The Incredibles is another sure sign that Pixar can't go wrong.
The first time that quirky 3-D desk lamp bounced its way across movie screens and took its place as the 'i' in the Pixar Animation Studios logo, we were nine years younger and still in the reign of the Disney musical. But by the time the Toy Story credits rolled, a change was in the popcorn-scented air. Could it be? No more weepy Ariels or Mulan princesses, mushy love stories, or Hunchbacks and Simbas prancing around in song? That little lamp was a herald of a new age, and the beginning of the end of an important era in children's animation.
Since then, kids all over the world have fallen for activist bugs, working-stiff monsters and forlorn clownfish, all courtesy of Pixar, the newking of kids' flicks. Dreamworks threw in a pair of Shreks, sure, but its recent helping of a stank Shark Tale soup spoiled that pot. Pixar's latest, on the other hand, is a sweet and zesty buffet for all tastes and all ages.
In The Incredibles, Bob Parr (Craig Wilson) and his wife Helen (Holly Hunter) are Mr. Incredible and Elasti-Girl, two of many once legendary superheroes banned from their saving ways thanks to a string of lawsuits and legal battles?a little social commentary on the dark side of American bureaucracy thrown in for the adults to ponder. Forced to fit in to the ordinary, Bob tries to balance a blah insurance clerk job and his suburban family (including kids Dash, Violet, and baby Jack-Jack) while fighting the urge to go back to relive the glory days when using his super strength for the good of humanity was okay. But after taking up a mysterious offer to be a hero undercover, Mr. Incredible falls into a trap set by crazed former fan Buddy Pine (Jason Lee), a technical genius set on worldwide destruction. To rescue him, Helen and the kids will have to come out of hiding to do what they do best?save the world.
If a lead vocal performance from Craig Wilson of Coach fame doesn't send you running for the box office, try the cranky drawl of Holly Hunter or Jason Lee's delicious back-to-Dogma-demon villainry. Just this breath of fresh superhero plot in a time when Hollywood can't seem to let go of fermenting age-old comic book franchises is enough of a good thing. The screenplay's got spunk and brains, and the performances?particularly Samuel L. Jackson's small but classy role as fellow hero Frozone?bring this heavily stylized 1950s suburban-deco world into our own. And let's not forget the technology involved; this may not be as groundbreaking as Buzz Lightyear once was, but the bald-headed guys agonizing over their computer screens at Pixar haven't just been playing solitaire; heck, Helen's pixellated red hair looks more real than mine, and, frankly, that's scary.
If you're completely inhuman and none of this appeals, The Incredibles comes equipped with the first theatrical trailer to Star Wars Episode III, due out in May. And there they go, reeling in the family demographic while they've got everybody's attention. Lord help Lucas if he hasn't gotten his act together by now. I'm not standing by while he butchers his own awesome story into senseless tatters he calls a screenplay. Not this time.
The Incredible kids are no Jedi knights?the tawny cloaks would make for lackluster animation?but the film's at its funnest when we watch them light up at the kick-ass-ness of their powers, which they can finally use in the non-stop action of the film's second half without getting a spanking from Mom's steeeretched-out hand. While shy Violet can turn invisible and create force fields, Dash can run like the wind. On the island where their Dad is in trouble and Buddy's minions are on their trail, Dash's mother finally gives her son the go-ahead to do what he does best. That sets up what could easily be the most exhilarating non-hot car chase sequence I've ever seen. Somewhere between Mach-3 tree-dodging and finding out he's so fast he can run on water, Dash stops being scared and starts enjoying the ride, and so do we?not just because we'd all like our own superpowers, but also because there's a vicarious joy to be had in watching someone discover what he's really capable of.
Despite the little-kid glaze, The Incredibles is more grown-up than you'd think. At 115 minutes, not only does this clock in as Pixar's longest movie to date, but it's also the first one to dare go beyond the sunshine and flowers of the "G" rating. This bubbly, color-dabbed 1950s fictionalized American setting has the certain je-ne-sais-quoi of Neo's sleek shades in The Matrix films, but it is also chock full of moral questions. As we watch, we can't help but worry about this world where heroism is no longer celebrated. Spiderman was only thought a nuisance by that damned newspaper, but here, a newspaper montage tells us that Congress was thinking of moving all the nation's superheroes to internment camps?something that would certainly fly right over little Suzie and her Teddy, but could strike the rest of us right where it hurts.
The Incredibles is great because it brings the little kids to the grown-ups' table and serves everyone a full-course cinematic meal. If there's a message, it's one that's well-delivered enough to reach even the cynics in all of us. All in all, this may be the most true-to-form family film to come along in years. It's fun, it's fantastic, it's fabulous, it's inc?well, you know.