Despite populating their stories with gaudily coloured monsters, bickering fish and prat-falling playthings, Pixar has no problems when it comes to drilling the hardships of life into the soft, yeilding brains of trusting children everywhere.
During it’s decades long tradition in entertaining kids while simultaneously preparing them for how shitty life can be, they’ve tackled some truly harsh realities of live that include anything from accepting and moving on from death to dealing with the reality that you just might never achieve your dreams (well thanks for THAT, Monsters University), but surely it’s most mature target to date was utilising the Superhero genre to carefully explain to wide-eyed, trusting tots everywhere that being a grown up (whisper it…) fucking sucks.
This obviously brings us nicely in line with Brad Bird’s masterpiece, The Incredibles; an audacious piece of cinema that not only intertwined the drudgery of a nine to five existence with the sheer unfettered glee of superheroism at it’s best, it also managed to break the established “Pixar formula” (comedic buddy road movie) that at the time was in danger of growing stale.
Robert Parr is better known as the super strong superhero Mr Incredible, a defender of right who selflessly and casually rescues those in need as he speeds to his wedding with Helen, the woman known over as Elastigirl, a crime fighter with polymorphic abilities. Along with his best friend, the ice slinging Frozone, Robert has a good life, fighting crime in his prime and enjoying every minute of it but in a Watchmen style twist, superheroes become outlawed after a lengthy string of lawsuits are directed their way from disgruntled members of the public claiming damages.
Catching up years latter after renouncing their costumes and being relocated back into society by the government, we join “Bob” and Helen settled in the suburbs with a family of super powered children. The eldest is Violet, a shy introvert who can turn invisible and shield herself with force fields, middle-child Dash is gifted with super speed and a fair amount of arrogant charm and the baby of the family, Jack-Jack – seems perfectly normal but where Helen has adapted well to becoming a supportive housewife and mother, Bob has been crushed by domestic life, a dull job, an expanding waistline and the fact he can’t save the day anymore. In fact, it’s gotten so bad that he’s been sneaking out at nights with Frozone and thwarting robberies on the sly which causes no end of tension in the Parr household.
However, “salvation” is at hand for Bob when he’s offered a job to employ his particular set of skills to subdue a giant, malfunctioning robot drone on a private island for a mystery client (the fact that none of this seems strange to Bob just shows how desperate for action he really is) but when that client proves to be someone from his past who bares a monolith sized grudge, Mr Incredible finds himself in increasingly hot water. On top of that Helen, suspicious of Bob’s behavior, finds out he’s been lying to her about where he’s been going the last couple of weeks and heads off to find him unaware that Violet and Dash have stowed away. Soon the dysfunctional super-family find themselves in the middle of a sizable conspiracy run by bitterly psychotic megalomaniac that if unchecked, will put countless lives at risk; can they get over their individual hang ups in time to drop the “dys” from dysfunctional in order to save the day?
Brad (The Iron Giant) Bird’s masterpiece is quite possibly one of the greatest superhero movies ever made – it’s certainly the best Fantastic Four movie ever made (a point I’ve most certainly belaboured elsewhere on this site) – and it’s actually my favourite Pixar movie ever made so it’s ticking a lot of boxes to be sure. The reason that it works so well is that it stands as one of mature works of children’s entertainment in recent times, bringing more adult themes into a genre known for sugar coating the more thornier issues that exist, like raising a family and earning a wage despite not liking your job – Hell, this movie even has a bodycount! –
the film astound with how well it tackles the concept of soul sucking, daily drudgery with Bob’s mountainous frame constantly crushed into little (affordable) cars and cubicles or perched on tiny chairs virtually everyday of his working life with tiny sparks of heroism escaping every so often. The scene where he helps a little old lady negotiate the maze-like red tape of the insurance firm he works for is a work of subtle genius you don’t usually in kid’s films, but it’s a perfect example of the mature/kid humor tightrope the film walks with unerring confidence. In fact the film flirts with adult concepts like mid-life crisis and depression incredibly frequently (it nails the plus-sized superhero concept way before “Bro Thor” showed his girth in Avengers: Endgame) yet telling is never mean spirited or cruel. Take Violet for example, shy, awkward and totally at odds with her abilities the film never takes it a step too far and has her bullied like other movies undoubtedly would because it recognizes that some people are naturally withdrawn just as some people (like the mischievous Dash) like to play to a crowd.
Luckily, when not tugging at the loose threads of the sweater of depression, The Incredibles also manages to be a rollicking superhero/spy/comedy flick that surges along with unflagging stamina as composer Michael Giacchino’s 60’s Bond inspired themes propels the movie ever higher. The action set pieces are fast and witty but it’s the comedy beats that REALLY hit the sweet spot with Brad Bird’s vocals frequently stealing the show as fashion designer Edna Mode, an obstinate fashionista cum quartermaster with a hilarious distaste for the lack of practicality that some superhero costumes provide (“NO CAPES!”).
They say a hero is only as good as it’s villain and that adage still rings true here where the featured side-villains are mostly a clutch of witty puns, such as the Gallic, explosive-slinging Bomb Voyage or the subterranean, mole-like Underminer, whereas the movie’s big bad – a tech savvy, arrogant ginge named Syndrome – is crisp, well thought out and played with a self important whine by Jason Lee who is joined by a rich voice cast headed by Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter.
The only negative thing I can think of to say about The Incredibles is that it feel’s over far too soon with Jack-Jack’s burgeoning God-like abilities only tantalisingly scratched upon (Incredibles 2 aside, those wanting an extra fix of uncontrollable super-baby need look no further that the short film “Jack-Jack Attack” which concerns the run-in a traumatized babysitter has with the babbling yet potentially lethal child).
A genuine turning of the corner for it’s history making studio and a stepping stone to it’s director giving us the deliriously fun fourth Mission: Impossible installment, The Incredibles unsurprisingly does exactly what it says on the tin: Be incredible.