Yes, I know: I’m going straight back to another superhero movie. But can you blame me? It’s probably one of the better ones out there, if not THE best, even though it’s animated and not live-action. But this week, in honor of its upcoming sequel (FINALLY!), I’m talking about the one and only Pixar hero flick, The Incredibles.
Can you believe it’s been almost 15 years since this first came out? Crazy, right? Well let me tell you, even after all that time, The Incredibles has still aged–umm–incredibly well, and can stand tall with the best that Marvel and DC have to offer.
The Incredibles takes place in a modern-day world where superheroes are real, but relegated to living in hiding. Flashbacks at the beginning of the film show the adventures of Bob Parr, also known as Mr. Incredible, as he saves a man who didn’t want to be saved and sets off a chain reaction of lawsuits against himself and other “supers” that results in government action to shut down out-of-control heroes once and for all. Under a witness protection-style agreement, heroes like Bob are now average, everyday citizens, forced to conceal their powers from the world–with mixed results. After slipping up and losing his job, Bob finds himself contacted by a mysterious benefactor who offers to let him resume the hero work he misses so much. But Mr. Incredible gets more than he bargained for when a figure from his past returns as a powerful adversary with plans to dominate the world, and he’ll have to enlist all the help he can get–his super wife Ellen, a.k.a. Elastagirl, kids Dash and Violet, longtime family friend Frozone, and hero fashion designer Edna Mode–to stop this madman’s master plan.
The only strike I can really give against The Incredibles as a film is that, if you really break it down and look hard, you can see that most of its component parts aren’t really that original, and are in fact salvaged from various other takes on the superhero genre. Certainly the characters themselves are styled after existing, established comic book heroes like the Flash, Superman, Mr. Fantastic, and the Invisible Woman, just to name a few. Also, the idea of outlawing superheroes was probably taken from Watchmen, the famous dystopian retelling of the usual hero story. But admittedly, there’s only so far you can go with creating original superhero stories these days because they’re so played out and familiar at this point. Where The Incredibles finds great success, however, is in poking fun (respectfully, of course) at the genre itself while at the same time delivering a compelling, family-focused story with a large ensemble cast that really hits home for the viewer.
From a plot standpoint, it’s hard to criticize the movie: it all makes pretty much perfect sense and you can’t argue with its logic. The idea of young Buddy using his anger at Mr. Incredible’s rejection of him to become a super villain, and such a compelling one at that, was a stroke of genius in terms of storytelling, and was quite a powerful way to drive the conflict. There’s definitely inner-family conflict as well, both with sibling rivalry between Violet and Dash and Ellen’s desire for Bob to stop seeking out opportunities to be a hero and live a quiet life–being the hero his kids need instead of one the world wants. It’s all somewhat family-focused and maybe a little cheesy, but I don’t have a problem with it. There’s a ton of heart in The Incredibles because of the realism it gives to the family unit–imperfect, certainly, but far from the dark, dysfunctional characters of Watchmen, for example. Even in the conflict, there’s a sense of joy, wonder, and fun in everything the movie does, along with a somewhat old-timey sensibility conveyed by the musical score that evokes the classic superhero stories of decades past. It’s all very nostalgic for anyone who’s really into comics.
Most of the humor in The Incredibles comes from its unique spin on superhero storytelling, and using the tried-and-true tropes of the genre to play with the audience’s perceptions a bit. Probably the most famous line of the movie, “No capes!”, is a great example of this. Everyone kind of imagines heroes in capes, like Batman and Superman, right? They all have them. But in a practical, real-world setting, how does a cape make sense? It potentially causes way more problems than it solves, as a simple fashion statement can mean the difference in a life-or-death situation. We see this kind of thing happen all the time all around us, and the idea of heroes being done in by their own costume vanity is brilliant–again, a point brought back around home when Syndrome gets his comeuppance in the finale. It’s an interesting point that if you compare the devastation and destruction that the film’s fight scenes wreak across various settings, you’d have to admit that there’s a lot more jeopardy and darker overtones in this movie than a lot of Pixar’s fare–compare this to something like Finding Nemo and there’s just no contest. Personally, I don’t mind the upped stakes and greater tension, but I guess there’s a chance some families might not want to show it to young kids. I don’t think that idea holds a lot of water, but still.
The movie also plays with so many different ideas that we all face in our everyday lives–midlife crisis, child neglect, celebration of achievement, idolizing heroes, balance of power, and so much more. This is what makes The Incredibles a truly great movie: it’s about a world that’s definitely a fantasy, true, but also so grounded and relatable that you can’t help but get drawn into the story. It’s certainly loads more fun to watch than anything DC has done recently, that’s for sure.
My Rating: 9/10
The Incredibles easily ranks as one of my favorite movies ever, and definitely as the best animated movie I’ve ever seen, and I’d highly recommend it to pretty much anyone. Its appeal to the kids in us who marvel at the daring deeds of superheroes, married to the realistic emotional center that is the family drama and other real-world issues, creates a perfect mix for storytelling in an entertaining but meaningful fashion. It’s really at its core a family movie, not such much a superhero movie, just that the characters happen to have powers. It’s super-quotable, with a star-studded voice cast and truly beautiful cinematography that echoes the days gone by of classic Christopher Reeve Superman or serials like The Green Hornet. All in all, totally worth every minute of the time you spend watching it. If you haven’t seen The Incredibles yet, definitely do it before the sequel comes out!