Oddly enough, even though I’m a big fan of darker, more surreal movies, I’m a huge Disney fan. I know they’re full of weird messages, hokey morals and countless other flaws, but Disney is still a huge source of entertainment for me. They’re one of the most important companies in animation, telling very basic and classic stories, but done with such perfection, that it’s hard not to like them. And one of my favorite things about Disney, especially in the last few years, is Pixar. With the obvious exception of the Cars movies (hands down the worst Disney movies I’ve ever seen), I love all of the Pixar movies. They’re groundbreaking with their technology, but also are providing Disney with some of their best stories and characters of their cannon. All of their movies are terrific, and are among my favorite movies, but of them all, the definite winner for me is the Incredibles. This movie is a perfect hodgepodge of some of my favorite genres and tropes in movies. Not only is it a tremendous super hero movie, it also manages to bring in settings and atmospheres of James Bond movies and even noir (a trend among my favorite movies, I know). It’s just a brilliant, well written, acted, and animated movie.
The plot of the movie revolves around the Parr family. It starts off in a glory day of superheroes, a time when they were free to run around in their colorful personalities, stopping crime and helping the people. Bob Parr, better known as Mister Incredible is a popular hero, with superhero strength and endurance, and he’s off to stop a supervillain before his wedding to Elastigirl, Helen Parr, who has an elastic body. But along the way he’s harassed by a young boy named Buddy, a boy genius who has created technological gadgets so he can be a superhero too. Bob tried to get rid of Buddy, but he shows up again after Bob attempts to save a man from committing suicide, and ends up stopping a supervillain. The story then shows how the man who Mr. Incredible saved ends up suing him, opening the gates for countless lawsuits among several superheroes, which causes the government to enforce a ban on all superheroes. From here we go to the Parr family, years after the ban, trying their best to be normal. Bob has a soulcrushing insurance job, and Helen is a stay at home mom, keeping control of the three kids, Violet, who can turn invisible and create forcefields, Dash, who has super speed, and Jack-Jack, who appears not to have powers. It turns out that Bob and his old friend Lucius, who used to be known as Frozone, a superhero with ice powers, secretly go around the town, solving crime. It’s on one of these trips that Bob catches the attention of a mysterious woman named Mirage, who contacts him with an offer to help her and use his powers. Bob loses his temper at work, and reveals his powers, leading him to lose his job, so he takes Mirage up on her offer, heading to a secret island base of a scientist, whose new robotic warmachine has gotten loose. Bob fights the robot, finding that it’s own weapons are the only thing strong enough to break it. Bob begins regularly helping Mirage on her island, which in turn causes him to go to an old friend named Edna Mode to make a new suit for him, leading her to create suits for the entire family. Helen begins to fear that Bob is having an affair, and when he heads off for another trip to the island, he’s alarmed to find the warmachine back in function, and finally meets the owner of the island. It’s Buddy, the kid whose dreams Bob once crushed, now a brilliant billionaire inventor who calls himself Syndrome.
Syndrome reveals to Bob that his plan is to create a warmachine that he can control, attack a major city, and then save it with his technological powers, becoming the only superhero. He then uses his technology to try and kill Bob, who fakes his death to get away from Syndrome. While sneaking around the island, Bob comes across Syndrome’s master computer, and after using a password he found left by a previous superhero that had been killed on the island, finds out that Syndrome has killed countless other superheroes, but still doesn’t know the identity of Helen. He’s then captured by Syndromes men, and imprisoned. At the same time, Helen goes to find Edna, convinced that she knows what Bob is up to, finally finding the new suits Edna has made for her and the kids. She goes after Bob, taking a plane from a friend, while Dash and Violet stow away. But when the family gets to the island, Syndrome has the plane shot down, and the family barely survives. After running around the island, the family is finally captured, and all are together again. Syndrome gives another speech, and heads off with the warmachine to begin his plan. The family escapes with the help of Mirage, and make it back to the city in time to stop the warmachine from destroying the city, with no help from Syndrome, and they’re welcomed as heroes. As a last effort to attack the family, Syndrome attempts to abduct Jack Jack, but as he’s taking the boy to his plane, Jack Jack’s powers manifest in the form matter manipulation, becoming a variety of forms, causing Syndrome to lose control, and be sucked into the jet of his plane, killing him and leaving the family alive and well, ready to find a balance between being a normal family, and a super family.
