Save the day
When you think about it, a world filled with superheroes would be a pretty peculiar place…just not in the way you would normally think. After the novelty wore off and the notion of a man with superhuman strength or flame-on firepower ceased being shocking or unusual, we would grow just as jaded as we currently are toward other exceptional entities and ideas (space travel, life saving surgeries, etc.). No, where this idea would be its weirdest would be in other facets of everyday life. If those time-honored tomes of mythology—the comic books—have taught us anything, it is that along with invisible girls and indestructible men comes an equally unusual brand of criminal, one not functioning with the same slash-and-dash mentality as today’s common street hood. No, this new evil entrepreneur would be considering felonious foolishness on a far more massive scale. He or she wouldn’t be worried about stealing your purse. They’d have mountains to dismantle, and whole cities to subvert.
Imagine, an existence where like clockwork a new, more notorious threat descends upon the planet with unnerving regularity. Forget tsunamis and hurricanes, earthquakes or meteors. Think of what it would be like to wake up under an invasion of gigantic robot people, or hordes of homicidal clones. How would you react if the water was spiked with a shape-shifting fluid, rendering all who drank it capable of being changed, at will, by remote control into demonic servants of hate? Would a world where villains vie for a kind of unlawful superiority be more or less stressful than the way we live now, understanding of course that there are always the superheroes hanging around, waiting for the signal to leap in and save the day? Is it possible that we’d become equally blasé to the threat as we would the solution?
This is the realm of The Incredibles.
At one time, Robert Parr lived in a universe of heroes and villains, champions and challengers. But when the world turned its back on him, he had no choice but to slink off into obscurity. Yet, there is a force raging inside, something more substantial than truth, justice, and freedom. For Bob, alias Mr. Incredible, life was, at one time, a celebration of his special powers. But now, no one seems to value or care for his virtues. Along with his equally extraordinary family and friends, he is an outcast from a society that once embraced his abilities. As Brad Bird shows us in his singular work of animated genius, the populace sometimes forgets how priceless their protectors really are—that is, until the latest mechanized death machine comes calling.
During the salad days of superheroes, the planet was protected by all manner of Herculean humans. They were individuals gifted with special powers, and they used these talents to fight crime and protect the lawful. But when Mr. Incredible accidentally saves a suicidal man who doesn’t necessarily appreciate the derring-do, the resulting lawsuit tarnishes the public view of all crime fighters. As a result, the government must step in, cover the costs, and quietly relocate the gifted do-gooders, giving them inconspicuous jobs and new secret identities.
This is how Bob Parr has lived for the last 15 years: insurance claims adjuster by day, disgruntled man of action on his off hours. He married Helen, Elastigirl, and they had three kids: Dash (who can run at amazing rates of speed), Violet (who can make herself invisible and conjure force fields at will), and baby Jack Jack who, as far as they know, has no discernable super skills. Along with his best friend Lucius, Frozone, Bob sneaks out at night and secretly tries to save the day. He longs for the good old days, but knows that if he’s discovered, it means more bureaucracy and another uprooting for his family.
So when a strange secret message comes along, inviting the former “Mr. Incredible” to an isolated location to help with a technologically tricky robotic weapon, Bob just can’t say no. He soon learns, however, of a more notorious reason for his presence, and it will take the efforts of the entire Parr family to once again come to the rescue and save the world. It’s been a long time since their powers have been put to the test, and the kids have never really been able to flex their special gifts. But time is running out, and the only way evil will be thwarted is if the family unit rises up together and takes on the challenge—though not as the Parrs. Now, they must be true to themselves and become what they have always been destined to be: The Incredibles.
It happens so rarely that, when it does, your heart feels lighter than a helium-filled balloon, wanting to leap from your chest and soar as high and as far as your imagination will let it. When it does occur, it’s like feasting on fun, a sensibility sensation not unlike sinking your giddy choppers deep into a succulent cauldron of contentment candy. The individual who can build such a creation demands deification—recognition as one of the mighty gods of the oft-hindered human spirit. There should be temples in his or her honor, buildings renamed or ships re-christened. When a solitary member—or a collection of confident craftsman—of the humble race of man finds a way to tap into each and every cell of creative excitement and push the parameters of the pleasure principle to new, previously non-existent norms, there needs to be awards, cathedrals, interstates, and planets in recognition of their unnamable nobility. Such should be the fate of one Brad Bird, for giving us something as uniquely splendid as The Incredibles.
The Incredibles is a near perfect movie. Indeed, the only reason it doesn’t rate absolute faultlessness is because, like absolute zero, such an entertainment scoring would cause all competing movie molecules of amusement to cease functioning, thereby resulting in a cataclysmic breakdown in the inherent structure of cinema. As matter and time transpose and all other moviemaking takes on the density and depth of a giant black hole, everything we’ve come to understand about our cineplex’s diversionary dimension implodes at the subatomic level. Then all life ceases to exist. So there has to be a minor quibble, a reason to keep the entire filmic universe from crashing in on itself. And, sadly, The Incredibles has that one incredibly minute mistake that prevents it from paralyzing the efforts of other filmmakers and their desire to forge new kinds of celluloid merriment. What is that single issue, you ask, that one solitary stutter in an otherwise splendiferous spectacle of animated magic? Well, that’s easy, actually. Even at nearly two hours, this movie just feels too damn short! It’s so amazing, it could—and should—go on forever.
A movie that breezes by this effortlessly, that finds all the right marks of narrative, invention, and characterization and hits them again and again and again with pristine prowess is a rare and refined pleasure, something more or less unknown to we mere mortals who siphon our paychecks into the local theater, hoping for a little rat race relief. Indeed, as Brad Bird’s brilliant, flawlessly modulated script is pumping away like a bodybuilder about to win the Mr. Olympia competition, The Incredibles more than lives up to its name. As a matter of fact, it supersedes it and redefines the term by superhuman leaps and bounds. This is the kind of film you could easily see yourself watching over and over again, or enjoying multiple times even in an eight hour director’s cut with Sanskrit subtitles. More than just a sublime action film, a sly and clever comedy, or an interesting commentary on our current “no one is special” social order, it defies simple description as it reminds us of a million productions past. This is one film so in touch with what good old fashioned storytelling and vibrant visualization is, that it could earn a couple of PhDs and a Nobel Prize by virtue of its mere existence.
This is Pixar’s most polished, expertly executed film to date, a title that takes all the best aspects of the company’s amazing oeuvre (how would you like to have Toy Story, Toy Story 2, A Bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc., and Finding Nemo as part of your own creative canon, huh?) and boils them into a broth so heady you get emotionally high just breathing in its sweet-smelling grace. It marks a substantial leap in subject matter for the CG entity, as well as a desire to tap into more of a teen and adult marketplace. It is hard to categorize The Incredibles as a “kiddie” flick. It has none of the stupid shortcomings of other computer-generated pabulum like A Shark’s Tale or Ice Age. No, Bird brings something to the Pixar plate that those animation savants really haven’t dwelled in before—fearlessness. The Incredibles tries things that other Pixar films have only hinted at, and uses the terrific technological advances in the medium to its brave betterment. It would be easy to dismiss this film as just another piece of Disney product, propagated and micromanaged to maximize demographic exposure. But the truth is that, all mass merchandizing aside, this is filmmaking that masters the pure joy of the moving image.
