In a word, this family is ‘Incredible’
“Animation is not a genre, it’s a medium.” So aptly declares director Brad Bird, whose latest film “The Incredibles” proves the point better than any animated film in recent memory. Those expecting just another superbly crafted Pixar film that kids will love and their parents won’t mind may be surprised by the mature tone in a film that runs the gamut of genres — comedy, action and drama — and actually might entertain adults more than kids.
Those familiar with Bird’s previous work, “Iron Giant,” will no doubt recognize the talented director’s knack for addressing serious themes combined with a Japanese anime influenced visual approach. With a bigger budget at his disposal, Bird set out to make a film that was state-of-the-art visually but whose characters and messages never relied on animation. Indeed there are times when the viewer will forget the film is computer generated, a testament to a magnificently written screenplay as much as to the eye-popping realism of the animation.
And what a great idea for a story! Known to all as Mr. Incredible, Bob Parr (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) used to be one of the world’s great superheroes, fighting crime, saving lives. You know the drill. But once people began filing lawsuits the superheroes of the world were forced to keep their powers and their costumes in the closet.
Bob and his wife, the former Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), try to make their superhero-less lifestyle work in less than thrilling suburbia. But Bob and his super buddy Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) try to recapture a little of the glory days by surreptitiously listening to a police scanner and performing mini acts of heroism in their spare time.
Bob’s dull life — he’s stuck clock punching in cubicle hell for an insurance firm — creates tension at home. Son Dash (Spencer Fox) has to keep his superhuman speed abilities under wraps and shy daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell) can only use her disappearing powers to hide from a boy she admires from afar.
The family dynamics are wonderfully developed as Bob jumps at the chance to assuage his mid-life crisis and ever-widening girth by accepting an offer to use his superpowers. The catch: He has to keep the top-secret mission that way from his family.
For much of the middle section of the “The Incredibles” the story is a brilliantly orchestrated sendup of James Bond and “Spy Kids” movies with plenty of its own nuances. The trick that Bird turns here so marvelously is never relying on derivation (think “Shrek”) to get the laugh, but rather to use familiar influences as backdrops and then create characters and plot turns that imbue “The Incredibles” with a sense of invigorating freshness and style.
About the only complaint is the length of almost two hours that may tax the patience of toddlers. But it is exactly in those stretches where the movie slows down its high speed action sequences that it moves forward. When “The Incredibles” focuses on the quirky and highly human dynamics of its characters it elevates to a plateau of its own among animated movies.
Truth be told, few films have the depth, warmth, humor and excitement that this film brings — animated or otherwise.
Rated PG for cartoon violence.