When superheroes move to the ’burbsPersonally, I haven’t been quite as enchanted with the cutting-edge computer animation of the Pixar studio as the rest of the developed world seems to be. There’s no denying the charm of “Monsters, Inc.” and “Finding Nemo,” but there’s something about their digital nature that ultimately leaves me cold. Possibly this is because I cut my teeth on Bugs Bunny, the Road Runner and pre-Pixar Disney ―cartoons that were made the old-fashioned way, by human hands, in sweatshops.
That said, “The Incredibles” is a hoot.
Accidentally or not, the people behind this movie (the writer and director is Brad Bird, who made the terrific and little-seen animated movie “The Iron Giant”) have hit on an ingenious way to overcome the “unreal” quality of Pixar’s computer animation. They chose an unreal subject ―specifically, superheroes. This is a movie that revels in its artificiality.
The Incredibles of the title are actually the Parrs, a suburban family consisting of Bob (voiced by Craig T. Nelson), who works for an insurance company; Helen (Holly Hunter), a housewife; their insecure teenage daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell) and their feisty little boy Dash (Spencer Fox), plus Jack-Jack the baby. They seem normal (in a cartoon sense), but they have a secret: Fifteen years ago, Bob and Helen were the superheroes known as Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl.
Like all other superheroes back then, Bob and Helen had to give up the crimefighting life. Someone whose life Mr. Incredible had saved sued him for damages because he’d wound up in a neck brace; this led to a rash of lawsuits against costumed do-gooders, which put the whole profession out of business. Bob and Helen are more or less happily domestic, raising kids who’ve developed strange powers of their own.
Bob, though, is frustrated by his office job, and by not being able to rescue people anymore. One night a week, he and his ex-superhero buddy Lucius (Samuel L. Jackson) sneak out for some surreptitious heroics, like a couple of aging football stars wishing they were still bachelors. Before long, a mysterious figure offers Bob a chance to put his powers to work making real money, which leads to trouble.
“The Incredibles” is gorgeous to look at, in a prefab sort of way. There’s a jazzy 1950s retro style to the whole thing, from the blaring big-band horns in the theme music to the look of the Parrs’ house, which has the kind of architecture that was considered “space age” back around the Kennedy administration. (The baby’s name, Jack Parr, might ring a bell for anyone who remembers the TV of that period.) The attention to detail is breathtaking, from where every shadow falls to the quizzical expression on a baby’s face, and the colors are luscious and intense.
It’s a very witty movie, having lots of fun with the basic silliness of the idea of superheroes; at one point, a newspaper is shown with a photo of Mr. Incredible on the front page, and if you’re quick you notice that the shadows in his face are made up of gray dots, the kind they use to shade a daily comic strip. But most remarkable is the fact that although they can turn invisible or stretch like rubber bands, the Parrs really do act like real people ―more so than any other Pixar animated character I can remember. Maybe technology isn’t all bad.
Animation / English
by David Moll