[20 April 2011]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
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 (available now for the first time on a stunning Blu-ray release).
At one time, Robert Parr lived in a universe of heroes and villains, champions and challengers. But when this “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, aka Frozone, Bob sneaks out at night and secretly tries to save the day.
One day, a strange secret message comes along, inviting the former “Mr. Incredible” to an isolated location to help with a technologically tricky robotic weapon. Bob 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.
The Incredibles is indeed a near perfect movie. In fact, 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.
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.
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.