The Incredibles

10 Dec 2004

Paul R. Potts

If you haven’t seen Pixar’s film The Incredibles, go. Go now. I’ll wait.

I loved this film. The level of detail in the world-building tops everything Pixar has done to date. The interiors, the jungle sequences, the hardware. The cars. The kitchen appliances (I’m not kidding). It’s just stunning.

What we’ve got is basically a cheerful rip-off of just about every super- hero comic out there, including the Fantastic Four and X-Men, combined with a touch of the darkness of Watchmen and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. It’s all set in a kind of blended 1950s dream-time.

Holly Hunter’s character, Elastigirl, steals the show by virtue of her pragmatic motherly ass-kicking, and best of all is rendered not like a wasp-waisted, giant-breasted Amazon, but like an only-slightly-idealized, fit, fortyish mother of three. That means she’s got thighs and a rear end. Somehow, that’s more appealing than any Boris Vallejo brass-brassiered fantasy girl.

I also really liked Sarah Vowell’s character Violet, a nervous and insecure teenage girl. She’s portrayed as pre-sexual, pretty much a flat- chested stick figure, but is really engaging as she develops confidence, and learns to use her superpowers for more than just becoming invisible around boys.

Bob Parr, Mister Incredible, played by Craig Nelson, is also really entertaining as a gone-to-seed superhero, struggling to fit into his tights. While kids will enjoy it, there is an awful lot here to appeal to adults.

The villian, Syndrome, voiced by Jason Lee, is a classic Bond villian; a cheerful psychopath, who has to explain his brilliant plan before killing the hero. Syndrome’s secret volcanic lair is a better Bond villian hideout than I’ve seen in any of the real Bond movies. There’s also a great high- speed chase through the jungle that quotes the speeder chase in Return of the Jedi, but blows that sequence out of the water.

The story is engaging; it is a long and detailed film, with lots going on, and the music is fantastic too: a marvellous pastiche of period jazz, lounge, and tiki, but the real reason I’d pay to see it again is another opportunity to gawk at the, well, incredible amount of detail that went into the design of every object and set. You’re looking at a fully realized future past: a world that never came about, but feels very close. It’s really a thing of beauty, especially if you appreciate retro design.

Since I should mention at least a few weaknesses of the film, I’ll point out that the film may not work very well for children, at least not young children. Our son, age ten, seemed to be very confused by the rather elaborate plot and somehow did not “get it.” The character of Frozone is a bit of an uninspired stereotype, especially when we hear him interacting with his wife. The villain, Syndrome, is not handled very artfully in the end, which seems too cruel and glib, like a wasted opportunity to write something better for his character. The film may feel a little too long to some viewers, especially children, with one or two too many smash-bang fight sequences. But these things do not really lessen the joy I got from this film.

The single most amazing thing about this film, to me: read the credits. Hundreds of artists and animators worked on the thing. But the design language is as beautifully consistent as if the entire thing, beginning to end, was the product of one visionary auteur. It’s hard to imagine how Pixar achieved that kind of design discipline, but it shows in every frame.

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