In an unusual break from AniB Productions’ usual schedule of shows and characters, we’re actually doing an animated film review! Yes, the timing to do The Incredibles is right. Not only is it my personal favorite film, it comes entering the final stretch before Incredibles 2 finally debuts, and I couldn’t be more excited. Truthfully, this review is also going to be a bit more contemplative on the context and details of the film, especially as The Incredibles is by now a very well-known quantity. I don’t doubt some people might still not have seen it all these year later, but this review’s going to have spoilers- and I don’t regret that one bit. So here’s a look one last time at Pixar’s first family of supers before they return for their long-awaited debut, with a special review of The Incredibles!
Film: The Incredibles
Studio/year released: Pixar, 2004
“It’s showtime.”- Mr. Incredible
From the first moment Michael Giacchino’s first notes of a wonderfully jazzy score hits your ears to the final note of “The Incredits”, this was a film that created an enrapturing world into the age of the silver age superhero…and the challenges of suburban life as a normal family, albeit with superpowers. The film came in the footsteps of Pixar’s previous successful endeavors, including the prior year’s Finding Nemo (2003) and Monsters Inc. (2001), and would go on to be an important part of the studio’s absolutely dominant decade in the animation medium- a period that saw the modern animation giant grab an unprecedented 6 out of the first 10 Best Academy Awards in Animation, including this film.
Before we delve into The Incredibles as a film though, consider the circumstances in which it emerged, which were wonderfully unique. First off, the movie released in a time before the superhero deluge of the last decade or so emerged, which in turn allowed these brand-new characters to thrive in that niche. Then there was the year itself: 2004 proved to be an unremarkable year in animated film fare aside from this wonderfully complex tale of a hero family, featuring competition like Disney’s Home on the Range (which actually can tie into a greater story about how that point was around that studio’s nadir, but we’ll save it for another time), The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie, billed as the “finale” to the flagship show of Nicklelodeon’s, except that it wasn’t, Shrek 2, which while arguably the second best film of that franchise, didn’t exactly have a high bar to clear in retrospect as that series began a prolonged decline for DreamWorks, and Shark Tale, the studio’s other film from that year which a) featured Will Smith as a talking fish and b) was utterly inadequate compared to the aformentioned Finding Nemo that had proceeded it as an “animated fish film.” When looking back on these other films, it may become easier to begin seeing why Pixar was so dominant at that time, and the massive chasm other animation units had to overcome in improving their films up to a certain standard, which in reality was a good thing- as animation can be a wonderfully deep and complex medium through which a story can be conveyed, not merely fodderized to the tune of “kid’s movie.” Such a mere descriptor did not do The Incredibles justice.
Indeed, The Incredibles was uniquely layered to tell a different story to any member of its audience at that given moment in time- from Mr. Incredible’s mid-life crisis, to Mrs. Incredible’s pressure at being a good mother and faithful wife; Violet’s teenage shyness and very apt name as she grew from a “shrinking violet” into a blooming flower with her confidence and self-assertiveness through the film, and Dash, who yours truly at the age of 10 related perfectly at the time to a kid frustrated at not being able to show off his true talents, but also with a side of mischievousness that added levity to high-pressure situations. While the family is definitely compelling with a wholesome dynamic often absent in films that makes it all the more refreshing that it exists here, I actually wanted to devote some time to the one major character who won’t jump from the original film to the new iteration, and that of course is Syndrome.
Syndrome was a pretty well-constructed big bad for the film with a compelling, if straightforward origin story inflated to the extreme. The one-time Mr. Incredible fanboy as “Incrediboy,” a massive childhood obsession for Buddy Pine turned sour after a fateful night for all parties involved, and feeling rejected by his hero, he turned it into an insatiable and clearly unhinged plan for revenge over many years. While the film leaves a lot to the imagination, Pine clearly continued to develop his prodigious talent as an inventor in the intervening years, and was also successful enough in developing weapons technology that he became incredibly wealthy, buying and transforming Nomanisan Island into his own personal base and testing ground equipped with state of the art facilities and technology to carry out his “Operation KRONOS” plan. The dark truth behind Syndrome’s identity isn’t too hard to figure out once his adult self makes his explicit debut on screen with his perfected Omnidroid prototype, but it does make for an impactful moment when Mr. I discovers the secret computer storing the data of the villain’s diabolical scheme- and confirms the sinking suspicion that old heroes forced into retirement by the government were in fact test sacrifices to build the perfect super-proofed robot of doom. Vindictive, smart and with more than a healthy dose of deep-seeded, misguided hatred at the figure he once idolized, Syndrome’s dreams come crashing down ironically at the hand of his own perfected doomsday machine, and then perhaps even more profoundly, by Jack-Jack Parr, who represented the youngest of the new generation of heroes the man worked so hard to destroy once and for all.
As The Incredibles gets set to debut to a whole new generation of viewers, the original film has and will remain a timeless classic in the art of animation and filmmaking, and continue to be one of Pixar’s brightest films as time continues to move on. It’s exciting to see a revival of the franchise, but it’s also great to know why a sequel was so highly anticipated, and more than anything, that it was an incredible movie.
Animation Quality: This film looked great for 2004 and still looks good now. Since 3-D animation has tended to take exponential leaps since it began to be used in the early 90’s, this film looks remarkably good for something nearly 14 years old at the time of this writing. As you’d expect, Pixar’s films are eye candy, and this brings your convincingly into this compelling world, from the classic cityscape of comic books, to the middling feeling of 50’s-esque suburban planning, and even to the lush backdrop of a tropical island containing a diverse self-contained biome interwoven with the underbelly of Syndrome’s operation. 4.75/5 points.
