The Incredibles is the latest film from the Pixar stable – the studio which brought us instant classics in animation such as Toy Story, A Bugs Life, Monsters Inc and Finding Nemo – the latter having the honour of being the best selling DVD of all time. Nemo was certainly a tough act to follow, and Pixar have pulled out all of the stops with some breathtaking animation. The plot is also funny and original, written and directed by Simpsons alumnus Brad Bird, who also made The Iron Giant – an excellent adaptation of poet Ted Hughes’s anti-war story, The Iron Man, which deserved to be a bigger hit than it was.
In The Incredibles, Mr Incredible, a lantern-jawed old-school superhero becomes victim to that oh-too-common American trait – litigiousness. During the course of an heroic rescue, he manages to give one ungrateful survivor whiplash and is sued. This opens the floodgates and before you know it every superhero is served with a lawsuit and they have to go into a kind of witness protection scheme. Thus, Mr Incredible, his spouse, Elastigirl and their super-powered offspring move to the suburbs where Mr Incredible is forced to toil in the less-than-super insurance business – complete anathema to the average superhero. Of course events conspire to get Mr Incredible back into his now too-tight Incredible costume and back fighting crime, in the shape of evil villain, Syndrome, a Mr Incredible wannabe who was spurned by our hero at the start of the movie.
The popularity of Pixar’s films lay in the fact that not only is the animation incredibly impressive, but the films have broad appeal with adults and children alike. I can’t help but feel that this film is weighted slightly towards an adult audience. A very large part of the film concerns itself with the suburban hell Mr Incredible finds himself in – trapped in a job he hates, four mouths to feed, a crappy car and no longer allowed to fulfil his true potential. While many adults in the audience can find themselves identifying with this situation, I doubt many children will. Also, the very nature of a superhero film demands superhero action and a good third of this film is lacking in this. The conceit of a superhero stuck in middle-aged, middle-class torpor may be an amusing one, it’s just not a very exciting one.
The film certainly gains momentum in the final third when the whole family, and their friend Frozone (think Iceman with the voice of Samuel L. Jackson and the outfit of an Olympic speed-skater) do battle with the evil Syndrome; here the stunning animation certainly comes into its own.
There is a lot to like in this film – not only the technical aspects of the animation, but also the look of the film – the opening scenes are reminiscent of that golden age of comic book heroes, the 1940s, while the main part has a 1960s futurist look. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, particularly a running joke about 'monologuing’, when the villain, succumbing to his own egotism tells the hero of his plans of evil; and superhero costume designer Edna explaining the folly of capes.
Ultimately, this film reminded me a lot of X-Men, another action film where a lot of action was sacrificed in pursuit scene-setting and establishing the characters. The sequel to X-Men was superior to the original in this respect, and I sincerely hope there’s a sequel to this – Finding Nemo may have found a worthy successor.