Who would have thought that the only thing that could bring down the great defenders of truth, justice and the American way would be that fiendish arch-nemesis known as the Trial Lawyer? Well, come to think about it, that’s really not news, is it?
I kid. I kid. Please don’t sue me.
The Incredibles, Brad Bird’s first feature for Pixar and Disney, was the sixth consecutive creative bulls-eye by that group since the release of Toy Story. Frankly, the team at Pixar is starting to make excellence seem almost boring. Who do these guys think they are, the New England Patriots?
Mr. Incredible (voice of Craig T. Nelson) was the starting quarterback of a large roster of superheroes that included the super-cool Frozone (voice of Samuel L. Jackson – who else?) and the very flexible ElastiGirl (voice of Holly Hunter). Aside from the usual bank robberies and cats stuck in trees, his biggest problems were getting to his wedding on time and annoying little fanboy named Buddy Pine (voice of Jason Lee), who thinks he’s definitely sidekick material. However, when he’s sued by someone he saved, that sets off a rash of lawsuits that force all superheroes underground into their version of the witness protection program.
Fifteen years later and Mr. Incredible is now Bob Parr, still married to ElastiGirl, who now goes by Helen. They have three kids. Violet (voice of Sarah Vowell), the oldest, can turn invisible, something every teenage girl with body issues wish they could do. Her little brother, Dash (voice of Spencer Fox), can move fast enough to put tacks on the teacher’s chair without being seen. Little Jack-Jack is still working on the power of potty training. Stuck in a dead end insurance job, Bob sneaks out at night with his old buddy Frozone (now Lucius Best), to relive the good old days with some off-the-books heroics.
When he gets fired for taking out his career frustrations on his diminutive boss (voice of Wallace Shawn), Bob receives a new job offer, which involves battling killer robots on a remote island, from an alluring woman named Mirage (voice of Elizabeth Peña). He doesn’t realize that it’s a trap set by his would-be sidekick, Buddy, who now calls himself Syndrome. Apparently, getting rejected by his hero has left Buddy with some super-sized issues, which he plans to take out on Mr. Incredible and the civilized world, more or less in that order.
The Incredibles works on so many levels it’s difficult to know where to begin. Like many Pixar features, it entertains adults while also keeping the kids engaged, but manages this without resorting to a lot of fart jokes and knowing pop-culture references. The movie deftly meshes its comic book storyline with a surprisingly deep story of the Parr’s less-than-super domestic life. Bob and Helen may be dealing with problems we never could, but they manage to handle them in a way that feels realistic.
The film’s visual style perfectly complements the story. It’s detailed but bold and colorful, effortlessly mixing realism with the fantastical. Mr. Incredible’s superpowers can’t save Bob Parr from the ravages of male pattern baldness and middle-age spread, nor do they prevent Helen from wondering if her superhero outfit makes her butt look big. The environment overall sort of melds retro-sixties style with the high tech and Syndrome’s island lair makes the average Bond villain seem like a mere poseur.
Director Bird is also on hand for a hilarious segment in the middle of the film, voicing the diminutive Edna Mode, a cross between Edith Head and “Q,” delivering timely assistance and advice, such as why a superhero does not want to wear a cape. As good as their movies always are, nothing that Pixar has done before or since has been as consistently bust-a-gut funny as Edna’s few minutes of screen time.
With the release of Bird’s Pixar follow-up, Ratatouille, on DVD this past week, I thought it was worth looking back at this movie and his first, The Iron Giant, and recognizing that this guy Brad Bird is definitely no fluke.