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Square jaw-dropping
A film review of THE INCREDIBLES by Camus

My favourite bit? You know, the bit when she gets stuck in three doors? The bit when the baby's taken into the air! The bit when he loses his temper with his boss, oh, and the car? The bit when the missiles hit? The bit where the boy comes second? The bit when… I could go on all day. I just wished the movie had too. Watching The Incredibles was like opening Christmas presents, the next sequence more grand than the one before.

It’s well known by now that Pixar, the most successful movie company in history (on the number of movies made, amount of money made basis) has knocked another one out of the park (to use an American baseball metaphor). There was one whinge from Newsweek (over a line of dialogue that warns children that in today’s climate they too are targets and after Beslan, that really hit home) but from the rest of the press, praise and hosannas. I can only add to the tidal wave of biased journalism, another water droplet in a wall of water. Pixar are as gods - but (a big but, a little like Elastogirl’s) I am not praising the obvious. The medium of CGI has been well lambasted not least by your humble narrator on this site. But the brilliance of the animation, the clarity of pixel power, the dizzyingly colourful milieu doesn’t hold a candle to what Pixar does best, what is so lacking in Hollywood's output in recent years.

Pixar and all of its super-human parts are primarily STORY-TELLERS. They tell stories like no other company out there right now. And they presume intelligence and acute observational powers from an audience. They reward us with detail undreamt of in any blockbuster screenplay meeting. I can't imagine having a conversation with any of these storytellers without there being a camp fire burning. They signpost and pay off like no one else and just when you know (you are certain) the story is going either down road one or two or… all the way to nine hundred and ninety nine, they shift gears and warp factor down road one thousand. Flying. Supersonic. With knobs, bells and whistles on. It's joyous.

Writer and director, Brad Bird, is something of a hero himself to those who love outsiders. Despite his enormous popularity, Homer Simpson can be regarded as such for the simple cumulative mass of quality ideas and laughs that oafish idiot has generated. Bird was on The Simpsons for ten years, He also adapted Ted Hughes' The Iron Giant for traditional cell animation (I believe the giant was CG). That movie was a marvel and critically lauded but for some reason, it made little impact on the box office. Its similarities to the essential ambience of The Incredibles are marked. Bird seems to riff off the cosy Tupperwarean idyll that America believed it was in the fifties. It's a rich vein. I would argue that if Disney is to be saved, then it's the sequel rights it has on Pixar's movies that will be the rescuer - as long as they can get Pixar to make the sequels but alas. Steve Jobs (Pixar) and Michael Eisner (Disney) do not see eye to eye (I think Steve's taller) and Pixar are now looking for potential suitors. I can't imagine a dearth of offers, can you? Disney's cell animation is first rate. Its storytelling blows goats. "Hey!" exhorts a Disney executive creative consulting associate producer at a power lunch. "Let's tell the story of the three bovines in western times and a rustler who yodels!" Home on the Range anyone? Holy cow.

If you locked Marvel’s Stan Lee and Watchmen’s Alan Moore in a phone booth, you might just end up with the storyline of The Incredibles. It's The Fantastic Four, nudged to the side, living in the world of super heroes gone civilian. This is to take nothing from Bird's achievement. But it's important to note that the elements Bird is juggling are well known. Perhaps that makes his movie more laudable. So, in brief; a super strong Mr. Incredible and his buddy Frozone are keeping the city safe until a suicidal swan diver accuses the big lug of 'ruining his death'. Lawsuits pile up like chins on Uncle Monty. Mr. Incredible (or Bob Parr) and his family have to go undercover and disavow their super-past. A super villain tempts Bob out of retirement, his aim to slaughter all super heroes so he alone can save the city from robotic dreadnoughts of his own making.

And guess what? The movie is not about super heroes, super feats and super powers. It's about family. It's about being true to yourself within the confines of a compromise (that's another word for marriage). Yes, the humour runs through it like Dash over the ocean but the warmth of the relationship between the married couple is what gives the film bite, poignancy and caritas. You care big time. When the husband and wife kiss (I mean it’s CG!) it's really touching even though they are not (to be literal for just a moment).

The voice talent is pitch perfect, with Bird himself taking on Edna, an Edina Monsoon-like, and shrew costume designer with a voice that is a subtle reworking of Rosa Klebb from From Russia With Love. Craig T. Nelson (the patriarch of the Poltergeist movies) gives Bob dignity and at one point, his delivery of "I'm not strong enough," roused a mega-lump in the throat. I could happily listen to Holly Hunter until Disney's cows came home. Her barks as a lowly police officer in Raising Arizona, "Turn to the right…" still make me smile. She makes Elastogirl the central core of the family. That honey-rich southern accent (I dumbly thought in my youth) should surely have been a stumbling block to an actor but someone with this much talent? You write a southern character to have her in your movie! Presto. Frozone, the freeze-powered super hero, is voiced by Samuel L. Jackson. I could not help but think of his turn in Deep Blue Sea ("You should see ice!") and there's a direct scene quote from Die Hard With a Vengeance. Brad is obviously a fan. Who wouldn't be but I do wish Sam wouldn't do adverts for banks… That’s not cool even though the money 'earned' would probably pay for his children's education.

As an aside - and I may have misread this as I’ve seen it only the once. There is a moment when Mr. Incredible as Bob Parr returns to his house and outside the kitchen (coming in through the back door) he waits before coming in. He waits. In a movie that moves faster than technology itself, he waits. I wondered for a while thinking this a small detail, or a glitch that could have easily been excised. Then it hit me (as I say I may have misread this). He was looking for his keys. You have to love him for that, a CG character more human than human.

The running time was also a jaw dropper. That movie was two hours long? Most animated movies struggle to reach the ninety minute mark but The Incredibles could have sailed past two hours and I honestly (a) wouldn't have noticed and (b) wouldn't have cared. I'm off to see it again in four days and as odd as this sounds I'm really looking forward to it. Again. And on DVD? Again and again and again.

The Incredibles

USA 2004
121 mins
Brad Bird
John Walker
Brad Bird
Stephen Schaffer
Michael Giacchino
production design
Lou Romano
Craig T. Nelson
Holly Hunter
Samuel L. Jackson
Jason Lee
Dominique Louis
review posted
25 October 2004