Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Adventure Time

Film: The Incredibles
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

I love The Incredibles. Seriously, I love this film in a way that I love few others. This is going to be another review where I don’t have much (or anything) bad to say about the film in question. This is my favorite animated film without question. It’s not only a great action and adventure film, it’s not only a unique superhero film, it’s also, despite the animation and superheroing, a film that presents one of the most realistic movie families in a very long time.

If you haven’t seen this, first of all, I feel badly for you. You’re missing a film that is top tier in every genre this belongs in and you should go watch it immediately. But just in case you haven’t seen this before, a run-through of the basics is in order. We start in the past, during a heyday of superheroes. We’re introduced to some representative heroes: Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) and Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) in a newsreel interview. Shortly thereafter, we get to see Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl in action. Oh, and we also get to see them married.

But things change quickly. Mr. Incredible is sued by a man he saves from killing himself, which opens up a string of lawsuits against superheroes. Public opinion turns against them and the supers are forced to retire and blend in with the rest of society. And so, we catch up to the current Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl as Bob and Helen Parr. Bob works a dead-end insurance job and Helen raises their kids, Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dashiell (Spencer Fox), and baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile and Maeve Andrews). Violet is a loner and social misfit, Dash is a trouble maker at school, and Jack-Jack is evidently the only member of the Parr family without super powers.

Bob and his friend Lucius, who is also Frozone from the opening, spend Wednesday nights listening to the police scanner and looking for crimes to stop anonymously. One night they are followed, though, which leads to Bob being offered a surreptitious heroing job. Since he also loses his insurance job the same day, he takes it. The job is working for a shadowy government agency, at least according to Mirage (Elizabeth Pena), his contact. A top-secret robot has gotten out of control, requiring the talents of Mr. Incredible to stop it.

And here is the genius of the film. While Bob spends his time getting back into shape, he hides his job loss from Helen, who begins to suspect that he’s having an affair. Eventually Bob contacts Edna Mode (director Brad Bird), the former designer of hero outfits, to fix his suit. As he goes off for another mission to capture an improved renegade robot, Helen is contacted by Edna, leading to her discovery of Bob’s new extracurricular activities. And, best of all, he’s not working for a government agency, but has been targeted by an old enemy, which sends Helen and the two older kids into action to rescue Bob from danger.

Actually, this is best of all—that summary leaves off with a good 40 minutes to go.

The Incredibles has everything a good action film should have. There are great action sequences and fights, clever battles, chase sequences, and a culminating battle that destroys a couple of city blocks. We get to see the entire family use its powers throughout and even discover new strengths that they didn’t know they had. Both Bob and Helen change dramatically from their domestic existence at the start of the film by the time things wrap up. And, the whole thing is wildly entertaining.

The Incredibles does pretty much everything right, but it’s worth pointing out a few areas where it is exceptionally good. The first is its depiction of family life. Bob and Helen, despite having super powers, are a fairly normal couple. They bicker, they disagree, and they often want different things. Violet and Dash have a completely believable relationship as well. They actively dislike each other in public, but when Violet is threatened at one point, it’s Dash who comes to save her, risking his own life to do it. These are super powered kids, but they’re real kids, and Bob and Helen are real parents. Remove the super powers and they’re an incredibly real family.

The Incredibles is a very smart film as well. There are plenty of inside jokes here that work in the context of the film even if they aren’t fully understood by the audience. Edna Mode, one of the great Pixar comic characters, is based on Edith Head. Bad guy Syndrome (Jason Lee) was drawn to look like director Brad Bird. A great deal of the film is designed not as a superhero film, but a James Bond film. There’s a ‘60s vibe to a lot of this, including the excellent soundtrack.

It also doesn’t lose its sense of humor. Moments occur throughout the film that are genuinely funny, like Elastigirl seeing her own reflection while wearing her new costume for the first time and checking out the size of her butt in the Spandex or Bob Parr’s confrontation with his boss, Mr. Huph (Wallace Shawn).

Sure, it’s no shock that I wrote a glowing review of this. If you don’t like this, I feel sorry for you. Oh, and you should get this on disc so you can see the accompanying short, Jack-Jack Attack.

Why to watch The Incredibles: Because it’s awesome.
Why not to watch: There’s no good reason not to watch this.


  1. The moment that you know this is a Pixar film is when Helen, Violet and Dash are in the cave on the secret island. Helen tells her kids that these baddies are not like cartoon ones: they will kill you if they get the chance. Only Pixar would dare voice this in a kid's film. I still get anxious watching the plane scene as well!

    Good old Pixar, not scrimping on the emotional stakes, trusting children to keep up! And as you say, plenty of jokes that appeal to adults, but aren't the usual fare of shoe-horned references to other films.