Bird brings a singular vision to the film, one that doesn’t feel formed by committee or a conglomerate desire to pander to the entire population. This is not to say that Pixar is some shill for the shopping mall, but The Incredibles has a different texture than other releases from the studio. It’s edgy and surreal, fully functioning within the pragmatic and yet trapped in a universe of endless, exciting possibilities. From the insurance company from hell where Mr. Incredible—now lowly Robert Parr—works, to the volcanic island hideout of his new arch nemesis, Syndrome, the look of The Incredibles world is absolutely stunning. As with most of Pixar’s product, it’s no surprise then that it’s the details that stand out: the forming five o’clock shadow on Bob’s face as he comes in from a late night of “bowling” with buddy Lucius (AKA the superhero formerly known as Frozone); the micro-mini car the massive man drives to work; the ’50s-meets-freehand look of the buildings and their furnishings; the Tinker Toy technology inherent in some of the sciences. This is retro as nutty nostalgia, the classic kitsch taken from the Eisenhower to Kennedy era filtered through secret agent gizmonics and peppered with a 21st century engineering ideal to basically fuse the last 60 years of technology into a single, sensational symphony of visual sci-fi sensation. Any generation can approach this film and see something familiar, from the World’s Fair facets of the overall approach to the Star Wars universe of mechanical marvels.
The Incredibles is indeed a visually stunning film, a faux-photorealistic romp that drapes its dynamics in a plethora of pop culture and fashion references. Images like Mr. Incredible floating in mid air, electrified docks, or the egg shaped monorail that traverses Syndrome’s island hideout are rendered in such rich specificity and complexity that they are mini-masterpieces come to life. But it’s not just the backgrounds that get the imaginative idiosyncratic overhaul in The Incredibles. Perhaps the biggest change for the studio and this film is the quantum leap away from what can best be described as the Keene cartoon distortion of character design. You recognize the reference: the terribly tacky paintings that feature little children with eyes as large as dinner plates, plaintively starring at you like they’ll die from starvation if you don’t pay attention to them.
Pixar doesn’t typically populate its worlds with these optic oddities, but they do employ an over emphasis on the ocular as a means of giving their “actors” emotion and expression. This makes sense for bugs and cars, but with humans it’s another story. Bird’s brave combo does have the occasional saucer-like soul windows, but they really don’t define their personality (except, perhaps, for the shy, awkward teen queen Violet). Instead, we get individuals formed out of angles and shapes, personas creatively carved to highlight and hint at their unusual abilities. From Mr. Incredible’s muscular bulk to Elastigirl’s lithe if a little bottom heavy bounty, our heroes are illustrated in a manner to suggest and exemplify their inner strength.
Such subtle implication is even extended to the voice acting. Usually in a Pixar flick, the main players are performed by recognizable names and famous—if unseen—faces. Toy Story had Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, among others. A Bug’s Life had a cavalcade of character actors. Finding Nemo found a lot of its laughs in the hands of comics like Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres. But aside from Samuel L. Jackson, perhaps the baddest mofo ever to conjure ice out of the moisture in the air, the rest of the cast hides behind their façades, providing them with a veiled depth that goes beyond their stardom. Instead of imagining Coach‘s Craig T. Nelson as Bob Parr, we see and more importantly hear Mr. Incredible as he is, both in and out of super duper mode. While Holly Hunter’s Southern drawl is instantly recognizable, her Helen/Elastigirl is a combination of belle and brawn, far more fiercely feminist than stay-at-home sugar magnolia motherly. Even in the supporting roles, Wallace Shawn (as Bob’s more than diminutive boss, Gilbert Huph) and Bird himself (as the Edith Head inspired superhero wardrobe designer Edna “E” Mode) bring to life beings of such authentic realism that we forget there is an actor giving sound to their sentiments. The voices meld with the medium so perfectly that every entity in The Incredibles becomes a real live character in this celebration of cartoon enchantment.
There is much more than just a high-flying spy spoof to The Incredibles. Without question, this is one of the best, most electrifying action movies made in the last five years (or perhaps, even longer), but there is something more sobering to Bird’s strategy besides blowing stuff up and showing us amazing chases. There are many understated themes in the film, ideas that barely avoid getting lost in all the banging bells and wailing whistles. The main hypothesis fortifying The Incredibles is that there is no greater crime than not being true to yourself. To allow others to decide what you are, and what you are good for, defeats the very purpose of being a person, superhuman or otherwise. When the Parrs are faced with growing public dissension over their abilities, and their value to the population, the movie takes a terrifically controversial stance. It flatly states that something with special abilities should be celebrated and honored for such an individual accomplishment, not stripped of what makes them great.
In our current social setup, where no child is stupid or smart, no worker is better than any other, and no personal gift is more glorified than another, a sentiment in support of the extraordinary is sacrilege. It goes against the decades of PC protraction that begs for an equality forged out of sameness. Brains, brawn, or beauty are not to be used as gauges for greatness, says the standard social order. The Incredibles gladly grates against this very idea. It speaks to a simple notion that people with exceptional skills should be cherished for same, and not be made to suffer because others don’t carry an identical aptitude. Tied directly to this dimension is another of the film’s main concepts, one in which the cult of personality is penalized for being seemingly superior to the rest of us. From Syndrome’s origins to the ease with which the public turns on its onetime titans, the message being sent here is very clear. We love our heroes, and we likewise enjoy dragging them back down to earth at our own selfish whims. Part of the Parrs’ personal problems stem from the fact that, as a group, they are physically formulated to be exceptional. But with regulations, jealousy, and cynicism comes a lowest common denominator defiance, and as a result, a kind of communal coming of age. We believe we’ve outgrown our need for a champion and argue against their existence…that is, of course, until an evil pretender to the throne appears to stir things up.
From its consistently clever humor (many of the heroes and villains have names and abilities so priceless that they become fodder for some rewind and freeze-frame fun) to the wholly original approach to design and delivery, The Incredibles becomes a rich, dense treat, the kind of cinematic sundae one can overindulge in again and again until they are bound up in a completely satisfied filmic fetal state. And because it’s such a jewel, a glorious gemstone to be savored and enjoyed by all, it does that one thing that film often forgets to do in their pursuit of a box office bonanza. It reminds us just how special the moviegoing experience can be. In no other arena can we laugh until our sides hurt, cry until are eyes swell shut, cheer as the hero vanquishes a foe, or scream as the monster makes his way toward another unsuspecting victim. As a motion picture, The Incredibles reminds us of the magic that can be made with a salient idea, brilliantly executed and expertly delivered. It’s hard to imagine Bird and the bitmap mavens of Pixar topping this terrific treat—but everyone said the same thing about his The Iron Giant and their Finding Nemo. It’s frightening to think that, perhaps, neither entity has truly yet reached its pinnacle. But one thing is certain: The Incredibles does sit atop of the animation pyramid as one of the greatest offerings the art form can produce. It is a truly timeless, creative classic.
