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Weekly Musings #21 - An Incredibles Review
Author: Michael Ahlf 
Date: November 8th 2004

Pixar Studios - once the bastard child of George Lucas, cast off in favor of CG editing in live-action films - is an amazing bunch. In a few short years they've taken us from the humble beginnings of Toy Story, through Monsters, Inc, past Finding Nemo, and now on to The Incredibles.

I have to say this: after Monsters, Inc I didn't think that Pixar could top themselves. Then they kicked out Finding Nemo, and I had to revise my expectations up again.

The Incredibles is yet another feather in their cap. And the trailer for their next one, Cars, is equally superb - showing signs of influence or similarities with Wallace & Gromit, but superb nonetheless. In fact, since this is the first movie they've done where the entire cast was human, I'd say it's more impressive than Nemo or Monsters Inc on that score alone. It's one thing to anthropomorphize nonhuman creatures/objects, as they did so wonderfully in the short Luxo Jr; it's quite another to make your characters human, and find that perfect balance of caricature that they're likeable and well-acted while not tripping into the Uncanny Valley like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and The Polar Express did. (And yes, I'm basing that comment on the trailer for Polar Express: the conductor is just CREEPY).

This is not going to be a spoiler-free review. I can't do that, and do justice to it. If you want the short version, here it is: Go See This Movie.

There. All settled? Good.

Like all Pixar movies, this one's got a short in front of it. It's perhaps not their best short ever - I can't really say that Boundin' is the equal of Geri's Game, or For the Birds. Still, it's a nice, funny tale and it sets up The Incredibles perfectly. Nothing like laughing at a shorn sheep with buck teeth to set the mood.

The movie starts off as a strange reality show vision, even to the point of frames being in the cut-down 4:3 film ratio rather than fullscreen. Mr. Incredible ranting on camera about how he'd like the world to stay saved for maybe just a little while after he saves it, Frozone commenting on how women want to tell him their secret identities to "strengthen the relationship", and Elastigirl making jokes about how pathetic it would be to leave saving the world to the Men. Thankfully, these are just the opening comments: the next segment is a "normal" day in which Mr. Incredible saves a cat, stops a police car chase by swatting the criminals' car with an uprooted tree, chases down a burglar, engages in witty banter (and much flirting) with Elastigirl, rescues a suicidal man who jumps from a skyscraper, and is stopped from foiling a bank robbery by a kid named Buddy who wants to be his sidekick, but just gets in the way. Then, he arrives late to his own wedding (to Elastigirl, no less). A perfect start, something we'd expect to see out of an old comic book.

Another montage, and we see what happened to all the heroes - lawsuits. Mr. Incredible gets sued by the jumper for "ruining his death"; the man didn't want to be saved, and suffered a neck sprain in the rescue. He gets sued by people on a train he stopped from crashing, for whiplash. Other heroes get sued as well, the government spends millions of dollars in their defense, and then they're all dropped into witness relocation programs and ordered not to use their powers. While most of them were friends before the relocations, they all as a consequence of relocations lose track of each other. Eventually, the only hero Elastigirl and Incredible have contact with is Frozone, who is Incredible's erstwhile bowling buddy.

Or at least that's what Elastigirl, now plain Helen Parr, thinks. It's been 15 years, they have kids. Incredible, now just Bob Parr, mild-mannered insurance adjuster, has gained a 50+ -inch waist, while Elastigirl (perhaps due to her powers) hasn't changed much at all. Their kids are showing signs of powers: Daschle "Dash" Parr, is a speedster the likes of The Flash, while Violet Parr has gained limited invisibility powers (which don't work on her clothes) and the ability to summon spherical force-fields. The baby, Jack-Jack, hasn't come up with anything yet other than the complete inability to keep baby food in his mouth: in other words, he seems normal. Maybe.

Bob's unhappy, to put it mildly. He and Frozone aren't really going bowling: they're parking in bowling alleys, listening to police scanners, stopping petty crimes dressed in black clothes and ski masks, and swapping stories from the "good old days" that they've both told a hundred times. As an insurance adjuster, his boss is constantly maligning and abusing him because his customers actually get paid from their policies, and know what forms to fill out and who to see when the insurance company tries to shut them out with a loophole in the policies. He has to watch his strength, because he can bend metal in his bare hands. Finally, in a fit of rage, he tosses his boss through at least 6 walls and is fired.

That's when a girl named Mirage sends him a message; an international corporation's sentry robot has have gone haywire, and they're willing to hire him to stop it. The corporationt's really the brainchild of a now-deranged Buddy, who's something of an inventive genius. The "deranged" part comes in because he's been making these robots to kill off heroes, hoping eventually to kill Incredible, at which point he'll unleash one on a major city and "defeat" it a short while later, becoming the most beloved hero of all time.

That's the storyline, or part of it. But it's not the magic. Indeed, that portion of the storyline is secondary to the genius of the movie. The real magic of The Incredibles is in the characters; it's what Pixar has down to an art form, translating raw human emotion into something that can be transmitted by their CG, caricatured versions of reality that are always so inviting. It's Buddy, calling himself Syndrome, congratulating Mr. Incredible for taking a sneak attack while he was busy monologuing. It's the expressions of rage, fury, and sadness on Incredible's face. It's the somewhat dysfunctional nature of the teasing between Dash and his older sister Violet: while theirs is played out with him moving at hyper-speed and her smacking him with a force-field, the argument is ever so typical of sibling rivalry. Like Finding Nemo, the genius of The Incredibles is that it takes the most impressive things they could do - elaborate volcano hideout, super powers, giant destructive robots, Edna Mode the costume designer - and relegates them to the background. Edna Mode's impressive, but she's only there as a plot point for Helen Parr to find out that her husband hid his job loss from her, and she doesn't know where he is. In the middle of rushing off to fight the giant robot, Bob Parr is still trying to get his wife to stay out of the action because he's afraid for her safety. The technology is secondary to the story and characters, and the story and characters are superb.

I can only say again: Go see this movie. It's worth it.

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Weekly Musings #21: An Incredibles Review

Added:  Monday, November 08, 2004
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf


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