    1. One of the things I love most about Pixar is how real their characters feel. These may be people with super powers, but they have a backstory and a history. Their relationship feels like a real one. One of my favorite family moments comes after the plane crash. Helen, Violet, and Dash are stranded in the middle of the ocean and the kids are freaking out, and to get them to calm down, Helen threatens them with being grounded for a month if they don't pull it together. It's such a parent-y moment that I buy totally.

      Pixar is also very good about exposition. They show rather than tell a lot and slip exposition in so naturally that often we don't even know it's exposition.

  2. The joke/reference I liked was to Die Hard with a Vengeance in the Frozone/Cop scene. I also liked the sly "retconning" of why the villain ALWAYS wastes time telling the hero his plan instead of just killing him: the heroes practice getting the villain "dialoging". It entered the pop culture lexicon after that and I've seen other movies/shows reference dialoging now, instead of trying to pretend that it's realistic.

    For me, the most real family moment came during and after the attack on the plane. In her fright for her children Helen yells at Violet to protect them by doing something far beyond anything Violet has ever done before, and under massively scary circumstances. When they are finally safe, Helen apologizes for doing that to her, realizing that it wasn't remotely fair, and Violet realizes her mom did it because she was so scared.

    Brad Bird did a great job with this. He also did the criminally underseen The Iron Giant (1999), and revived the Mission Impossible movie franchise after the unwatchable third movie. And it looks like a lot of people are finally going to get what they want since IMDB shows him writing the script for a 2016 Incredibles sequel.

    And I agree Jack Jack Attack is great, too. I loved the "what's the 'S' for" question and the whole adlibbed part about why it couldn't be "BS" for babysitter. And isn't Kari the best babysitter ever? I also love the next morning scene where she's got a "been there, done that" expression on her face and doesn't react at all to any of Jack Jack's changes; she just counteracts them with something she now has handy.

    1. It's hard for me to talk about favorite moments in The Incredibles because there are so many good ones. It's a strength of Pixar exemplified in this film that they know their characters really well before they write them. For instance, both Bob and Helen break into Syndrome's compound at one point. Bob does it with brute force while Helen does it with stealth and agility. There's a depth of knowledge there, of who these characters are and how they think that comes through in every frame.

      Premiere Magazine considers "You sly dog! You got me monologuing!" the 15th greatest line in movie history. That might be a little high (It's higher than "You're gonna need a bigger boat" and "These go to 11," which doesn't even make the cut), but I think it belongs on the list.

      And yes, the moment in Jack-Jack Attack when Kari is dead tired but prepared with the mirror and fire extinguisher is priceless.

    2. Agree, agree, agree. And as you'll recall, you asked me, once, to write up "23 movies that will always stick with you," a Facebook meme in which I wrote up "The Incredibles" as item #17. Pixar's best, for sure, and nearly impossible to beat.

    3. Watching it this time (for the 5th? 6th? time), I fell for it all over again. It's one of those movies I remember as great and then when watching it remember how great it really is.

  3. Easily the best superhero film ever made -- and for as good as the Marvel movies can be, I don't think it's even close. - Nolahn

  4. Great movie, my favorite Pixar film.

    You can't overpraise the soundtrack by Michael Giacchino. In the scene where Mr. Incredible infiltrates the island fortress, the music is straight up James Bond tribute and I love it. Sets the tone so incredibly well.

    There is one, and only one criticism I have about the movie.


    The "no capes" joke is really well done when Edna is talking to Mr. Incredible about his new suit. And it pays off spectacularly when Syndrome suffers cape-related catastrophe. Unfortunately, in the montage of superhero cape-related deaths, Stratogirl suffers the exact same fate. I think the Syndrome scene would have worked better and been a great surprise beat, had we not seen the same thing earlier in the movie. A little thing, but, I think, a flaw in an otherwise perfect film.

    1. I agree completely on the score. This is not only a great soundtrack, it's a great tribute to James Bond in general.

      I don't actually have an issue with the two cape-related incidents being the same. It's one of those things that I think plays better for a younger audience to see that, in a sense, history is repeating itself. Also, with the first one, we don't actually see what happens--she just gets pulled off the screen. We see quite a bit more with the second incident that essentially shows what really could happen in that situation.

      So we'll disagree on that, but it's little more than a quibble either way.

    2. I agree that it's just a quibble. It's one of those film choices that I imagine they actually discussed back and forth. In the end they decided to do it that way, I would have gone the other way.

    3. Actually, even though they didn't show anything graphic, I was bothered a little bit by the fact that they showed a hero essentially getting sucked into a jet engine, and especially as a throwaway joke.

    4. Didn't bother me much. It's a verisimilitude thing for me, 'cause you've got to imagine that if supers were real, that would happen at least once.

  5. Chip, that's one of the great things about the movie. They understand that Superheroing is a violent, deadly occupation and they don't sugarcoat it.

    Of course, the real hero of the movie is the awesome Gazer Beam. Without his sacrifice, Syndrome wins.