Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Review: "The Incredibles" (2004)

For me, "Intolerable Cruelty" was an earth shattering film, and not in a good way. Up to that point, I believed the Coen brothers could truly do no wrong. Up to that point, their track record contained a series of films that were individually intelligent, unique and entertaining. "Intolerable Cruelty" was a total misfire, and so the Coen's winning streak, for me anyway, has been broken. So, is there any other creative force out there in moviemaking who has been consistently brilliant? To that I say, thank the heavens for Pixar.

"The Incredibles", Pixar's sixth full length feature film, tells the story of Bob Parr (aka Mr. Incredible). In a world with it's fair share of superheroes, he's the king of them all. However, due to lawsuits filed by disgruntled citizens whose lives they have saved, all the superheroes are forced to go into a government relocation program and forbidden to ever again use their powers in public. Bob is now married to Helen (aka Elastigirl) and has three children: Dash, Violet and baby Jack Jack. Though he loves his family, he is bored with his mundane insurance job and secretly yearns for the excitement of the good old days. When an opportunity comes along to covertly be a superhero again, he jumps at the chance. But his new employer has hidden motives that soon draw his family out of hiding and into action.

This film is absolutely perfect, and Pixar has once again achieved the Herculean task of topping themselves since their last time out. Instead of me drooling over every square inch of celluloid on the screen, let me just hit some of the more striking points.

As you can see with the car chase/machine gun battle five minutes in, there is a reason that this is the first Pixar film to be rated PG. Whereas their previous films were mostly comedy with some action thrown in, this film can easily be said to be 50/50. An example of how intense the film can get can be seen when Helen, Dash and Violet are violently propelled from an exploding plane. There are a few seconds where the kids are in freefall and they scream in terror. This isn't a comic scream, this is a scream of two young characters falling at an amazing speed towards the ocean and, they think, their death. There are adult horror movies that are afraid to put child characters in peril, so I tip my hat to the filmmakers for their boldness.

The numerous action scenes featured throughout the film are thrilling and inventive. One of them, involving Elastigirl, several automatic doors and about a half dozen guards, would do Jackie Chan proud. There is also a chase sequence involving Dash and a number of guards in flying contraptions that proves, if nothing else, that the animators really enjoyed the speeder bike scenes in "Return of the Jedi". This is probably the only sequence that goes on longer than it should, but it's still better than most action movies you'll ever see.

This is the first Pixar film to deal with human characters as the main protagonists. Although the technology has advanced since the first "Toy Story", truly realistic humans are still a ways off. Animators know this, so they design the major human characters to be eye catching and distinctive. Bob's boss, who is voiced by Wallace "Inconceivable" Shawn, is a ridiculously short, pale, middle manager type with a bad combover. He's not in the least a realistic human, but he is detailed and convincing enough in voice and mannerisms that we accept the character.

What animators can't do in creating realistic looking humans they compensate with through visual tricks that echo our reality. In the first "Toy Story" film, Andy enters a closet wearing one costume and exits wearing another. The static shot of the door changes ever so slightly as it would if a film camera stops and starts. Obviously, this is not an issue with CGI, but they put the effect in anyway to subconsciously trick viewers brains into seeing the film differently. Similarly, there is a scene at a dinner table in "The Incredibles" where Helen is sharply detailed in the foreground while Dash is farther back and blurry. Again, this kind of focus problem isn't an issue with CGI, but they do it anyway. These tiniest of touches do wonders for suspending the disbelief of audiences.

The voice work is all around grand. Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter do touching work with Bob and Helen. Samuel L. Jackson is fantastic as Frozone, though I would have been happier with more of him on the screen. Perhaps most interesting is how, for the second film in a row, the director of a Pixar film has given their own voice to one of the most interesting characters. In "Finding Nemo", director Andrew Stanton voiced Crush, the surfer dude sea turtle. For "The Incredibles", director Brad Bird lends his voice to Edna Mode, the fashion designer/scientist that designs and makes all of the superhero costumes. Edna improves every scene she's in (not that they needed improving). Oh, and for those of you wondering out there, there is the obligatory John Ratzenberger appearance (just wait until the very end).

I can't say enough for this film. Pixar is creating a film cannon that will last for decades to come and we are all fortunate for it. The best way we can repay them is...pay them. See these artistic and technological wonders on the big screen as they should be seen. This is what movies are all about.

Ten out of Ten

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