DVD Release Date:  March 15, 2005
Theatrical Release Date:  November 5, 2004
Rating:  PG (for action violence)
Genre:   Animation/Family
Run Time: 105 min.
Director:  Brad Bird
Actors:   Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Jason Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Spencer Fox, Sarah Vowell, Brad Bird

If superheroes really did exist, how would they actually fare in a litigious culture that is saturated by greed and a sense of self-entitlement?  That is the surprisingly ponderous question asked by The Incredibles in Pixar's latest top-notch animated film.

Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson, TV's The District) is in peak form, able to save cats from trees then fight off villains with the branches.  Elastigirl (Holly Hunter, Thirteen,) is also a helpful do-gooder, so it's no wonder the two wed.  But times, they are a-changin', and after a spate of spiteful lawsuits against the superheroes (by those who did not want to be saved), the government is forced to retire the champions.  Along with buddy Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson, Changing Lanes) and countless others, Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl become average citizens, aka Bob and Helen Parr.  Helen stays at home with the kids while Bob commutes to his job at Insuracare, where he sits in a cubicle and tries to follow orders to deny, deny, deny all claims, no matter how legitimate.

Their children, Violet (newcomer Sarah Lowell) and Dash (newcomer Spencer Fox) also have super powers.  Violet can disappear at will, which is certainly helpful for the shy teenager.  The energetic Dash can run like lightening.  Baby Jack is too young to develop his powers yet, but no matter, for like many overachievers, his two siblings must subdue their abilities in the family's all-out effort to blend in.

Meanwhile, trouble is brewing.  A megalomaniac techno-geek who has always dreamed of being a superhero (and who was spurned by Mr. Incredible as a child) has created an empire.  Wealthy and powerful, Syndrome (Jason Lee, Jersey Girl) wants to attack the city then save it, setting himself up as an idol.  He pulls the well-meaning Bob into his plans, who is all too willing to return to his glory days.  But soon, the whole family will be forced to suit up and come to his rescue.

Brad Bird (The Iron Giant) and John Lasseter (Toy Story) have once again spun a yarn that is appealing on many levels, and which smacks of brilliance.  With excellent CGI animation and stunning visuals, like the helicopter view of islands and water, they also manage excellent dialogue and insightful social commentary - all within the parameters of a largely Christian worldview that extols duty, sacrifice, marriage and family.  It's enough to make this critic incredulous.

The voices of the talented actors only enhance the snappy script, which sings with insights like Helen's comment to Bob during their wedding.  "To make this marriage work," she says, "you're going to have to be much more than Mr. Incredible."  That's a fact, as any married person will tell you, but framed in a newlywed context, the words take on added depth, pointing to the high expectations which often plague young couples.  Another character says, "Valuing life is not weakness, and disregarding it is not strength," taking aim at a culture that does both in alarmingly high numbers.  Additional targets include greedy insurance companies that extort the weak, lawsuit-happy lawyers who persuade the uninjured to sue, simply because they can, and the cult of mediocrity.  For, even though the Parrs have gifts that can change the world, they must blend in, creating the illusion that everyone in the world is the same.  Why?  Because no one should feel, quelle horreur, inferior to anyone else.

The film is also very funny, with highly original personality traits (not the least of which is Hunter's Southern accent) and characters, like the superhero fashionista and the whiny babysitter.  A brief but comical plot point about why superheroes should not wear capes will amuse many, and the argument between Helen and Bob about which freeway exit to take, as they careen toward town, had me howling.

Not content to rest on these laurels, however, The Incredibles also promotes marriage and family life.  Like many husbands, Bob fights traffic every day to arrive a job he hates and a boss he cannot respect.  His wife stays home, doing what she has to do to fulfill her less-than-thrilling responsibilities.  Like every couple, the Parrs spar, but they also put up a unified front for the children and do what they can to resolve their differences.  That they stay together, despite the lure of other women (for Bob) and the disappointment of duplicity (for Helen) is a testament to the blessing that marriage can and should be, despite its difficulties.

The film deserves its PG rating.  With lots of heavy violence and multiple deaths, it will not be appropriate for younger audiences.  The superheroes and their children narrowly escape death on several occasions, while other characters die what adults know to be violent deaths, although no blood or gore is ever shown.  Further, while the plot is sound, it nevertheless revolves around the traditional superhero scenario, although the aside - with the superheroes returning to ordinary existences - injects life into the tried-but-true model.

All in all, The Incredibles is a great ride which will merely serve to bolster the already-sterling reputation of a studio that has produced many excellent animated hits.  Pixar's competitors, we can only hope, will take note and follow suit.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content:  A character sips on a flute of champagne in one scene.
  • Language/Profanity:  Three mild obscenities ("Oh my God!").
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  Married adults kiss romantically in several scenes; sexy female character crosses and uncrosses her legs and sashays across room; teenage girl has crush on teenage boy, who eventually asks her out on a date.
  • Violence:  Lots of action/cartoon violence with death threats and life-threatening situations and dangers; mother warns children that people will try and kill them; some characters die violent deaths, such as being sucked into a plane engine and crashing against a wall, creating a fiery blaze.