiced wonderfully by director Brad Bird
and taking a page from the James Bond series' M figure), a tiny, no-nonsense
costume designer for superheroes everywhere. The rest of the voice
work is superlative, working as a unit to create real characters rather
than, like "Shark Tale," being on hand for the sole purpose of box-office
draw. Craig T. Nelson (2000's "The Skulls"), Holly Hunter (2004's
"Little Black Book"), Jason Lee (2003's "A Guy Thing"), and newcomers
Spencer Fox and Sarah Vowell are far from the biggest names Pixar
could have chosen for the parts, but they are the most apt and talented for the job.
"The Incredibles" isn't as funny or clever as "Finding Nemo," nor
as touching as "Toy Story 2," but, then, it wisely chooses to go off
in its own direction without having to copy past Pixar successes.
First and foremost, "The Incredibles" is a character-oriented fantasy-adventure,
and its action sequences are mesmerizing, taking on the appearance
of a theme park ride. Likewise, there is a truth and knowing perception
in its portrayal of a tight-knit, but dysfunctional, family who has
been forced to hide who they really are in order to blend in with
the rest of society. "The Incredibles" boasts showmanship and a real
expertise for its craft that further cements Pixar's place at the
top of today's modern animation filmmakers.
Copyright © 2004 Dustin Putman