THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


If the Pixar Animation Studio was a baseball player, every team in the nation would want to sign it. Since its debut with 1995’s Toy Story, the company has batted .1000 both critically and commercially. A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo, Toy Story 2 and Monsters Inc. have all been home runs. Pixar takes some real chances with its latest, The Incredibles, which has a longer running time, a PG rating, and a significantly more complex story. True to form, though, it’s also a (pun intended) incredibly entertaining picture.

I’ve said before that one key to Pixar’s success is that the company sticks to fundamental things kids love: toys, bugs, monsters, and fish. This time the subject is superheroes. We meet Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson), a muscular type who can literally bench press a train. His wife is Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), whose rubbery physique allows her to stretch and contort her body like a pretzel. Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) is Mr. Incredible’s best friend, a guy with the ability to create and control ice. (One of the film’s funniest ideas is that Frozone moves around on the ice like Brian Boitano.) The trio takes great pride in fighting crime. Tragedy strikes when Mr. Incredible and several other superheroes are sued by the public. The government responds by creating the Superhero Protection Program, which entails hiding former heroes and essentially stopping them from ever again performing heroic feats while wearing costumes.

We then flash forward fifteen years. Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl are in forced retirement, using their real names, Bob and Helen Parr. Bob works a pencil-pushing job at an insurance company, while Helen is a full-time mom. In addition to a newborn, the Parrs have two children: speed demon Dash, and Violet, the shy daughter who wears her long, dark hair over her face. (Actually, she looks kind of like the apparition in The Grudge). Violet’s ability is turning invisible.

When a lunatic wannabe superhero named Syndrome (Jason Lee) starts kidnapping members of the Protection Program and terminating them, the Incredibles (including children) suit up once again. They find their way to Syndrome’s island lair, but the battle ultimately moves back into the city where Frozone lends a hand.

The Incredibles was written and directed by Brad Bird (The Iron Giant), who delivers a film that is as ambitious in its story as it is in its look. The plot here is more intricate and detailed than previous Pixar films, which were basic but good. There’s a lot of material dealing with Mr. Incredible’s dissatisfaction with his dead-end insurance job and his desire to feel useful again by returning to crime fighting. Additionally, the relationship between he and Elastigirl is drawn with more than one shade; we see the ups and downs of their marriage. There’s also real menace in the story, such as the scene where Elastigirl warns her children to be careful because, unlike TV villains, Syndrome will not spare them simply because they are kids. I liked the fact that there was ambition in the telling of the story and the development of the characters. As someone who’s ingested a lot of superhero comics, books, and movies over the years, I can attest to the fact that The Incredibles works as a genuine superhero movie, not just as a family film.

The physical look of the movie is awesome; this is perhaps my favorite of the Pixar films in terms of visual style. Everything here is very faithful to the comic book style, yet the fact that it’s computer-animated gives it all a unique feel. During the scenes in which Mr. Incredible toils for the company, the animation is gray and moody. During the action scenes, it brightens considerably. The look of the film matches each individual moment. It’s also just plain pretty to look at. Computer animation has become so popular because it’s mind-blowing, and this film is no exception. The sheer act of looking at it is fun.

All good superhero movies need terrific action scenes. The Incredibles has several, including a final showdown with Syndrome that is just as good as anything in most live-action superhero movies. Best of all – and I say this very rarely – the film ends with sequel possibilities. One can almost imagine a series of films and DVDs, not to mention comic books. That’s fine by me because I love these characters and the overall concept. This is a magnificent example of how computer-animated movies continue to push boundaries and forge new frontiers.

( 1/2 out of four)

The Incredibes is rated PG for action violence. The running time is 1 hour and 55 minutes.

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