Certainly a superhero can suffer from an inflated ego. Nothing can swell a head faster than saving the planet on an hourly basis. And with a new super villain making him or herself known every other instant, delusions of grandeur are mandatory, if you intend to indulge in a little global clobbering time. But somewhere deep down inside the amazing strength, rapid fire speed, and anti-gravity abilities still lies the heart of a human being, someone who just wants to be appreciated, not castigated, for who they are. The Parrs, in particular, just want to be wanted. They need to know that what makes them unique is fodder for cherishing, not class action suits. But in the world of The Incredibles, the planet has become blind to the abilities of the adept. They’ve turned their back on the talented while celebrating the mediocre and the mundane. And under this corrosion of conformity, humanity is not safer, just more stupid and far more self-centered. Thankfully, we have this masterpiece to remind us that, sometimes, we have to step back and let the people with the powers decide our fate. It doesn’t make us less important. Indeed, it makes us the most precious and ‘incredible’ commodity of all. After all, what is a hero without a public to serve?
Judge Dave Packard: An Incredible Presentation
As with other Disney/Pixar releases, The Incredibles DVD is digitally mastered directly from the digital source. The very nature of the process precludes any of the usual DVD transfer issues such as artifacts, scratches, and other debris from ever coming to fruition. A spectacular Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX mix (even more impressive in that three languages—English, French, and Spanish—get the 5.1 EX love) insures that the audio presentation keeps pace with the pristine visuals. The result is a THX-certified masterpiece that flawlessly showcases the talents of the animators and sound wizards unlike any previous Pixar release. This is reference material, folks, and home theater owners will savor the experience.
As with some other THX-certified releases, a THX Optimizer feature is included on the disc for those who would like to calibrate their televisions for an optimal viewing and listening experience. The audio tests assure that each speaker in your 5.1 setup is connected and receiving a white noise test signal. The video tests allow you to adjust contrast, brightness, color, tint, and sharpness. Note that the tint adjustment requires the use of separately-sold blue filter glasses; as I had none on hand, I skipped this portion of the test and relied on my set’s default setting. After I finished the video tests, I found that the resulting settings were very close to my set’s “Standard” picture mode, so I decided to keep things as they were. The THX Optimizer may not be as fully-featured as separate, dedicated calibration tools like the popular Digital Video Essentials DVD, but its inclusion is a nice bonus, and it gets the job done if you choose to utilize it. Comfortable with my setup, I was ready to rock and roll.
The visuals were put to the test on a Toshiba TheaterWide 52″ rear-projection DLP television and a progressive scan DVD player, and the results were stunning. The benefits of a direct digital transfer coupled with the DVD medium yields a picture that is crisp, colorful, and impeccably clean. The artists at Pixar step it up with each film, and it’s evident that The Incredibles surpasses even the underwater vistas of Finding Nemo. A close-up shot reveals Bob’s very light stubble as his boss reams him at the office. Another close-up highlights the amazingly life-like strands of Helen’s hair as she stands before Bob at the altar. Their children, Dash and Violet, are equally blessed with full heads of gorgeous digital follicles. Textures—the bark on a tree, the pepper-like patterns of a rock face, lush jungle vegetation, water lazily rippling in a pond or bobbing in the ocean—crackle with a crazy level of detail that sometimes borders on the photorealistic. One scene in particular that grabbed me was Mr. Incredible’s descent to Syndrome’s island. Seeing the mountainous region covered in thick jungle momentarily reminded me of a high definition program about Hawaii that I’d watched earlier in the week. Granted, this disc is not true high definition, but scenes such as this one give me a strong glimpse at what the future holds.
How ironic in that the only grain, debris, and other undesirables to be found in the film is purposely depicted in two segments: the interviews with the Supers that opens the film and the newsreel bulletin proclaiming their fall in light of legal repercussions. Of course, it’s entirely appropriate in the context of these scenes, and I found myself smiling at the notion that the only appearance of such defects was because the filmmakers wanted them there.
Aside from the pristine picture, the overall colors are vivid and rich, and the black levels are superb. Mr. Incredible best sums up the visual quality of the film in a scene where he meets Elastigirl. The sky behind him is a beautiful gradient of colors, and he gives an appreciative whistle as he watches her stretch and leap across the rooftops. Indeed.
Rest assured that the audio experience matches the top-notch visuals. I should note that I’m a DTS nut; perhaps it’s my equipment (I have a Klipsch 5.1 speaker system powered by a Harman/Kardon receiver) but I’ve always enjoyed the fuller sound and deeper bass I tend to get from DTS tracks as opposed to Dolby Digital offerings. Don’t get me wrong; based on previous Pixar films given the THX treatment, I was confident that I would not be disappointed. What I didn’t expect was that I’d be blown away by a sound mix that rivaled some of my favorite DTS tracks.
Nothing disappoints me more than a 5.1 offering that under-utilizes the rear speakers, so I was pleased to see that plenty of attention was given to them. Just minutes into the film, helicopters thunder from the rear, and Buddy (Incrediboy) takes a wild rocket boot-powered flight around the room, making it clear that this is going to be a treat for the ears. The surround fest doesn’t stop there: the rapid-fire pattering of Dash’s feet makes frequent trips from speaker to speaker as he zips, and snaking anti-aircraft missiles rush by the viewer as they home in on Helen’s plane. In one cute scene, Dash shouts “Cool!” into a tunnel, and his words echo nicely to the back of the room. It should be noted that the rear speakers aren’t simply used—they’re used effectively based on the camera angle and the context of the action on the screen, just as they should be. It’s a smart mix that neither ignores nor overuses the rear channels.
There are plenty of other scenes in The Incredibles that are just as impressive in terms of the audio. A burning building fills the space with the sounds of roaring flames and crackling, crashing debris. My four-year-old son actually jumped from the sonic punch of Mr. Incredible stopping the train and, later, the crash of the tram car onto two of Syndrome’s gun-toting henchmen on the island. There are plenty of explosions amid the frequent action as well, giving subwoofers a healthy workout.
In the end, I was extremely impressed with the spectacular clarity and presence of the sound. As the credits rolled, I realized the lack of a DTS offering was not a bad thing at all. I also found myself truly wishing, for the first time, that I had another set of speakers sandwiched between my existing rear speakers so I could take full advantage of the EX mix.
Those looking for a nice reference segment highlighting both the video and audio would do well to fire up the movie at scene 23 (“100 Mile Dash”). The sequence features several of Syndrome’s henchmen in flying saucers, chasing Dash as he races through the jungle and over water in a sequence that harkens back to the speeder bike chase from Return of the Jedi. Play it right up through the family coming together, taking down the last saucer, and the sudden appearance of Syndrome. It’s a thrilling and highly kinetic action piece that combines the pristine visuals and sound effects with Michael Giacchino’s score.
Perfect picture. Perfect sound. Perfect scores.
Aside from the feature film, scene selection, and set up options, Disc One contains the following extras:
In this one-minute intro, writer/director Brad Bird suggests that viewers consider using the THX Optimizer to improve the viewing experience. Bird also urges you to check out the plethora of extras on Disc Two.
Viewers can select one of two commentaries: the first by Bird and producer John Walker, the second by the animators.
Bird and Walker are obviously having lots of fun talking about the film, chuckling often and leaving very few moments of silence. Most of it is standard commentary fare—rationale for a particular scene, reasons for a specific camera angle or the lighting used, acknowledgements of the actors voicing a particular character—but their obvious interest is contagious, and it’s recommended listening for anyone interested in learning more about the goals of a particular scene or why things turned out as they did.