Characterization: If it wasn’t obvious from the title, watching the film, or my thoughts above, this film is about the Incredibles family and the various personal challenges they work through during the film in order to come together and thwart Syndrome’s master plan.
Mr. Incredible, real name Bob Parr, is a man who pines for the glory days of his youthful prime as a hero before the government decided to push the idea of a hero society underground. (Ironically, this is essentially the opposite of the world established in the current anime My Hero Academia, but that’s another discussion entirely.) Stuck in a desk job at a big corporate insurance agency, he’d become an overweight, unhappy man who despite having a still intact sense of justice and heroism, is repressed from doing the one thing in his life that gave him meaning…while not always noticing the family who has grown with his waistline over the years. Still, Bob is a good family man, husband and father, and his best interests at heart intersect in his mind with what’s good for his family. That vision is challenged through the film though…Blessed with the power of super strength and enhanced agility/reflexes, his power on the battlefield is no joke.
Mrs. Incredible, real name Helen Parr, is Bob’s wife and the former pro hero Elastagirl, noted for her incredible stretching powers and elastic limbs that allowed her to contort her body into almost any shape and develop a unique melee style of combat. In retirement though, she’s a devoted mother and wife who wants the best for Bob, knowing the stress he’s enduring, and for her kids, who can be a handful between teenage Violet, Dash, and the youngest Parr, baby Jack-Jack. She too secretly misses being a hero, but she’s equally as willing to live in the role of a stay at home mother as she is Elastigirl. In her words, “she’s flexible.”
The kids don’t actually play huge roles compared to their mom and dad, but they do have significant moments and character growth that is all their own worth mentioning. Violet of course comes into her own as a young woman; while her invisibility power tends to be the one she favors, especially when timid, the confident Violet gains control over using her force fields properly, which prove even strong enough to (temporarily) hold off the full weight of the perfected Omnidroid in the final battle. Along with a change in personality comes the subtle but age-old symbolism of a change in how she wears her hair; formerly hanging in her face, it becomes pulled back, figuratively “opening” Violet up.
Dash is a little spitfire: a 10 year old with excess energy and the speed to match. He is proud of his speed superpower and wants to show it off, which causes him a lot of trouble from his mother, who simply wants the family to keep a low profile. Dash is finally unleashed upon Nomanisan Island, where he finally gets to run to his heart’s content…in life and death battles.
Jack-Jack is just the baby, but gets one uber-important role which was already mentioned. His major side plot is actually explored in the Pixar short film Jack-Jack Attack, which chronicles his time with Kari, a teenage babysitter Dash and Violet left their youngest brother with when they stowed away on the island mission. (If you’ve never seen it, it’s a hilarious little film.)
The other two major allies of the Incredibles are Frozone, real name Lucius Best, and Edna Mode, a top-flight fashion designer who specializes in hero suits (“No capes!”). Both are known for being quip machines in relation to how they are referenced in pop culture, but Frozone is Bob’s best friend and an important ally (as a hero who generates ice by freezing water particles in the air) and Edna literally creates the now- iconic hero outfits for the family. Add in that they’re voiced by Samuel L. Jackson and director Brad Bird himself, and both characters are a lot of fun.
Syndrome I spoke about at length already, but to reiterate: he’s an excellent memorable villain who has just the right motivation, infrastructure and smarts to feel like a properly viable threat, along with a cutthroat ruthlessness that is territory animated films don’t normally deal with. (I mean, the man wanted Mirage, his personal assistant, to shoot down a plane with a mom and her kids aboard because they entered his airspace…and then used it to crush Mr. I’s hope. Great writing stuff there.) 5/5 points.
Story Quality: The tale of Mr. Incredible’s heyday, fall, comeback attempt and redemption forms the main arc of the story, but this is a tale actually about the whole family and so it asks the question “what happens if I put the family dynamic into this repressed world of superheros and suburbia?” What’s even more innovative is that the family actually saving the day at the end is in reality a series of misadventures and improvising, from Mr. I’s misguided foray into thinking he needed redemption as a hero and a man while forgetting his family idolized him; Mrs. Incredible’s solid attempt to be the glue that binds the family together leading to an unlikely island rescue that involves the whole family unintentionally (save Jack-Jack); and Syndrome’s own hubris being his downfall in the midst of a clearly well-developed and complicated plot years in the making. There’s a lot more aspects to this film’s story than that, and darker elements as well too (hero test subjects, for one), which makes for a richly compelling film that insists you get something new out of it with each viewing. 5/5 points.
Themes: If it wasn’t obvious before, family, family, FAMILY! The Incredibles was able to actually turn this important, if rote topic, into something innovative and original; the classic American family re-imagined in a story of heroes and villainy that makes for high drama and great adventure, along with the wholesome message that can be imparted to younger viewers. Inside that basic overarching idea though, there was riffs on mid-life crises, the pressures of adolescent socialization, the idea of revenge gone too far and the mistakes of the past not being recognized until far later. Each time you watch the film, something new can spring into your mind (take the jab at corporate bureaucracy and the pressure of results over helping customers when Bob encounters his boss as one of those thoughts.) Not many films do that- and I’m not just talking about animated fare. 5/5 points.
Don’t Insult the Viewer: This film has all the jam-packed action and drama of a top-notch hero film without the crassness of some, and brings its own unique family dynamic to the picture. The score of this film is also jazzy heaven; it brings to life the atmosphere and storytelling of the film and remains a welcome listen to this day even as an OST. It’s a superb family experience that will find resonance with mostly everyone. 5/5 points.
Overall: 24.75/25 (99%). Do I think there’s such a thing as a “perfect movie?” In theory, yes, but The Incredibles will have to settle for being just one of the better films you’ll see, especially in its genre. It’s worth a revisit before the new film drops, and will continue to be re-watchable for years to come.