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The Incredibles (2004)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

“Exploiting every loophole! Dodging every obstacle! They're penetrating the bureaucracy!”

No, this film does not primarily concern itself with “penetrating bureaucracy,” but that does come into it. I thought that quote would make a better “grabber” than most of the standard taglines. Primarily, this movie's themes center on individualism, in a very pure form. The film addresses a trend in the modern world to institutionalize, bureaucratize – and thereby make mediocre – the exceptional. The protagonists wish to “do good,” but others – the envious, lawyers, politicians, bureaucrats, corpocrats – keep them from that purpose often to the detriment of all.

The total animation of this film – no mixing with live action – excels in creating a believable and dramatic, but not truly realistic look. Of course, that means all actors listed provide only their voices to the finished product. However, from accounts, their participation did have an influence on the visual characterization provided by the animators.

After the Disney and Pixar logos, the movie begins with “historical footage” of an interview with Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) and Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson), starting with discussion of “secret identities.” Their consensus: all super-heroes have one. The discussion moves to what they'd like for their future. Mr. Incredible talks about the “simple life,” while what Elastigirl expresses seems to indicate more attraction to the super-hero lifestyle.

The “interview” fades and with a burst of dramatic music the focus changes quickly to the movie's logo, which changes into a police siren. A street scene shows a gunman eluding police and firing a submachine gun at them as they pursue. The scene switches to Mr. Incredible's alter ego: Bob Parr, wearing a tuxedo and driving a car sized appropriately for his large superhero frame. He listens to the radio which carries an account of the “high speed pursuit between police and armed gunmen.” He adjusts his radio, which becomes an interactive screen mapping both his position and the events described on the radio. He says to himself: “Yeah, I've got time.” As he changes the car's mode of operation to “auto drive,” it also begins the process of suiting him up -- changing his clothes from the tux to his “super suit.” In addition, the car transforms itself into  something which looks and works more like a “super car” then goes zooming off in pursuit. After he rescues an old woman's cat from a tree and captures the gunmen, he overhears a police radio and says “I've still got time.”

Re-entering his car he discovers a smaller but somewhat similarly outfitted character who claims to be “Incrediboy.” He identifies “Incrediboy” as Buddy Pine (Jason Lee) from a “fan club.” Mr. Incredible tells Buddy this is too much and ejects him from the car speeding off to the next event. At that scene, in addition to a purse snatcher, he finds Elastigirl, who takes out the thief before he can. They banter about gender issues before she leaves. Frozone passes by asking if Mr. Incredible should be getting ready, he again says: “I've still got time.” Turning around he sees a man jump from a building. Leaping across a wide gap he grabs the jumper and they both crash through a window into a bank building where he begins to foil a robbery in progress, before being “helped” by “Incrediboy.” His efforts with “Incrediboy” produce adverse effects which involve Mr. Incredible in a train wreck and saving the train's occupants.

He notices the time. His car drives up. When Bob Parr arrives at a church, again in his tuxedo, Frozone's alter ego: Lucius Best, tells him: “You're very late.” Parr approaches the altar. There he meets Elastigirl's alter ego (pun intended): Helen, and a clergyman. Bob and Helen marry. However, instead of “happily ever after,” the suicide jumper and train occupants sue Mr. Incredible. Other people join in by filing lawsuits against other “supers.” “The government” steps in with a legal immunity guarantee and relocation program which -- in exchange for amnesty from lawsuits -- requires all superheroes to stop their heroic activity.

The scene changes to 15 years later with Bob Parr working as a claims adjuster for a large insurance company. He denies an old woman's claim, but also quietly informs her how to navigate around that denial. Because of such actions, he eventually loses his job. Mr. Incredible has apparently gotten his wish -- about living a “simple” life -- from the “interview” at the beginning of the movie. That life also seems to mean driving a tiny car and acquiring a “spare tire.” In addition, he and Helen have three children: Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (Spencer Fox) and Jack Jack (Eli Fucile & Maeve Andrews). However, when his family thinks he goes bowling, he actually moonlights doing “heroic work” with Lucius. While out with Lucius one evening Mirage (Elizabeth Peña) spots him and later recruits him for a “secret government program.” That much introduces all the major characters but one: Edna Mode, a fashion designer who creates “super suits,” voiced by writer / director Brad Bird.

Although he wears a quite different outfit and probably has a higher IQ, Mr. Incredible reminds me a little of The Tick in his general configuration (especially chin size). He seems “nigh invulnerable” but can't fly. He also does a fair amount of prodigious leaping about, sometimes on rooftops. However, the themes of this film differ in many details from those of that often hilarious animated former TV series. When first starting the DVD of this movie one cannot help but notice the heightened sense of excitement and drama which pervades the music and style of animation. 

Like The Tick in another way, this animated feature appeals to adults as well as children. The themes, dialog, and characters all reflect mainly adult concerns presented in a way that remains suitable for family viewing. In addition to the film's celebration of individuality, it also subtly expresses plenty of skepticism about the efficacy of the State, its corporate allies and other anti-individualistic agents in the modern world. If you often feel the stifling effects of mainstream society's desire to level individuals, if you'd like to see a dynamic animated film of individuals developing their special talents, or if you merely like good superhero cartoons; then I think you'll enjoy The Incredibles.

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