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The Incredibles ( )
Directed by Brad Bird
Written by Brad Bird
The Incredibles
Principal Cast
Craig T. Nelson -- Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible (voice)
Holly Hunter -- Helen Parr/Elastigirl (voice)
Samuel L. Jackson -- Lucius Best/Frozone (voice)
Jason Lee -- Buddy Pine/Syndrome (voice)
Dominique Louis -- Bomb Voyage (voice)
Teddy Newton -- Newsreel Narrator (voice)
Jean Sincere -- Mrs. Hogenson (voice)
Eli Fucile -- Jack Jack Parr (voice)
Maeve Andrews -- Jack Jack Parr (voice)
Wallace Shawn -- Gilbert Huph (voice)
Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Newbert

Bob Parr: "What are you doing here?"
Boy on his tricycle: "Waiting."
Bob Parr: "For what?"
Boy on tricycle: "I don't know. For something amazing to happen, I guess."
The really incredible thing about The Incredibles is how well it holds up as a family drama, a comedy, an action film and a superhero epic -- all at the same time. In a year that has provided us with Hellboy and Spider-Man 2 (and lesser lights such as Catwoman and -- oh God, the horror -- Van Helsing), this computer animated crowd-pleaser from writer and director Brad Bird (known for his work on The Simpsons and The Iron Giant) keeps raising the stakes and meeting them, changing its tones from slapstick to irony to fairly profound psychodrama with the ease of leaping a building in a single bound. It's so flat-out entertaining -- and even moving -- that you can't walk away from it without thinking it a masterpiece of sorts. It's a welcome sucker punch to the gut of cynicism.

The basic premise is at least partly borrowed from Alan Moore's Watchmen (and Stan Lee's and Jack Kirby's The Fantastic Four): in a kind of alternate America, the nation's superheroes are forced into retirement, first by the threat of constant lawsuits, then by Congressional decree. Bob Parr (formerly Mr. Incredible) and his wife Helen (formerly ElastiGirl), thanks to the Superhero Relocation Program, are living in a kind of middle class, suburban hell. They're cramped in both their living spaces and their beings. They have three kids: the shy and retiring adolescent Violet, who can turn invisible and generate force fields to make others keep their distance; young Dash, who is super-fast, optimistic and given to mischief; and baby Jack Jack, whose powers are yet to be discovered. Working at a dead-end, soul-crushing job in the insurance industry, Bob is feeling the strain of having enormous potential and no way to express it. Helen tries her best to seem "normal," but Dash's pranks at school test her patience, as does Bob's pining for the old days when heroes were appreciated (he's moonlighting as an anonymous do-gooder). And into this angst comes Mirage, a mysterious femme fatale with a mission for Mr. Incredible: be your former superhero self to help corral a defensive weapons program gone amuck, and get paid besides. Bob can't resist.

While working for his new, reclusive employer, Bob encounters an old enemy and is taken prisoner. Helen runs to the rescue, with the kids as stowaways. Their only method of escape -- both literally and metaphorically -- is for the parents to become the superheroes they once were, and for the kids to realize how powerful they can be. The action is centered on a remote jungle island and inside a technological fortress that will remind older viewers of the James Bond epics (especially Dr. No). But while there's no end of clever action sequences and exciting set pieces -- including a very sly homage to the Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner cartoons -- the plot moves forward by motivating the characters with their love for one another and for a better world. Impressive as individuals, this family works best when it's together and wants what's best for everyone else. Brad Bird is ingenious in how he reveals the secret of the island and its criminal mastermind: it both subtly undermines Mr. Incredible's feelings of being special individually, while validating his role as a caretaker of humanity. Each member of Bob's family comes to a similar discovery on their own. In the politically charged atmosphere of our early twenty-first century, there's no denying how powerful this is. But it's never too grim or dark, and The Incredibles retains a bright sense of humour -- and the future.

The production design is beautifully inspired by Fifties art deco and Hollywood spy films, and packs an awesome charm and ingenuity -- it has the best villain's hideaway I've ever seen, and even the details in Bob and Helen's living room are interesting for their evocation of 50s America. The characters are the best three-dimensional examples of top-drawer computer artistry yet rendered, but they remain humanly appealing thanks to the excellent voice cast, the wizards at Pixar and a great sense of timing in Bird's direction. Holly Hunter and Craig T. Nelson deserve special note for their performances, as sincere as any by "real" actors this year. The movie is almost stolen by Bird himself, voicing Edna Mode, a fashion designer of superhero costumes based upon Hollywood legend Edith Head. Her monologue around the admonition of "No capes!" is already classic, and she has many of the best lines: "Supermodels, hah! Nothing 'super' about them -- stupid little stick figures with poofy lips who think only about themselves. Feh! I used to design for GODS!"

Ignore the critics who crankily tell you that this is nothing but a celebration of the egotistical impulse, and go see The Incredibles. It damn near lives up to its name.

Copyright © 2004 David Newbert

David Newbert worked for public and university libraries for several years before joining the college book trade. He lives in New Mexico, where the aliens landed.

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