Saturday, December 4, 2010

More On Incredibles

The Incredibles is marked by a series of firsts, from the first opening logo that doesn't feature Randy Newman's theme music to the first time that human characters are in the foreground. In fact, the film centers on a family of humans (another first). That family is the Parr family, who on the surface may seem pretty ordinary in appearance and behavior. The father, Bob Parr, is an insurance claims adjuster. Helen, the mother, is a housewife who tends to baby Jack-Jack. Two additional kids, the shy Violet and the hyper Dash, round out the family unit.

Fast-forward to present day, and Bob Parr is in a slump. His days are spent in a too-small cubicle where his willingness to aid clients conflicts with the company's interests, a fact pointed out to him by his pint-sized tyrant of a boss. When the day is done, Bob fights rush hour traffic in his too-small car to a family that isn't exactly flourishing either. The kids, Dash and Violet, have powers of their own which they too must keep under wraps. Dash, who possesses the ability to run with remarkable speed, can't compete at sports and is left plotting pranks on his teacher. Violet, who can render herself invisible and is trying to master the art of the force field, is shy and self-conscious to a fault.
Bringing the family together for dinnertime is like pulling the lid off a blender, and letting everyone's issues swirl around with messy results. These disputes and the normal sibling rivalry often complicate things between the parental units. Helen accepts their current situation and wants to embrace a normal existence for the family. On the other hand, Bob wants to relive the glory days, to which his study is a type of shrine. Wednesday's "Bowling Night" proves to be the only opportunity for his best friend Frozone (civilian name: Lucius Best) and him to pick up police reports on the radio and secretly prove heroic.
A mysterious message for Bob leads to a cure for his unsatisfying daily routines. He is called on a mission to the remote Nomanisan Island, where he will once again have an opportunity to prove super. The exotic day-saving adventures of Mr. Incredible and the complicated, dull suburban existence with a troubled but loving family present two very different options for our protagonist. This plays the central crux for film which is rich in action and adventure, but even richer in characters and story.
The rest of Bob's family can't help but be thrown into the mix, as Syndrome, the fanboy-turned-madman, acts out his plans to earn the world's respect and rid it of superheroes. Naturally, their symbolic superpowers are called upon, but to reveal anymore might spoil a bit the pure thrills that the movie packs. Those thrills are countless and deserve to be experienced without foreknowledge, even if they are no less potent on repeat viewings.
The Incredibles was written and directed by Brad Bird, a former consultant on "The Simpsons" who made his directorial debut with The Iron Giant in 1999. A flop at the box office, Bird's well-reviewed film (a type of Cold War twist on E.T.) found an audience on home video and has developed a strong Internet following. 

The roots of this film is about a family of superheroes go back more than a decade to a time when Bird envisioned it as a cel animation project. Bird brings to Pixar several unique characteristics, but he stays true to the studio's ideal of storytelling first and foremost. Of course, Pixar's state-of-the-art animators assure that Bird's first CGI project has the technical prowess which matches the wonderful script.
In the winning action sequences that populate much of its second half,The Incredibles calls to mind the pacing and tone of the original Star Wars films, and it ascends to the heights of that grand crowd-pleasing epic with universal appeal and even more adrenaline. Brimming with action, the film never forgets the drama of its all-too-human superheroes and it remains moving and relevant during its flashiest spectacles.

Unlike the previous Pixar films, The Incredibles is not primarily a comedy. Instead the film is seamlessly fused with humor that neither sidetracks nor waits for laughs. There's a bit of an edge as the film earnestly tackles discontent in modern society, but there's also the warmth that layers the best of films, a warmth which never gets sentimental and yet doesn't feel false or tacked on.
Every new film that Pixar has released since Toy Story has seemed to have people saying "the bar has been raised." Well, it's fair to say that again, since The Incredibles has visual fireworks beyond anything we've seen before. The most obvious thing to notice is that Pixar has used the 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio here for only the second time. The first and last time they did was for A Bug's Life, a film which also avoids any of the surefire Pixar conventions (even if that is mostly retrospective analysis for only the studio's second film) and has unfairly developed a knack for being the least strong link on the Pixar chain, with reviews and grosses that fall a bit below the others while still far on the side of positive. Like that film, which seemed to call for a grander canvas to tackle the natural world, the decision to utilize a scope format for the high-octane action in The Incredibles seems logical. (To be fair, such a rationale could be used to justify the same for any of Pixar's visually stunning productions.) The wide frame lends itself to creating some unique cinematic images, and the location animation is breathtaking, particularly in the geometric city blocks and in the lush green hills of the secret island.

The animation of the humans both is obviously stylized and remarkably convincing. When your primary subjects are characters that are not bound by the laws of physics, you're opening yourself to endless possibilities in depicting their motion and endless ways with which to fail. But in animation, as in everywhere else, the film excels, creating a consistent and realistic-feeling world where limits to speed, flexibility, and strength are thrown out the window.
Watching The Incredibles so close to Bambi has me contemplating their similarities. While the two films are practically polar opposites when it comes to subject matter, pacing and story, they share at least one thing in common. The Incredibles achieves the "plausible impossible", an ideal that Walt Disney and his animators strove to convey. It is in a world where humans move and act realistically that we can be swept away in unadulterated fantasy and believe it. Though separated by more than 60 years, Bambi and The Incredibles are both milestones in animation and the two must-own Disney DVDs this March.
When talking of Pixar, the term "masterpiece" is relative, but having seen The Incredibles several times now, I believe it is one of the studio's best efforts, and one of the best films anybody has made in years. Pixar continues to amaze me. While its closest competitors may shun originality, the studio embraces it and the results have been wonderful each time. Fresh, funny, and everything a moviegoer could want, The Incredibles is the sixth time in as many tries that the computer animation studio has worked magic.


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