The animators’ commentary track, chock-full of input from a large contingent of Pixar animators, is more technical, as expected. I loved this commentary track—I have a major interest in hearing not just from the director but also from the folks largely responsible for the magic of bringing these characters to life. You’ll hear the acknowledgements of animators responsible for specific characters, but you’ll also hear about things like the models used, challenges faced, the various controls (or lack thereof) used, and more. Anyone with an interest in computer graphics, animation, or art will enjoy hearing these animators spin recollections of their experiences.
There’s an Easter egg on the Commentaries menu—allow the music to briefly play. Soon, a silhouette of Mr. Incredible appears in the lower-right portion of the screen. Select it to view a roughly half-minute short of Mr. Incredible dancing to a record (yes, an actual record—one of those vinyl things) in the comfort of his living room.
• Sneak Peeks
Take a gander at upcoming theatrical films, DVDs, video games, and theme park attractions. Giving viewers the option to play everything or select individual items, complete with run times displayed, is a nice touch.
Disc Two contains the bulk of the extras:
Bird returns to welcome us and give us a taste of what’s in store with Disc Two.
• Jack-Jack Attack
Baby Jack-Jack returns in this new animated short created exclusively for the DVD release. Jack-Jack’s teen babysitter, Kari, spills the details of the “incident” to interrogator and agent Rick Dicker from the original film. Because the story ties into the original film (you’ll learn why Kari was so frantic in those voice mails left on Helen’s cell phone), it has a “missing scene” feel to it. Learning that Jack-Jack has some additional special “abilities” not seen in the original film was a fun discovery. It’s a very enjoyable extra, even if it’s over way too quickly.
• Deleted Scenes
This extra includes an introduction and six segments cut from the film. Story supervisor Mark Andrews and Bird chat about each segment, discussing the rationale for the concepts pitched and the decisions made. The animated storyboard sequence, complete with dialogue, is shown as well. Anyone interested in the story development process of film will find something to enjoy in this extra.
In “Introduction,” Bird explains the storyboarding process and the varying degrees in which it was used—and not used—in developing the story.
The longest deleted sequence, “Alternate Opening,” begins with a neighborhood barbecue and ends with a familiar burglar breaking into Bob and Helen’s home. This segment is particularly enjoyable as Bird discusses the differences between the “mundane” and the “fantastic” and how that played into the concepts that he pitched. Bird also notes the aspect of the alternate opening that he misses most.
“Snug” is not just the name of the segment; it’s also the name of an entire character that was trimmed from the story. Bird explains the reasons behind Snug’s demise, and it’s great seeing his passion as he talks. He likens the act of having to trim something you desperately want to keep as an “emotional kidney stone.” I found myself wishing Snug had made it into the final picture, but I certainly understand the reasons for his omission.
Bird explains the idea behind the “Vipers” sequence and the relief that animators felt when this scene was removed. This clip actually contains some rough computer animation in addition to the traditional hand-sketched storyboard animatics.
“Bob in Traffic” involves an early scene in which Bob tries to help the police, only to find himself unappreciated by the cops and the impatient drivers behind him. As Bird notes, the scene is typical of an early draft and was deemed unnecessary because other scenes in the film illustrate the same concepts that he was trying to convey.
Suspicions of infidelity are at the heart of “Helen Confronts Bob.” It’s a curious scene, mixing a very serious adult issue with a touch of humor.
“Helen’s Nightmare” is a by-product of the previous “Helen Confronts Bob” segment. Helen’s laundry duties and infidelity fears mesh in this short clip. It’s a cute but ultimately unnecessary sequence.
I found another Easter egg on this menu. Wait until the silhouette of the Omnidroid appears in the upper-right corner of the screen. Clicking it at one point activated a note from Brad, followed by a compilation of scenes from the film involving the massive amount of button-pushing and the closing of doors leading to explosions (just watch it—you’ll see what I mean). Another click on the Omnidroid showed an animated storyboard of another deleted scene, this one detailing more of Dash’s actions in the classroom that ultimately led to his being sent to the office. I particularly enjoyed the teacher’s rant about the education process and its ultimate ejection of kids into the workforce.
• Behind the Scenes
“Making of The Incredibles” is a nearly half-hour featurette on the development of the film. We get an opportunity to see Brad’s first day at Pixar and the contagious energy he brings. We hear of the enormous challenges they faced, such as the larger number of sets required compared to their previous release (Finding Nemo) and the need to realistically animate human movement, strength, and weight. I particularly enjoyed clips of the Pixar animators using videotape to capture their acting performances for animation references. Thankfully, composer Michael Giacchino and the technical gurus (the “unsung heroes” at Pixar) get some inclusion in the featurette as well. Best of all, it’s just great fun watching Bird interact with and inspire the various employees of Pixar. Bird made one quote in particular that I absolutely loved. “I did not come to Pixar to do a CG film,” he says. “I was interested in coming to Pixar because they protected stories.”
“More Making of The Incredibles” is another featurette that gets into more specific areas of the filmmaking process. As with other options on the disc, viewers can play everything or select individual segments. “Story” covers the writing process (starting with that forbidding blank page), creation of storyboards, and the pitch. Animation of the storyboards is also featured. “Character Design” discusses the importance of caricature—or more specifically, good caricature. Character designers offer insight on the design process. “E Volution” focuses on Edna “E” Mode, Super costumer designer extraordinaire. As Bird points out, she’s the only character than can make a Super feel truly uneasy. The question of stylistic vs. realistic human design and the massive challenges involved in animating long hair are some of the themes addressed in “Building Human.” “Building Extras” highlights the usage of “Universal Man” and the many extras cloned from his model that appear throughout the film. From the mundane (an office cubicle, the family dinner table) to the fantastic (underwater, jungles), “Set Design” is all about the various locations required for the film. Sketches give us a glimpse of the retro-yet-futuristic design concepts. “Sound” examines the huge number of audio effects that needed to be fabricated in bringing life to the film, whether through the use of computer technology or good ol’ Foley performers. In “Music,” we get access to the “quasi-jazz” orchestra and the prominent usage of brass instruments in creating the music for the film. “Lighting” features an interesting demonstration of the different types of light being used and layered into a scene from the film. It’s the story being told in a particular scene that drives the choice of lighting used, and you really don’t appreciate the use of these techniques until you see some of the scenes only illuminated in plain “white” light. “Tools” gives props to the quiet behind-the-scenes wizards who conjure the specialized tools required by the Pixar animators.
“Incredi-blunders” is a short piece that features some of the technical gaffes from the film’s development set to a music-backed laugh track and occasional added sound effects. If you were expecting “outtakes” as seen in previous Pixar efforts, you may be disappointed by this
“Vowellet—An Essay by Sarah Vowell” is a very odd segment focusing on writer Vowell, the voice of Violet Parr. Filled with dry humor and nuggets of information we really don’t need to know (Vowell is better at writing about dead people and has a load of allergies), I have to question the reasoning for including an extra as offbeat as this one. I suppose some will enjoy it; personally, I felt I was violently yanked out of the disc. Skip it—it’s nine minutes and 21 seconds you won’t miss.
