I don’t like many superhero movies. I feel like I’m just being a rambling cynic talking about them right now especially when we have so many coming out only in as much as a single year’s time. But The Incredibles comes a different case, because it came out as superhero films were starting to grow in terms of popularity and not only is it a standout on the count that it is animated whereas most others were in live action, but it is a standout because of how fresh it still feels in the years after its release for the genre. It still feels fresh compared to most other superhero movies because of the way in which it toys around with the idea, being based around a family of superheroes forced to live only under their secret identity much to the point of their mundanity. But this is the sort of freshness that one knows only Pixar can deliver, for The Incredibles still stands out as being one of their best films.
Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson) used to be Mr. Incredible during his prime, a superhero known for his incredible strength. His wife Helen (Holly Hunter) used to be Elastigirl, a super known for her ability to stretch out her body as far as she can reach. Their children, Dash (who has the ability to run at an incredible speed) and Violet (who can turn invisible at her own will and create force fields) have yet to realize their full potential. Bob’s best friend Lucius (Samuel L. Jackson) was known as Frozone, a super who could create ice from humidity. This is a film that revolves around this peculiar group, set within a world where superheroes are deemed illegal after numerous counts of property damage have eventually led to numerous court cases which they had eventually lost. But these supers knew, like any other human being, what it was that truly made them happy – it was the satisfaction of being able to help numerous others and stop bad guys as much as they can.
This is Pixar’s first film to have been directed by an outsider, and with that having been said, no one is better fit to have directed a movie of this sort than Brad Bird. Having come fresh off his cult classic The Iron Giant (which sadly bombed over at the box office), what Bird shows audiences through his Pixar debut is a take on the superhero genre that centers around a family of superheroes – all of whom have human instincts. In some way, what Brad Bird conceptualized through The Incredibles is a perfect parody of the superhero genre but it’s also one that deconstructs the idea of a superhero. These are not people who let their powers place themselves above their humanity, but they are trying to live a constrained lifestyle, one that only would suppress these people from truly living as part of their own identity. But knowing what more Pixar is reaching for within this film compared to their previous films, it only makes a clear case as to why Brad Bird is such a blessing on behalf of the studio.
Yet what it is that allows this take on the superhero genre to feel so refreshing starts from the way in which its characters feel, in their distinctive personalities you not only feel that they blend perfectly together but feel like actual human beings – perhaps the most important factor to the film’s success being Pixar’s first film to focus primarily on human characters. And in knowing human instinct is still present in characters with exaggerated traits, Brad Bird still finds a way to inject a sense of humour into these characters thus you still find a degree to which you can relate with its characters. But even then, that alone wouldn’t be enough to make such characters shine as brightly as they do, for the voice actors still bring more vibrant personalities matching the characters they play. Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter make a perfect couple as Mr. and Mrs. Incredible, but even the children steal the show – no one captures shy angst better than Sarah Vowell’s own voice and no one feels more excited than Spencer Fox as Dash. Of course, Frozone was expected to have the coolest voice because he was played by Samuel L. Jackson, but one shouldn’t forget how much fun Jason Lee is having as the villain, Syndrome.
Regarding the way that Brad Bird deconstructs the superhero genre in The Incredibles, you can still feel traces of satire present in the way Syndrome’s arc is formed. It’s easy enough to note that Syndrome is arguably Pixar’s darkest and most sadistic villain, but looking at his background offers a trace of social commentary even regarding the most dedicated fans of heroes – and what happens the moment those “heroes” ever let one down. But what makes Syndrome such a frightening presence on behalf of the film is the fact that his whole life has been dedicated to such idolization, he is able to reach for one’s own weaknesses, knowing every intricate detail of a figure he loved so much – because in some way, this dedication has formed what became Syndrome’s own identity. And knowing that it would only go nowhere in his own favour, the bitterness would only result in a lack of care for others around himself, only becoming entitled to his own toxicity.
Some may say the animation may look dated by today’s standards and perhaps it may look as visually stunning as Bird’s next Pixar feature, Ratatouille, it’s hard to deny that it still feels every bit as pulse-pounding as it did since its original release. But even for Pixar’s own standards, being arguably the most violent film that they have released, it’s only fitting enough that it presents itself to be every bit as intense as the sound of such would promise – and it absolutely delivers. For one, you have the animation already giving the film the perfect look, achieving a pulpy look as if it were being lifted from a comic book, together with Bird’s writing creating equally flawless action scenes by racking up so much tension within the moment and how Brad Bird sets the tone – with a perfect example being the plane explosion, mixed with Holly Hunter’s panicked reading of “there are children on board,” a moment which isn’t only harrowing by Pixar’s own standards but also by the standards of a superhero film in general.
It’s amazing to me that as superhero films are becoming more common over the years, none of them have ever felt nearly half as fresh as The Incredibles had done so back in 2004 and even to this day. In creating the perfect deconstruction of the superhero genre, you also have a great film about family bonding alongside embracing everything one’s got in order to truly remain happy throughout their lives. But it’s most impressive how Brad Bird manages to communicate to his audiences through the form of animation, by mixing together astounding comedic timing with a pulse-pounding adventure in which every character still has to overcome their own human instincts. Given what Pixar would be known for having made for their audiences, the best thing about watching The Incredibles is the fact that it still feels like a film made by an outsider to the studio. But the sort of innovation that this one calls for isn’t something to be treasured only amongst animated films, for it is also a staple of 21st century American cinema.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.
Directed by Brad Bird
Screenplay by Brad Bird
Produced by John Walker
Starring Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Spencer Fox, Jason Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Elizabeth Peña
Release Year: 2004
Running Time: 115 minutes