Film — The Incredibles (PG)

The Incredibles (PG)

by Amy Diaz

Even the quiet of suburban life can not dampen the spirits, nor the powers, of the amazing, astonishing, appealing family of superheroes known as The Incredibles!

Did I also mention that they are dashing, death-defying and darned-profitable?

Pixar can count this latest CGI tale as a trouncing of DreamWorks’ competition in the form of Shark Tale, which doesn’t have near the charm, fun, smarts or heart of  The Incredibles. I know, I know, it’s always a little disappointing when Disney wins.

But the success of the story is undeniable. Bob (Craig T. Nelson) and Helen (Holly Hunter) Parr are an average suburban family. She stays home with the three kids and he crams himself in a tiny car to commute to an equally tiny cubicle where he works in the insurance industry. Their kids, the grade school Dash (Spencer Foxx) and the teenaged Violet (Sarah Vowell), are smart and rather amazingly talented, but not in a way that is celebrated by the constraints of their EveryHousingDevelopment world.

Sound familiar?

While you might sympathize with the shrinking Violet, however, I’m pretty sure that one of your teenage talents was not creating a force field that could repel bullets and fire. Bob and Helen, you see, are actually part of the Superhero Relocation Program. Though in their youth they were the Capt.-America-like Mr. Incredible and the plucky Elastigirl, litigation and negative public opinion put them and other Supers out of business. Now, they live (or at least try to live) quiet lives in the suburbs where, as Bob bitterly complains, everyone around them just finds more ways to celebrate mediocrity.

Bob has such a hard time at staying unsuper that he and fellow former hero Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson)  periodically make the rounds of the city, listening to police scanners and looking for ways to foil (smaller) crime.

It’s this hobby that helps bring Mr. Incredible to the attention of Mirage (Elizabeth Pena). The agent of some unseen boss, she hires Mr. Incredible on to fight a giant octo-bot run amok. Bob does so, happily, and uses the proceeds to spiffy up his Superhero suit and get into shape. Helen is a little suspicious of his newfound joie du vive, especially when she sees that his old uniform has been patched. She heads straight to Edna Mode (Brad Bird), the Vera Wang meets Helmut Kohl-ish It designer of the Superhero world. She finds out about his costume and begins to suspect the worst when his planned “work conference” runs long. Either he’s in trouble, she says setting off to find him, or she’s going to show him what trouble is.

The Incredibles is a great family movie—and I don’t necessarily mean a movie to take the family to. Sure, it has enough action and color to entertain the kids (though not as much periphery action and comedy as previous Pixar films). And there’s nothing objectionable about the movie for the probably 8-year-old and up aged kids who would be able to sit through the long stretches of talky parts. The movie is, however, very astute in terms of family life, right down to the feelings of frustration and they way the manifest themselves in parental arguments. It’s impressive to see this kind of emotional complexity play out in a relatively straightforward way and without the usual storytelling fallbacks (drunkenness and adultery don’t really go well in Disney movies anyway). And when you consider that the mom yelling at her daughter is doing so (convincingly) while her arms are stretched to three times their normal length and the daughter is turning invisible, leaving only the appearance of floating clothes, this kind of drama done this well is particularly outstanding.

Just as Finding Nemo tapped into some core emotions—a kid that lost his dad, a father desperate to find his son—The Incredibles lasers in on some very universal (well, universal in terms of middle-class America) themes. Particularly in the case of Hunter’s Elastigirl, we get a mom who is trying to herd her family through the usual perils of growing up, which are augmented by their superpowers, which must be hidden. In doing so, she has, as Edna Mode dramatically reminds her, forgotten who she is. She’s a world-saver, as tough as any of her male counterparts, and it’s ultimately up to her to save her family and, in some respects, the world.

And then there are the kids, both the young Incredibles and the ones in the audience. Oppressed, as the movie seems to argue, by the “everyone’s special” mindset, they only find their confidence when they are unleashed to be their natural super selves. Well-hidden beneath the costumes and fight with wannabe superhero/ story villain Syndrome (a wonderfully used Jason Lee) near the end of the movie is the message to kids that it’s OK to be different. Be like everyone else, it tells us, and you’ll never get the chance to be super.

This is all rather deftly handled. It isn’t until later that you realize all the Easter-egged morals contained in this vibrant, energetic story.

Showing at: Cinemagic, Flagship Cinemas.

- Amy Diaz 

2004 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH