Should I Watch..? The Incredibles
What's the big deal?
The Incredibles is a CG animated action family film written and directed by Brad Bird and is the sixth film produced for Disney by Pixar Studios. Bird pitched the idea to Pixar after the commercial failure of his first film The Iron Giant and was inspired by spy films and comic books from the 1960's as well as his own family life. It premiered at the London Film Festival in October, 2004 and was met with critical acclaim, eventually going on to win two Academy Awards as well as becoming the first entirely animated film to win a prestigious Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. Audiences were also delighted by the film's winning blend of action, comedy and drama as the film's global takings topped $631 million. After many years of waiting by fans, Pixar eventually released a sequel in 2018.
What's it about?
After a string of lawsuits against them, superheroes (known as "supers") are forced into hiding and are absolved of their crime-fighting duties. Fifteen years after being made to "retire", Bob and Helen Parr - previously known as Mr Incredible and Elastigirl - has settled down to a quiet suburban life with their three child Violet, Dash and Jack-Jack. While Helen is happy to relinquish her old life and encourages her children not to use their powers at all, Bob quietly moonlights with his old buddy Lucius (once known as "Frozone") doing vigilante work.
After falling out with his boss who prevented him from stopping a mugger, Bob loses his job with an insurance company but is contacted by a mysterious woman calling herself Mirage. She offers Mr Incredible a lucrative job at a secret research facility where an out-of-control robot threatens to destroy years of hard work. Acquiring a new suit from designer-to-the-supers Edna Mode, Mr Incredible lies to his wife about his career and jets off for action - and lands straight into trouble with both his wife (after she discovers the truth) and a shadowy villain with a personal vendetta...
Craig T Nelson
Bob Parr / Mr Incredible
Helen Parr / Elastigirl
Dashiell Robert Parr
Samuel L Jackson
Lucius Best / Frozone
Buddy Pine / Syndrome
Release Date (UK)
26th November, 2004
Animation, Action, Family, Superhero
Best Sound Editing, Best Animated Feature
Academy Award Nominations
Best Original Screenplay, Best Sound Mixing
What's to like?
From the film's opening sequence, it quickly becomes apparent that Pixar have produced something very special indeed. Instantly creating a retro-50's vibe with the fabulous soundtrack and look, the film fills its world with unforgettable characters who are all played superbly by the varied vocal talent on display. But as in Toy Story, you instantly love these characters because they are so relatable despite their super powers. Bob's frustration with everyday life and its little annoyances is something we've all experienced at some point and his pain is animated perfectly. In spite of all the fancy gadgets, maniacal villains and unexplained super powers, this is still a world that you or I could live in.
On paper, it might not have had much to it but in the hands of the cast, the film comes alive and is genuinely funny. The dialogue between Hunter and Nelson sounds as though they've been married for years while Jackson, Lee and director Bird himself all have some truly great characters to inhabit. But not only is it funny but also thrilling - the film's action sequences match the scale of anything the Marvel universe could conjure up - as well as surprisingly emotive. There is a real sense of love on screen, both between the characters and for the superhero genre in general. And crucially, it's a lot of fun. Watching The Incredibles on a big screen just off London's Leicester Square is without question one of the most enjoyable film experiences I've ever paid to see and if you know how expensive London is (a little hint - very), you'll understand that this is some statement.
- Possibly because Bird pushed the animators hard to be as creative as possible and with as much attention to detail as they could, the film is loaded with in-jokes including the appearance of Syndrome being modelled on Bird himself.
- Edna Mode's appearance is based on legendary Hollywood costume designer Edith Head who worked on such classics as Road To Rio, Sunset Boulevard, the 1953 version of The War Of The Worlds and The Sting.
- Composer Michael Giacchino dispensed with more modern recording techniques for producing the John Barry-inspired soundtrack. He instead used analogue recording methods that required the whole orchestra to be present in the studio at the same time.
What's not to like?
In the years since its release, the quality of animation has been overshadowed as Pixar's boffins get more and more out of their banks of computers. When it first came out, I adored the special efforts to get fire and water right - traditionally tricky areas in the world of CG - but nowadays, they have returned to looking slightly plastic and artificial. Certainly, the landscapes have been trumped by films such as Cars and Brave which almost look real at times. Also, the character designs don't help when it comes to being realistic - take Violet as an example, whose melon-sized head would probably snap her stick-thin body in two. Then again, nobody picked up how awkward Gru looks in Despicable Me so perhaps I'm being pernickety.
Such faults, minor though they are, can't dissuade me for believing that this is one of Pixar's very best film in their impressive back catalogue. Whether it's a traditional superhero outing or a family comedy that you're looking for, The Incredibles feels like a warm and glowing tribute to the comic-book heroes of yore. It might lack the emotional clout of some of Pixar's output or the sheer imagination of something like Inside Out but it's fun, exciting, gripping and endlessly enjoyable. And isn't that what we all want from a picture?
Should I watch it?
I never get tired of watching The Incredibles, even after all this time. It feels like Pixar peaked at this precise moment, tailing off slightly until they delivered the frankly peerless WALL•E. Bright, colourful, exciting and everything you could possibly want from a family picture, this is one film that really does live up to its title. Anyone would think that Pixar have been animating people for years...
Great For: children of all ages, superhero nerds, family nights in
Not So Great For: anyone expecting Samuel L Jackson to drop some weapons-grade swearing
What else should I watch?
Until Pixar finally get around to producing a sequel, superhero fans will have to contend themselves with the seemingly never-ending output from Marvel. However, I'd stay away from any film made before Marvel's Cinematic Universe, launched with Iron Man in 2008. While they might not be as kiddie-friendly as Pixar, the majority of the MCU output are excellent action thrillers featuring people in funny costumes with a distinctly light-hearted tone. Probably the best MCU picture would be Avengers Assemble, a glorious "greatest hits" movie with all your favourite heroes on screen working together. Sort of.
Pixar have established themselves as the kings of CG with an enviable list of films under their belt. The Toy Story trilogy has something for everyone although the third film is for more older viewers than the first two, seeing as it's about letting go of your childhood. Inside Out is Pixar at their most experimental, set inside the mind of an eleven-year-old girl as she moves house. But my all-time favourite Pixar picture has to be WALL•E which is a beautiful love story, sci-fi epic, action adventure and silent movie in rolled into one glorious whole. It even makes me cry.
© 2016 Benjamin Cox