“Art Gallery” is broken into six categories: Story, Character Design, Set Design, Color Scripts, Lighting, and Collages. If you enjoy seeing sketches from all phases of the development process, then this extra is for you.
“Publicity” is where you can catch the teaser and the two theatrical trailers created for the film. “Character Interviews” melds real-world television personalities (George Pennacchio of KABC-TV Los Angeles, Nancy O’Dell of Access Hollywood, Jerry Penacoli of Extra, and Patrick Stinson of E!) “interviewing” Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, Frozone, and Edna Mode, respectively. I didn’t find this one particularly humorous, but if you’re looking for some new animated sequences involving these four characters, look no further.
• Top Secret
The occasional weirdness on Disc Two continues with “Mr. Incredible & Pals.” Imagine a long-lost Saturday morning cartoon featuring Mr. Incredible, Frozone, and Mr. Skipperdoo (a bespectacled bunny that does little more than grin and hop). Live-action mouths, eerily superimposed on the mugs of Mr. Incredible and Frozone, utter the cheesy dialogue as the duo—er, trio—set out to find the evil Lady Lightbug.
“Mr. Incredible & Pals with Commentary” is the above short with Craig T. Nelson and Samuel L. Jackson providing their special brand of commentary. Their banter is hilarious, and where I was looking at the original cartoon with a questionable eye, I often found myself chuckling this time around. Definitely worth watching.
“NSA Files” grants you access into the NSA (National Supers Agency) computer. This nifty option lets you select a Super and view the accompanying dossier. You’ll find ratings on Power Type, Strength, Endurance, Intelligence, Agility, and Indestructibility. Comments on the Super’s Powers and Personality are also listed. Sound bites from the Super may be heard by choosing the sound icon. I particularly loved this extra, as it goes the extra mile in providing information on many of the other Supers referred to in the film—including those who died in action due to “suit malfunctions.” Choosing the icon of multiple faces lets you view information on “Team Affiliation”—namely, “Beta Force,” “The Phantasmics,” and “The Thrilling Three” (now disbanded).
Boundin’ is the Pixar short that played prior to the theatrical showing of The Incredibles. It’s a sweet, catchy poem about a southwestern lamb who meets up with a very optimistic jackalope. You can play the original short, or view it with commentary by Bud Luckey, who wrote, directed, and provided the vocals for the short. Luckey talks about the inspiration and basis for the settings and characters, and he offers a few sneak nuggets of information (the Model-T Ford is from Pixar’s next feature film, Cars).
“Who is Bud Luckey?” introduces you to this amazing animator. Luckey talks about his inspiration for Boundin’, and we get some fun behind-the-scenes moments in the short’s development. I found myself fascinated by Luckey’s experiences (he’s been involved with Sesame Street and is the man responsible for making Toy Story‘s Woody a cowboy). At just under four minutes run time, it’s another extra that’s over too quickly.
Overall, this is an enjoyable offering of extras. There are a few disappointments and quirks (“Incredi-blunders,” “Vowellet—An Essay by Sarah Vowell) among the real gems (the two “Making of” featurettes, “NSA Files,” “Who is Bud Luckey?”), but as in The Incredibles, good prevails in the end.
Judge Maurice Cobbs: Holding Out For A Hero: The Incredibles and the Lost Art of Living
Kill a man’s sense of values. Kill his capacity to recognize greatness or to achieve it. Great men can’t be ruled. We don’t want any great men. Don’t deny the conception of greatness. Destroy it from within. The great is the rare, the difficult, the exceptional. Set up standards of achievement open to all, to the least, to the most inept—and you stop the impetus to effort in all men, great or small. You stop all incentive to improvement, to excellence, to perfection…
—Ellsworth Toohey, The Fountainhead
Your identity is your most valuable possession. Protect it.
—Helen (Elastigirl) Parr
The Incredibles is not only a wonderfully fun love letter to comic book heroes, it is perhaps the most subversive animated movie to find its way onto the silver screen since…well, since Brad Bird’s other treatise on individuality vs. collectivism and the tyranny of small, insecure minds: The Iron Giant.
In this case, the tyranny of small minds has litigated heroism out of society. Unlikely, you say? Don’t be too sure. In an instance of life imitating art, you may recall the recent case in which two teenaged girls were rewarded for surprising their neighbors with an anonymous gift of homemade cookies by a lawsuit and a judgment against them for nearly $900. Truly, no good deed goes unpunished, especially if a good lawyer is involved. And what else are superheroes supposed to do except good deeds?
No wonder this movie makes some people slightly uneasy: It lays their agenda bare. Once upon a time, we celebrated the idea of excellence in this country; now it seems that mediocrity is in vogue. More and more youngsters are being educated to not want anything more or better than anyone else, lest the others feel left behind. Once we were taught to achieve high self-esteem through our actions; you had to actually accomplish something to feel good about it. Not so these days; the least amount of effort and the most banal accomplishment receive as much praise as the most wonderful. There is an inane attitude that children must be protected from every conceivable disappointment, including academic failure. The quest for homogenized mediocrity has all but destroyed the drive toward excellence. In schools, academic knowledge has taken a back seat to feelings and meaningless self-esteem. (In Massachusetts, the top objective for one district’s math teachers is to teach “respect for human differences” and to “live out the systemwide core value of respect for human differences by demonstrating antiracist and antibias behaviors.” To learn good math skills, parents send their children to a private school after public school hours.) In a society where brilliance is ridiculed, high achievers are penalized and robbed of the product of their hard work, children are stifled, and the least common denominator is the best we are told that we can achieve, The Incredibles is a sorely needed breath of fresh air.
Warning: There are some mild spoilers ahead.
I assure you, no matter what significance you may hold for me, to the Village and its Committee, you are merely Citizen Number Six, who has to be tolerated, and if necessary, shaped to fit.
—Number Two, The Prisoner
“In a society in which it is a moral offense to be different from your neighbor,” writes author Robert Heinlein, “your only escape is never to let them find out.” That is the situation that Bob (Mr. Incredible) Parr finds himself in: Forced to live a life of mind-numbingly boring mediocrity as an insurance adjuster, his only release is to use his amazing abilities in secret. But living a half-life is slowly killing Mr. Incredible’s spirit, and his marriage and his relationship with his children suffer from his unhappiness and his frustration with societal conventions: “It’s psychotic!” he hisses in a moment of anger. “They keep creating new ways to celebrate mediocrity!” As an individual who has seen and accomplished truly incredible things, he sees no point in celebrating the less-than-incredible. By day, he is crammed into a tiny car, shoved into a tight suit, squeezed under a confining desk in a narrow cubicle—tightly bound by the governmental edict that he must appear to be no better than anyone else. Like criminals, Bob and his friend Lucius (Frozone) Best must skulk under cover of darkness in order to break free from their bland, unsatisfying lives and simply be themselves. Mr. Incredible’s inherent decency, concern for his fellow man, and desire to combat evil are considered handicaps in the topsy-turvy conformist world that dominates him.
