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The Incredibles by Brad Bird (Dir)
Review by Daniel Dern
Disney/Pixar Theatrical  ISBN/ITEM#: B00005JN4U
Date: November 5, 2004 /

"Helen Parr/Elastigirl: Everyone's special, Dash.
Dashiell 'Dash' Parr: Which is another way of saying that nobody is."

It's tough being a middle age postmodern superhero, and not just because spandex only stretches so far. Though in part The Incredibles is a movie for children, it's also a movie that wonders if we've outgrown heroes, and where they go when we stop believing in them. Evidently, that would be the suburbs.

IMDB: The Incredibles
Official Site: Disney: The Incredibles
Director: Brad Bird /
Screenplay: Brad Bird
Cast: Craig T. Nelson ...Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible / Holly Hunter ...Helen Parr/Elastigirl / Samuel L. Jackson ...Lucius Best/Frozone / Jason Lee ...Buddy Pine/Syndrome / Dominique Louis ...Bomb Voyage / Teddy Newton ...Newsreel Narrator / Jean Sincere ...Mrs. Hogenson / Eli Fucile ...Jack Jack Parr / Maeve Andrews ...Jack Jack Parr / Wallace Shawn ...Gilbert Huph / Spencer Fox ...Dashiell 'Dash' Parr / Lou Romano ...Bernie Kropp / Wayne Canney ...Principal / Sarah Vowell ...Violet Parr / Michael Bird ...Tony Rydinger / Elizabeth Pe?a ...Mirage (more)

So we went to see The Incredibles (www.theincredibles.com) and while I'm not sure I'd say it was incredible, or even (cough) amazing or fantastic, it was certainly Very Good, and More Than Good Enough. We went accompanied by the fifteen-year-old son and nine-year-old daughter of friends of ours, and all enjoyed it. (The movie has a PG rating; the theater was full of kids of all ages.

The Incredibles is a "two-fer" movie: it's cartoon animation and it's a (comic) superhero flick.

It's not based on any specific comic book/strip -- which avoids the non-trivial baggage of fan expectations of continuity and characterization. On the other hand, it's clearly done by people who have read and loved superhero comic books, and are familiar with the tropes and foibles of the genre.

The story (in part -- I'm not going to spoil anything): Strong-and-pretty-invulnerable hero dude, Mr. Incredible, marries the flexible, stretchable super-heroine, ElastiGirl. They vow to make the marriage work. More or less contemporaneously, public outcry -- lawsuits, headline hysteria, et cetera -- causes the "capes" (superheroes) to retire from fighting crime, saving people, and so on.

Fifteen years later... Mr. Incredible is unhappily working in an insurance company. Mr. I and Ms. E live in the suburbs, and have three children: Violet, a withdrawn teenager; Dash, an excitable pre-teen; and Jack-Jack, a baby. Despite his best intentions, Mr. I continues to have a hard time not helping other people with their problems, whether in his civilian insurance-agent capacity, or still, surreptitiously, using his powers... and therein follows our tale... replete with fights marital and martial, arguments, secrets, villains, blasts from the past, surprises, explosions, escapes, chase scenes, Big Robots and Roaring Rockets, mastermindly monologues, secret hide-outs, Octopoid Antagonists, and other obligatory or otherwise welcome comic superhero-type scenes.

You want to know any more, see the movie...

Obviously (to many), the Incredibles are a lot like the Fantastic Four -- strength, stretching, invisibility, force fields, although (thankfully) no Big Brains. It's not an exact match; it's a super-hero family.

The art is good -- better than some of the TV cartoon superhero shows I've briefly looked at. And not trying to look like a computer-graphic attempt to simulate real life.

The plot moves along. The voices and dialog are spot on. If I have any cavils, it's that I didn't catch any theme song -- why not?

The movie can be viewed on at least two levels: the story proper and for its explicit/implicit commentary on (super)heroes. (There's quasi-arguably a third level of commentary on everyday life -- the well-read SFRevu reader will, of course, immediately think of Kurt Vonnegut's early short story, "Harrison Bergeron.")

SUB-TEXT AND META-COMMENTARY AND SUCH

It's not unreasonable to expect some degree of introspection, and real-world conflicts, for any (super)hero movie. The basic classics:

  • I've got these powers, I have a responsibility to use them. (E.g., Spider-Man's "With great power comes great responsibility.")
  • I also want a life. (E.g., "Spider-Man No More!" and the classic comic cover of the costume in the trash can.)
  • Collateral damage: Superheros and the Good Samaritan problem. It's hard to save some people, much less the city, state, country, planet or universe, without a few people still getting hurt ... and they'll often want to sue.
  • The need for secret identities. Criminals, not to mention alien invaders, don't always play fair, which means that being the family -- or even friend, associate, much less sidekick -- of a superhero can be hazardous to your health.

Comic books have been raising these issues for decades, to various degrees. That's part of why the Lone Ranger wore a mask; ditto his grand-nephew Brit Reid when he took up as the Green Hornet. It's part of why Superman didn't simply let it be known he was Clark Kent, Peter Parker didn't want to be known as Spider-Man, Matt Murdock as Daredevil, Bruce Wayne as Batman, and so on.

The comic mini-series (OK, Graphic Novel) probably best known for raising the question of superheroes providing vigilante justice is Alan Moore's The Watchman or perhaps, more recently Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross... how do you strike a balance on power versus restraint.

Moore also touched on it in his two-issue Superman story, "Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow." DC Comic "history" includes the Justice Society (precursor to today's Justice League) going into retirement in response to Congressional investigations; in the Marvel universe, the Fantastic Four and the Avengers periodically got political flak for being involved.

The Incredibles also acknowledges the more personal-life aspects of this: is it fair for, say, a super-speedster to compete in their school track meet? (I disagree with the movie's answer, but that's just me.) Anybody watching the "Smallville" show on TV has seen young pre-costume, pre-flight Clark Kent wrestle with this, wanting to be on the football team despite his parents' very legitimate concerns. Where do you draw the line, and what lines do you draw?

Interestingly, I didn't recognize the names of any of the creators, but I'd happily watch for more by this gang -- they clearly know and love comic books, and know how to strike a balance between a loving creation and an aware-of-context statement.

Recommended -- you'll enjoy it.

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