The Incredibles

5 stars

22nd March 2005

With Toy Story, Pixar completely revolutionised animated cinema, if not cinema itself. Talk was that pretty soon, actors wouldn't be needed at all, and that fully computer-generated pictures could spell the death of all but the most velvet-tongued thespians. After all, why waste time and effort getting Paul Walker to emote when you can get your animators to perfect a smile, frown or nervous glance into the middle distance with the click of a mouse button? However, humans weren't to be animated off the silver screen just yet, and Pixar continued their box-office topping run using bugs, monsters and fish with which to spin their yarns. The Incredibles marks Pixar's first attempt at tackling the human form for a whole movie. Does it render the Ashton Kutchers of this world useless?

Obviously that's a loaded question, as we already know that Kutcher is about as much use as a fart in a spacesuit. But The Incredibles certainly delivers on its promise to create a fully rendered human story, not just in the animation stakes but in storytelling terms too. Undoubtedly the most optimistic of Pixar's movies yet, The Incredibles succeeds in not only telling a fantastic story of super powers, good versus evil and heroes and villains, it also nails the more mundane side of saving the world i.e. what happens when the cape comes off. Director Brad Bird, of Iron Giant fame, has created not only the most exciting Pixar movie to date, it also isn't scared to stray from their now ever-so-slightly grating formula. In fact, it's the first Pixar picture to receive a PG rating, and tackles issues that Toy Story and friends wouldn't dare. Death? Murderous envy? Infidelity? It's all here.

The glory days of the classic all-American superhero have long since passed, ever since Mr. Incredible, the most amazing (nay, incredible) hero of them all, saved a suicidal citizen that didn't want to be saved. An overly litigious society then ordered all supers to revert to their secret identities and keep their powers under wraps, as an outbreak of lawsuits forced the Gazerbeams, Thunderheads and PowerBlazes to seek solace in 'normal' lives. So, Mr. Incredible and his wife Elastigirl become Bob and Helen Parr, and raise three lovely children, Dash, Violet and baby Jack Jack. A mysterious mission assignment out of the blue sees Bob don his supersuit once more as he inadvertently leads his family into trouble.

The action scenes in The Incredibles are truly out of this world, painstakingly storyboarded and brilliantly rendered - they never once suffer from sloppy editing or over indulgence, and this is to Bird's infinite credit. With some of the most visually splendid and colourful animation ever seen on screen, let alone characters that can stretch, run at the speed of light and turn invisible, it would have been easy to let the action scenes get a little too busy, but Bird's direction is always crisp and clean. What is truly incredible is that the scenes that see the supers struggle with their suburban lifestyles are just as watchable, maybe more so, than when the fists start flying. Due in part to a mature script and wonderfully subtle nuances in the facial animation and body language of the characters, the arguments between Bob and Helen and the resulting fallout in the family are just as explosive as the more action heavy scenes in the second half of the movie.

Voice acting also plays a large part in The Incredibles success - while Dreamworks continue to splash the cash on the biggest names available for their characters, Pixar continue to root out the best voices for the job. Enter Craig T. Nelson (of Poltergeist and Where Are They Now? Fame) and Holly Hunter, who match the stunning animation techniques with extraordinarily down-to-earth voices - Nelson in particular does a great job voicing Mr. Incredible, both when he's trading snappy one-liners with villains and suppressing his rage against his pencil-pushing prick of a boss. Jason Lee has picked his best role in years voicing the genuinely-threatening villain of Syndrome, and Bird himself steals the show as Edna Mode, the maaarvellous fashion designer who simply won't be kept waiting ("I don't think about the past dear, it distracts me from the now").

Another bang up job on the DVD extras front from Pixar, with commentaries from Bird and friends plus an all-new sequence, Jack Jack Attack, in which we see the hapless babysitter realise that perhaps baby Incredible isn't quite as quiet as she first thought. There's some rather quaint storyboarded deleted scenes with intros from Bird again, and a hilarious Mr. Incredible cartoon, complete with crappy two-frame animation and commentaries from Incredible himself and Sam Jackson's Frozone ("I don't believe it, they made me a white guy!"). It is, quite simply, a superb package that complements a magnificent picture, another essential purchase indeed. If the Final Fantasy CG movie gave flesh-based actors renewed hope that their careers might be saved, then maybe, just maybe, The Incredibles could sound their death knell. I, for one, wouldn't mourn too long. Why make do with humans when you can have superhumans?

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