Although Helen (Elastigirl) Parr is adjusting to the new way of life better than the rest of the family, she has stretched herself thin, as it were, trying to hold the family together. The flexible one figuratively as well as literally, she is attempting to make the best of her situation, even though she is far from convinced that the family’s life is everything it could be. Still, she has committed herself to raising her family—something that she rightly feels that Bob has not yet committed himself to. His yearning for the glory days when he enjoyed the freedom to be himself keeps him distracted and disconnected from the rest of the family, and a series of relocations has taken its toll on Helen—at one point, she calls her husband at work to joyfully exclaim that she has finally unpacked the last box from their move. Bob is somewhat underwhelmed, but Helen’s enthusiasm underscores her hope that maybe this time, he will make more of an effort to put the past aside and focus on the family that now needs him. Although he is a hero and holds to a very moral standard of behavior, Mr. Incredible’s tendency is to focus only himself—a luxury that a father and husband simply cannot afford.
The children are faring no better: Violet has developed a lack of confidence and self-esteem; her entire life, she has been taught to conceal who she really is and do less than she is capable of, and it is reflected in her ability to disappear from view and generate impenetrable force fields. Dash is furious that he cannot use the super speed that he has been born with; having no legitimate outlet for his abilities, the energetic boy has turned to wasting his abilities on silly pranks. “Dad says our powers make us special,” he reminds Helen. She responds (unconvincingly) with the standard modern societal mantra: “Everyone’s special, Dash.” And he retorts, disgustedly, “Which is another way of saying that nobody is.” Later in the movie, the villain Syndrome echoes this sentiment with glee.
Dash and Syndrome are actually dealing with the same issues, but Dash has two things that set him far apart from Syndrome: First, he is competent, and second, he learns that freedom goes hand in hand with responsibility. He has no desire to make himself look good by making others look bad, nor does he at any point try to keep others from using their abilities because he cannot use his own. Although Dash is at first angry that he cannot compete in races with the other children even though he knows that he would excel, by the end of the movie, he is more than happy to accept a second-place trophy; now that he has discovered an outlet for his abilities as a Super alongside the rest of his family, pranks, trophies, and ribbons have become meaningless. Perhaps he realizes that to win in a race when no one can even begin to compete with him would be unsatisfying, especially when there are so many real tests of his ability now open to him in his heroic adventuring. Violet has also undergone a transformation by the end of the film; having discovered her own inner strength and having been granted the freedom to explore her abilities, she is now confident and assertive, a far cry from the wilting flower who vanished at even the thought of approaching the boy she likes. And even Mr. Incredible has found a balance between fulfilling his need to be an individual and accepting the responsibility of raising a family.
To desire the attainment of this equality or superiority by the particular means of others being brought down to our own level, or below it, is, I think, the distinct notion of envy.
There are two major villains in The Incredibles. The more overt villain is Syndrome, a figure from Mr. Incredible’s past with an axe to grind. Syndrome has a particularly vicious plot—and it’s not a particularly obvious one. He wants to be a superhero, but his motives are twisted: While Mr. Incredible wants only to be who he is, Syndrome craves attention—his objective is power without the responsibility that goes with it. The idea of mass approval, popularity, is his driving motivation, and he is willing to do whatever he must, no matter how amoral, to get it. His life is defined by other people and what they think of him, and because he feels that he has been rejected by those he looked up to, his idea of a perfect world is a world where no one looks up to anyone. Syndrome wants to subvert greatness and destroy admiration, even as he himself wallows in it: He is a cousin of Ayn Rand’s seemingly philanthropic but secretly evil Ellsworth Toohey.
But unlike Toohey, Syndrome is at heart a spoiled, whining child. He cannot accept even the smallest amount of responsibility for what he has become, blaming Mr. Incredible for turning him into a monster. Syndrome’s puerile reasoning is that since Mr. Incredible rejected him as a sidekick, his lifelong tantrum is justified. Of course, this is absurd—even if Mr. Incredible had been under some sort of obligation to accept young Buddy as a sidekick, the boy had already proven himself to be headstrong, reckless, incompetent, and childish. His becoming a hero did not hinge on Mr. Incredible’s approval; he could have just as easily created his own super identity and perhaps earned Mr. Incredible’s respect, or simply channeled his remarkable technological genius into the private sector, becoming a hero by creating inventions to enhance life rather than destroy it. But Syndrome isn’t driven to become a hero—in fact, he shows over and over that he has no concept of what a hero is. He wants to achieve Mr. Incredible’s popularity and power without recognizing that these are not his hero’s most important qualities. Syndrome’s hero-worship becomes something much darker because in addition to his limited insight into others he has no sense of self, no individual identity, and can only define himself through other people’s eyes.
What is truly disturbing is that there seem to be a remarkable number of viewers who cannot seem to understand why Syndrome is evil. What is wrong, they say, with Syndrome wanting to make everybody super? The answer, of course, is nothing—and it is certainly not the reason that Mr. Incredible opposes the flame-haired villain. However, it could possibly be the fact that Syndrome has murdered countless heroes and is planning to cause even more death and suffering for his own self-aggrandizement that has Mr. Incredible determined to bring him to justice. No native genius or noble cause can justify mass murder—a statement that seems almost absurd to have to make, and the fact that it is not obvious to some is indicative of exactly the sort of thing that The Incredibles is satirizing.
But the punch line to this story is that Mr. Incredible does very little to actually thwart Syndrome—in fact, Syndrome falls victim to his own ineptitude and craving for attention. Right from the opening sequence, when young Buddy’s overeager desire to impress others allows a dangerous criminal to escape and causes a near-fatal train wreck, to a point halfway through when his narcissistic preening allows Mr. Incredible to escape, to the end of the movie when his poorly thought-out master plan nearly kills him and destroys half the city, Syndrome is a self-defeating bad-guy. Crime may or may not pay, but—as The Incredibles shows us—incompetence never does.
Far more insidious than Syndrome is the other major villain of the movie: Bob’s boss, Gilbert Huph. A small-minded, domineering, amoral tyrant, Huph demands dishonesty from his employees as the normal standard of business. Unfortunately, Gilbert Huph is an all too common type of person found in our society, the type who willfully ignores evil because “it doesn’t concern” them—or worse yet, who gives tacit approval to misery and suffering because they stand to profit from it. When Bob, being as true to his nature as he can under his circumstances, undermines Huph’s dishonesty by helping clients get their insurance settlements by taking advantage of loopholes in their policies, Huph is furious. It is a shocking reversal: The character who is driven to do the right thing must do so secretly, for fear of censure and punishment, while the amoral character enjoys a position of power because of his amorality.
In one terribly intense scene, Huph forces Bob to do nothing as a man is being beaten and robbed practically under his nose, and he takes sadistic glee in Bob’s helplessness and frustration at not being able to do the right thing. A thoroughly repugnant character, Huph is happy only when he can control a greater spirit than his, and Bob responds in the only way that a moral person can: He rejects Huph’s authority altogether.
And then there is Edna Mode, costume designer extraordinaire. Like Syndrome, Edna has no super powers; but unlike Syndrome, Edna’s joy in life comes from simply using her abilities to their highest degree, whether those abilities are appreciated or not, and regardless of whether her ideas are publicly fashionable. Like Syndrome, Edna’s primary ability is inventiveness, and she is as talented as he in her chosen area; but unlike Syndrome, she is competent and relentlessly firm on matters of ideal and principle. Edna does not try to emulate the Supers, but because she is such a complete individual, she often towers over them, despite her diminutive stature. Ironically, had Syndrome chosen the path that Edna did, he would have easily earned the approval that he craved with his technological abilities and native ingenuity.