This movie is just fantastic. I’ve heard that parody movies often become the best example of whatever it is they’re parodying, and that the Incredibles is destined to be one of the best superhero movies ever made. It’s not based directly on any previous characters, but draws from countless, creating a world that stands on the shoulders of comics, becoming it’s own entity. The movie takes so many tropes of the superhero genre, and gives them a refreshing light. The inventive characters, and the way they interact with their world is fantastic. I also love that the movie takes some plot points oddly enough from one of the greatest superhero works of all time, Alan Moore’s Watchmen. The idea of the legal ban on superheroes comes straight from Watchmen, but so does the movie’s fear of capes. A character in Watchmen is slain after getting his cape caught in a door, and Edna’s insistence on no capes, and Syndrome’s graphic death, seem to be nods at this concept. Edna herself is a very interesting character, it’s amazing to see the person who makes these characters suits, the costumes that harness their powers and help them survive. But my favorite thing about this movie, is the themes that it explores. I’ve seen several superhero movies and stories struggle with the idea of letting go of one’s super identity, the need to become normal, and the draw that being a superhero has on someone. I’ve also seen plots about the dynamics of super hero groups. But I’ve never seen anything like the Incredibles, where they not only examine the dynamics of a realistic family, but a family with superpowers, who must always hide themselves away. This movie has some pretty adult themes for a Disney movie. You have family adversity, such as Helen and Bob drifting apart, and Helen assuming that Bob is having an affair. You get all the death and violence that comes with being a superhero, but thrown at expecting children. It all just comes together to oddly create one of the most realistic, and fantastical, families ever brought to life in a movie.
One of the driving forces behind this movie, in my opinion, is writer/director Brad Bird. Brad got most of his experience in animation from being a director and writer on The Simpsons, and later going on to create the traditionally animated film the Iron Giant. The Incredibles is his first film with Disney, but he later went on to make the popular Ratatoille. Bird’s just got a very quick, dry sense of humor, and a great sense of making drama in a “kids” movie. The plots he creates are acceptable for all ages, possibly even more pointed at adults. He brings in a variety of influences, creating a movie world, wholly original. I love the design of the characters, and the locations. Once the family members are sneaking around Syndrome’s island, it becomes almost like a James Bond movie, the lighting, henchmen, and look of it all really brings to mind the Sean Connery films of the 60’s. The glory days of superheroes in the beginning reminds me of Brazil in a way, a period that clearly seems to be in the present, but filled with anachronistic clothing and objects that make it hard to pin down an exact time period, creating this weird combination of generation that I love in movies. This could be happening whenever.
I also love just how much research must have gone into this movie. It’s clear that the people behind this movie know superheroes perfectly. The movie isn’t quite a parody, becoming something more like a loving homage. It points out ridiculous element in comics, then revels in them. Scenes like Syndrome admitting that Bob caught him “monologing,” and the whole debacle around capes are priceless, and really witty examinations of the comic world. The acting in this movie is terrific as well, Craig T Nelson and Holly Hunter are great as the parental figures in the movie, really giving amazing performances as both the parents, and the struggling spouses. Sarah Vowell and Spencer Fox really breath life into the Parr kids, making them believable, and able to garner a lot of sympathy. But the real scene stealer is Jason Lee as Syndrome. Lee’s an admitted comic fan, and seems to love his role as the diabolical villain. He’s so slimy and loveable at the same time, it’s so clear the Lee’s having the time of his life voicing this character. And of course it’s a little surreal to actually hear Samuel L Jackson’s voice in a Disney movie…
The Incredibles was directed by Brad Bird, Written by Brad Bird, and produced by Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios.
Categories: Reel Talk