Chris's Disc Reviews

The Incredibles (2004)

A review of the DVD release by Chris Harris, who has been going to the movies for half a century, so he's seen quite a few films in his time.


Disk format: DVD

Region: 2

Directed by: Brad Bird

Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Jason Lee

It's got to the point with Pixar's movies that you don't really need to review them - you know you're going to get quality entertainment, you know it's going to be spot-on, and you know you're going to enjoy things.

However, the introduction of Brad Bird into the mix changes things: 1999's The Iron Giant is one of my favourite films, and I'm amazed it got little or no acclaim when it came out. He's a gifted writer, and knows his stuff when it comes to animation. After all, he moved into feature films after a long tenure looking after America's number one dysfunctional family, The Simpsons.

In The Incredibles, then, we get another view of American family life in suburbia. Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson) has a dead-end job in insurance. His view of customer service clashes with that of his boss to the point where you know he's going to get the sack fairly quickly. Inconceivable? Not when your boss is Pixar regular Wallace Shawn. Meanwhile, Bob's wife Helen (Holly Hunter) is struggling to keep their three kids under control. The difference? Bob and his family are all superheroes, in hiding after being hit by a rash of lawsuits. Needless to say, Bob has to resume his identity as Mr Incredible and fight the bad guy, rescue his family, and generally preserve civilisation.


What struck me was how subversive this film was. There are some fairly unusual messages in the movie for an American production. What do I mean? Well, the bad guy is the guy who has built himself up from nothing, and has "improved" himself to become better than average. After all, Buddy (Jason Lee) is rich, intelligent - and he can fly... At one point as his alter ego Syndrome, he threatens to give everyone else the same advantages that he's earned for himself, to give everyone super powers. Bob, the ostensible hero, has to stop him. Another example: the message of the first 45 minutes or so is that the brightest and best in society will be dragged down by lawyers. Doing your best can be threatening to the less gifted; better then to hide in mediocrity and avoid being a threat to the status quo. I found that interesting.

The film starts off at a fairly leisurely pace, taking its time to get going, but when things start to move Pixar deliver in spades as always. The medium of computer animation allow us to see a portrayal of comic-book superpowers without the boundaries of the live action film's special effects budget. As a result, the superhero sequences are a delight. Rumour has it, indeed, that the upcoming live action film of The Fantastic Four has had to go back to the shop for some serious rework thanks to Pixar's set pieces involving Elastigirl, who is in serious danger of showing up the Fab 4's also-stretchy Reed Richards.

The Incredibles is probably the best-looking of all Pixar's movies. The sequence where something large rolls out of an aircraft into some water is jaw-dropping. At the risk of sounding like a complete anorak, you have never seen flame, smoke, water, hair or material look this good in a computer generated film. Yet the story is so good you tend to forget about the technical aspects. In fact once or twice, I caught myself watching the film as though it was live action. But it's not just a technical achievement, or a question of having more more processors or faster render times: the set design, the props, the retro 1950's feel to certain sequences: everything contributes the the fact that this film looks gorgeous.

The cast are all very, very good. They Might Be Giants fans no doubt already know that Violet Parr is played by This American Life's Sarah Vowell. Much has been made of the director's performance as Edna Mode, a manic, thinly-disguised portrayal of real-life costume designer Edith Head that continues Pixar's tradition of using talented temp voice artists for the final soundtrack. The other alumni of this process, Bob (Roz) Peterson, Joe (Heimlich) Ranft and Andrew (Crush) Stanton join in with additional voices. And rest assured, John Ratzenberger's in there too.

Chris's rating: Five Stars - not quite Monsters Inc, but precious little's come out in the past year to better it.

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