The experience of watching “The Incredibles” is one to savor in a world of Vin Diesel-driven movie franchises: everything about the film is solid, from its glossy charm to its refreshingly simple story about suburban superheroes.
It is no surprise that “The Incredibles” is so wonderful. Created by a production company famous for a string of animated leviathans “Toy Story” and “Finding Nemo,” the film continues a flawless track record of family-friendly blockbusters with universal appeal.
But even before the feature commences, the audience is lacquered over with smiles as two Pixar-animated shorts grace the screen. Though slightly bizarre and less hilarious than the movie they proceed, any animated morality musical consisting of dancing sheep overlaid with a Johnny Cash-esque narrative voice is worthy for its mere whimsy.
But no appetizer compares to the multi-million entree. “The Incredibles,” written and directed by the talented Brad Bird, deftly offers quality cinema with ease. Particularly at its beginning, the film’s art direction is dazzling. Designed with an elegant ambiance, the film deliciously glorifies the classically snazzy comic-book style of the 1940s. Roy Lichtenstein would be proud.
In the usual superhero formula, the audience is first introduced to the protagonist, Mr. Incredible — voiced with the ideal balance of benevolence and smarm by Craig T. Nelson — as he receives a call for help. After a sleek vehicle and outfit makeover, Mr. Incredible, aka Bob Parr, arrives at the epicenter of distress: a tree with an old woman’s cat in it. After returning the shrieking feline to its senile mistress, Mr. Incredible attends to more serious matters, a roving Frenchman named Bombs Away with his eyes on a bank vault.
Rendering the larcenous robber helpless, Mr. Incredible saves the day, which also happens to be that of his wedding. And thus, after Mr. Incredible and the curvaceous Elastigirl (an amazing Holly Hunter) exchange vows, the plot congeals into happily-ever-after resolve.
Fifteen years pass. Enter the conflict.
Posing too strong a threat to American normalcy, the government enacts a Superhero Relocation Program. The Parrs (now heavier by love-handles and three children) are moved to the doldrums of Americana: the suburbs.
No longer incredible, Bob is shackled to a nightmarish cubicle where he wallows in the fluorescent lighting of corporate oppression.
Helen Parr, his wife, remains at home — an archetype of the tract house boom of the ’60s — with the super-talented children.
Everything in the Parrs’ life is overwhelmingly underwhelming. When reminded to attend his child’s elementary school graduation ceremony, Bob quips, “They keep inventing new ways to celebrate mediocrity.” Keep that chiseled chin up Bob, things are about to get better.
After a day’s work that includes lobbing his boss through a serious of walls, and braving L.A.-inspired traffic in his miniscule jalopy, he receives a secret assignment from an unknown source. Mr. Incredible is kindly asked to subdue a maniacal robot on a tropical island, the film’s great monster.
A surprisingly good zero-to-hero montage sequence ensues.
After bulking up and collecting a new skintight costume courtesy of Edna, a lovable fashionista for superheroes, Bob is ready to defeat the killer robot. The highlight of “The Incredibles” is its assortment of quirky characters, and Edna (voiced by none other than Bird) is one of the best. The miniature diva of superhero couture spouts “Dahling!” with pitch-perfect pretentiousness. Few of the other characters in the film muster her charm.
But despite its gorgeous animation and wonderful wit, the film ultimately falls short of the greatness of “Toy Story” and “Nemo,” the predecessors it will inevitably be compared to.
The film is hurt by vaguely offensive gender stereotypes. It seems odd that Mr. Parr is endowed with such superhuman strength, whereas his wife’s greatest asset, besides stretchiness, is a superhuman bottom. The children’s roles are questionable as well. Dash is an Aryan wunderkind, capable of running at appalling speeds, but his sister Violet, dark and pensive, shuts herself off from the world with magnetic force fields and invisibility.
But “The Incredibles” is pure candy-coated escapism and probably shouldn’t be analyzed outside of its dazzling animation, wonderful story, and widely-appealing humor. It manages to be a supremely entertaining cinematic experience, albeit a sanitary one. If nothing else, the film should be happily appreciated as an impressive continuation of Pixar’s unstoppable streak of shining films.