Edna knows the cure for Bob and Helen’s unhappiness because she has never succumbed to it. “Show him that you remember that he’s Mr. Incredible,” she instructs Helen, “then remind him who you are.” Edna is unshakably secure in herself, and she has managed to retain her own sense of self by refusing to be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered. Her life is her own. In a particularly noteworthy scene, Edna flatly refuses to design a cape (a popular design element) for one superhero’s costume, citing case after disastrous case in which a cape spelled doom for its wearer. The implication that common sense must supersede popular fashionable opinion is one among many sorely needed messages that The Incredibles brings forth with humor, irony, and style.
I wonder how many of the people who profess to believe in the leveling ideas of collectivism and egalitarianism really just believe that they themselves are good for nothing…In their hearts they know that they are not going to become scholars or inventors or industrialists or even ordinary good kind people. So they need a way to achieve that smugness…They need a way to achieve self-esteem without merit.
This movie needs to be shown in every grade school in the country, not only to the students, but to the teachers as well. I can’t think of a better central theme for young minds to soak up: the idea that an egalitarian society isn’t necessarily a good thing, and that forcing a gifted individual to conform to a mediocre standard is one of the most inhumane injustices one human being can visit upon another. This sort of misanthropic cruelty destroys not only the pride and spirit of the exceptional individuals, but also society in general, by constantly lowering standards and expectations—or by removing them altogether. The exceptional people of the world—the “incredibles,” if you will—become a threat under those circumstances, daily reminders to some of their own lack of ability, skill, or talent that must be subjugated or destroyed, rather than celebrated, encouraged, and admired. As the philosopher Edward Hoffer writes, “Those who see their lives as spoiled and wasted crave equality and fraternity more than they do freedom. If they clamor for freedom, it is but freedom to establish equality and uniformity. The passion for equality is partly a passion for anonymity: to be one thread of the many which make up a tunic; one thread not distinguishable from the others. No one can then point us out, measure us against others and expose our inferiority.”
One particularly sly line from Elastigirl seems to be directed not only at her children, Dash and Violet, but toward every child everywhere. “Remember the bad guys on the shows you used to watch on Saturday mornings?” she says. “Well, these guys aren’t like those guys. They won’t exercise restraint because you are children. They will kill you if they get the chance. Do not give them that chance.” Is she only talking about Syndrome’s thugs?
I suspect not.
There are far too many children like Dash, bored and unchallenged, prevented from achieving their true potential, medicated and punished into submission. Too many teenagers like Violet, made to feel like freaks for their uniqueness, who fade into the background and hide behind their own protective shields. Too many men like Bob Parr, living lives of quiet desperation, frustrated and unfulfilled, waiting for something amazing to happen. The Incredibles, then, is “Harrison Bergeron” for the preteen set, a Golden Book primer of The Fountainhead, a wonderfully realized celebration of individual excellence over collective mediocrity, and one of the most important movies of 2004.
Judge Neil Dorsett: Brad Bird Knows His ABC’s
Brad Bird’s collaboration with Pixar, The Incredibles, is a terrific movie. It’s being celebrated widely for its wit, technical achievements, overall enjoyability, and is widely touted as being incredibly original. As to all of the former, I agree wholeheartedly, but as to the latter—various critics’ and audiences’ description of the film’s plot as being sprung full-blown from the head of Zeus—well, not exactly. Much of the talk about the originality of The Incredibles seems to be coming from the idea that superhero comics have never been self-referential or witty in this way, and nothing can be further from the truth. Mind you, I’m not saying this is a case of plagiarism, merely influence. But I thought this might be a good opportunity to run down a few of the ideas in The Incredibles that serious readers of superhero comics have become quite well-acquainted with, largely due to the efforts of an English fellow named Alan Moore, but also many others who’ve followed in his wake. And this isn’t about similar super-powers or costumes. (A friend actually pointed out that the family resembled the Fantastic Four. I wonder if he also thought I needed to be informed that the sky is blue.) No, these are thematic. So here’s a few of ’em:
The Superhero in mid-life crisis: The early stages of Miracleman and some elements of Watchmen, not to mention their own principal predecessor, Robert Mayer’s novel Superfolks, of which this is the primary driving force.
Superheroes forced into retirement across entire country: Watchmen
The vengeful former sidekick: Seen in Miracleman with truly horrific results, the rejected sidekick also formed a large part of Frank Miller’s wonky The Dark Knight Strikes Again.
Overall nonchalance of superheroes toward their clichés: Moore’s Supreme and his own creations, the America’s Best Comics (the ABC’s mentioned above).
“You caught me monologuing!”: Reflects “Dan, I’m not a Republic serial villain…” in Watchmen.
Overt resemblance to the Fantastic Four: Specifically, the First Family of Kurt Busiek’s Astro City, but there have long been iconic duplications of characters across various publishers in the comics medium, including basic ones like Marvel’s Squadron Supreme, which performs simple “What If” stories about the Justice League as well as more sophisticated work like Alan Moore (again) did on Supreme, a thorough and highly entertaining pondering on the entire Superman mythos.
My point is only this: The Incredibles and Brad Bird did not invent these meta-genre ideas (which are, in turn, reflections of earlier ideas, both in the medium and not). They make use of them beautifully—while adding in their own brilliant originality and verve—and of course Bird and his production team would probably refer you to the same comics I have, if you asked ’em about it. This is not an accusation of arrogance on their part, but merely a plea to the audience not to assign too much credit to the latest link in the chain—not to mention a plug for these works that donated DNA to it. Brad Bird must have really dug these books if they wound up influencing his movie heavily, so I guess what I’m saying is that the movie is sort of a recommendation that everyone read them! Is The Incredibles great? Absolutely! But part of the reason it is great is that it stands on the shoulders of giants. So go find ’em!
Appellate Judge Michael Stailey: The Power of Creative Influence, or You Can Go Home Again
Mr. Peabody here. Today, our destination is the era of hot jazz and cool heroes. Sherman, set the way back machine for 1965.
“Okay, Mr. Peabody!”
There is no doubt that we are shaped by the sounds, images, and experiences of our youth. This is especially true for artists, whose creativity synergizes new visions and ideas from the wellspring of inspiration collected (both consciously and unconsciously) throughout the course of our lives.
Here we find the origins of two overriding influences that define the look and feel of Pixar’s The Incredibles—The ’60s Hollywood spy genre and the timeless animagic of Rankin/Bass.
I’m a sucker for spy films. In the ’70s—long before the days of 24-hour on-demand cable—Sherman and I would be glued to the television on Sunday nights when ABC would run the James Bond movies. I would loathe those moments when the network would cut away for a commercial, just when we were getting to a good part. The exotic locales and futuristic hidden lairs. The thrilling chase sequences through both deadly jungles and populated cities. Persistent run-ins with armies of morally unbalanced henchmen. The nefarious villain, boastfully espousing his/her detailed plans for global conquest to the captured hero perched on the precipice of death. The emotionally stirring underscores that heightened every moment of drama, danger, and love.
