originally written for The Milpitas Post
Directed by: Brad Bird
Starring the voices of: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Spencer Fox, Jason Lee, Samuel L. Jackson
Rated: PG for action violence.
Parental Notes: This movie has plenty of things to entertain adults but nothing to make it inappropriate for all but the youngest kids. Some of the action scenes may be a bit too intense for little children, but kids eight and up will almost certainly love it.
Pixar has a history of turning out great computer animated movies, and their latest production, “The Incredibles,” is no exception. Not only is the animation spot-on, but its story of repressed and imperfect superheroes fighting both their own problems and a super villain who resents their special abilities will strike a note with viewers regardless of age.
Bob and Helen Parr (Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter) used to be Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl. But times have changed and now superheroes have been forced into hiding by lawsuits and angry recipients of unwanted good deeds. So the once-famous heroes have gone into government-funded hiding and are just trying to blend in. Bob works as an insurance claims agent while Helen stays home and raises the kids, Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Dash (Spencer Fox), who have powers of their own. They are supposed to keep a low profile and pretend to be a normal family.
But some things are easier said than done. Bob still wants to do good, even if it means bending his company’s rules and alerting clients to loopholes in insurance rules and claiming he’s going bowling with is old buddy Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) when they’re really reliving the old days. It’s hardly surprising that when a mysterious woman named Mirage contacts him and asks him to come to an island and subdue an out-of-control super robot he leaps at the chance. He tells Helen that he’s going to a conference for work and is soon squeezing back into his suit and heading for adventure. He winds up helping Mirage a bit more, and soon Helen is suspicious.
It turns out to be a good thing for Mr. Incredible that she is, because when she flies after him (with the kids stowing away) to find out just what is going on she shows up just in time to rescue him from a new kind of super villain – one who, born without superpowers of his own, has invented machines to give them to him.
At the heart of this film are fears that makes the characters feel real to us. Bob hates feeling useless and fears that he’s become unimportant. Helen fears that her family is about to be torn apart by Bob’s shenanigans. Violet is in middle school and afraid of too much attention. Dash fears that he will never be allowed to show off his abilities and earn respect for them. These are fears people can identify with, both kids and adults. Pixar excels at giving unusual characters common motivations (remember the overprotective father in “Finding Nemo?”).
Of course, the animation is brilliant. There is plenty of captivating detail, but it’s the film’s cleverness that really makes it work on a visual level. The animation serves the plot rather than being the sole purpose for the film. There are so many wonderful visual elements that it’s hard to pick just a few to describe. Helen uses her power in some unusual ways to get out of trouble, and it’s a joy to see the ingenious use to which the kids put their powers when they work together.
Another aspect of the film that helps it excel is that it has content which works for both kids and grownups. Children may not get the exact reason that Helen is so worried about where Bob is, but grownups know that it’s because she’s afraid he’s unfaithful. Adults will get the film’s commentary on our culture of enforced mediocrity but kids will just see characters struggling against mean authority figures and a villain who has cool gadgets. Pixar combines adult themes with child-friendly ones with such a light touch that it’s a pleasure to get the joke and know that kids will interpret it in their own way and still enjoy it.
Overall this is a wonderful film with a big heart, and it’s almost impossible not to like it. We love to see superheroes with problems like our own because it lets us feel like we have something in common with them. This is a great film for kids and adults alike.