Every element of these classic and often cheesy films has been recaptured and given new life in this timeless animated adventure. Pixar has gone above and beyond the call of duty, shattering the preconceived rules of what can and cannot be done with modern computer animation. The mind-blowing number of locations and the astounding level of detail found on each of the film’s multitude of sets lovingly references the style and feel of the 1960s and its view of the future. From the clothes and homes, to the hopes and ideals of the characters who populate this universe, Brad Bird and his creative team transport us back to a time where heroes and villains were clearly defined and fear was neither omnipresent nor a domineering force in our lives. It’s comforting to know a place like that still exist, even if only on film.
Yes, Sherman—in theatres or in the comfort of your own home.
Speaking of characters, if some of them look a little familiar to you, that may well be the influence of two pioneering filmmakers of this era—Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass—and more specifically the character designs of artists Jack Davis and Don Duga. With films like television specials such as Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer, and The Little Drummer Boy, and feature films like Mad Monster Party, the Rankin/Bass influence on the animation medium is unquestionable. There influence can also be seen in the work of production designer Lou Romano and character designers Tony Fucile and Teddy Mathot. The expressive and often exaggerated facial features, the disproportionate anatomy, and the wildly endearing personalities of these characters harken back to a time beloved by many.
“Do you mean the ripped them off, Mr. Peabody?”
On the contrary, Sherman. Imitation is the highest form of flattery. Elements of Violet, Helen, and Mirage can be found in characters such as Francesa (Mad Monster Party) and Jessica (Santa Claus is Coming to Town). The design of Bob’s boss, Mr. Huph, can be compared to elements of Burger Meister Meister Burger (Santa Claus is Coming to Town) and Baron Von Frankenstein (Mad Monster Party). The most obvious influence can be found in Syndrome, who bears more than a passing resemblance to the one and only Heat Miser (A Year Without a Santa Claus). The entire populace of The Incredibles world is beautiful tribute to the groundbreaking animation of days gone by. I especially like the brief tribute to Disney legends Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, who share their thoughts on kicking it “old school” from the crowd during the OmniBot battle scene.
The most inspired art of today is painted upon the eternally expanding canvas of the past. And what a contribution the Pixar team has given us to treasure and enjoy.
“Time’s up, Mr. Peabody.”
Let’s go home, Sherman, and see what John Lasseter and the Pixar team will come up with next.
Chief Justice Mike Jackson: Confessions of a Fun Junkie
I’ve had many love affairs with film. One of my first memories is seeing The Empire Strikes Back in the theater, and Star Wars has always been near and dear to my heart, though The Phantom Menace certainly tested the relationship. My early teen years were filled with black-and-white classics; I may have been one of the few teens in the late ’80s who thought Laura was the best movie ever made. In my later teen years I had a bad man-crush on Indiana Jones, right down to owning a fedora. Since then I wish I could say my tastes have expanded and matured…
But they haven’t.
When I sit down on my couch, remote in hand, snacks and beverage nearby, I’m looking for something from the disc I just put into the DVD player. Quality, yes, to be certain. Nothing like a lousy movie to put a damper on the evening, unless you’re into that sort of thing (lousy movies, that is, not having dampers put on their evenings, which I’m pretty sure no one is into). What I’m really looking for in a film is escape, to forget about the bills that need paying, or the mess of a war we’re in, or the programming project that’s kicking my butt. I get enough serious topics, introspection, and social relevancy in real life; why would I want to subject myself to it for entertainment? It’s why I prefer The Fifth Element to 2001, A Bug’s Life to Seven Samurai, The Quick and the Dead to Unforgiven. In fact, do you want to know about one of those? I’ve rented Seven Samurai twice from by-mail online rental outlets and once from the local library. Heck, I even made a copy of it when I got it from the library (please, don’t tell the MPAA). I’ve tried sitting down and watching it every single time (and several times with the copy), and every single time I never make it more than a few minutes in. I know, I know, any self-respecting film geek should love Akira Kurosawa, and I really liked Yojimbo and Rashomon. But Seven Samurai? Just couldn’t get into it, and it’s not just because of the subtitles, because give me a film like Amelie or Run Lola Run or Hero and I’m all into it. Seven Samurai is just too…serious, at the outset, for me to appreciate it.
Escapism. I suppose I should feel bad about it. I should be seeking films that expand the medium. I should prefer intricate plots and well-developed characters to pretty pictures. I should want to be enriched and enlightened, instead of merely entertained. I should be one of those elitist film snobs who list Ingmar Bergman or Stanley Kubrick or Jean Renoir as my favorite directors, when really I’d list Tim Burton and Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers (pre-Intolerable Cruelty Coens, that is). I should want to see touching stories of how two Chechen soldiers came to acceptance of their inevitable deaths instead of stories about blue-skinned aliens who save the galaxy. I should own a whole bevy of interesting Criterion Collection discs, instead of just Sullivan’s Travels, Chasing Amy, and The Rock. Heck, I shouldn’t own any Michael Bay movies, should I, when in fact I also own Bad Boys because—you guessed it—I like gunfights, explosions, and car chases.
But you know what I really like? To have fun. And if you can distill fun without it having an alcohol content, it’s The Incredibles.
The Incredibles is my new escapist film of choice. I love its lack of pretension and cynicism (a refreshing quality that all Pixar films share, and what to me elevates them above other CG-animated fare, like Shrek), found all too often in today’s entertainment. I love that I can share a favorite movie with my two-year-old without feeling sheepish, and I sure can’t say that about something like Shaun of the Dead. I love the sheer joy I feel watching a scene as exhilarating as Dash running through the jungle, across the desert, and on water to get away from the bad guys. It’s right up there with the truck chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark or the Death Star battle in Star Wars. I love how only animation can create characters this unique, this like someone we can find in the real world yet so physically exaggerated—and I’m not just talking about muscle-bound Mr. Incredible; I’m talking about Edna Mode (what is she, two feet tall?), Dash’s teacher (only Fred Astaire had a head that misshapen), and Syndrome (that hair…my god, that hair!). I love the cool retro ’60s look everything has, yet without calling attention to itself like a bad Austin Powers imitation. I love that it’s the rare superhero movie that feels like it owes its lineage to great superhero films, rather than to comic books (though I also love the self-consciously comic book-like pose the family strikes as they go into battle). I love how I tense up with concern for Helen, Violet, and Dash when their jet’s about to be shot down, even though I’ve seen the movie at least a dozen times and know they’re going to be okay. The movie that makes you care about its characters is rare enough, but the movie that makes you care about them after a dozen viewings? That’s just…incredible.
But you know what I love the most? That for 121 minutes I am completely immersed in a world unlike my own, that takes me away from my problems and gives me a dose of fun unlike anything else. That, my friends, is pure escapism. At thirty years old, should my tastes be more refined, my desires less puerile than a need for mere fun? Maybe, but I wouldn’t trade the feeling of sheer exhilaration and joy that I get from a movie like The Incredibles. You can take your stuffy, portentous arthouse films, your realistic dramas and avant garde filmmaking. I’ll be the guy over in the corner, grinning from ear to ear, on a euphoric high from the drug that is The Incredibles…and I’ll be loving every minute of it.