dir: Brad Bird
I don’t think Pixar know how to make a bad movie. Really, even if they’d wanted to, I don’t think they could manage it. They just wouldn’t know how to be mediocre. Perhaps they need to take notes from Disney. Now there’s a creatively and intellectually bankrupt company still churning out sub-standard product at a rapid rate. There’s your business model worthy of emulation.
Calling Brad Bird the director of something that would have required the supervision and input of countless bazillions of people seems somehow deceptive, but he must know what he’s doing and not just be Steve Job’s footstool. Whilst watching The Simpsons the other night (one of those rare times when I only get to watch one Simpsons episodes in a day as opposed to three) I noticed his name in the credits, and then again after watching King of the Hill last weekend. So he knows about conventional animation as well, not just this fancy-shmancy stuff.
Now that computer animated movies rule at the box office, every studio is trying to pump them out quicker than you can say ‘Bandwagonesque’. And of course as you’re saying it remember and cherish the Teenage Fanclub album from the early 90s that shares its name. Ah, the early 90s. When flannel and dewberry bodywash reigned supreme, but not usually on the same people.
Even before the screening of this film began there were promos to two other computer animated features soon to come out: one exceedingly dumb looking one called Robots complete with the annoying coked-out-of-his-mind voice that Robin Williams can manage at the drop of a Mork and Mindy DVD, and another one replete with talking zoo animals constantly spouting cliches. They always put the cliches in the trailers. Sometimes you wonder whether the objective of the trailer makers is to dissuade people from seeing the movie they’re supposed to be promoting. You can never know for sure, since the human capacity for perversity is legendary and has been lamented in song and story for centuries.
Suffice to say that many of the studios, based on the success of the Pixar films and the mostly dull as fuck Shrek movies now think that all audiences want to see is computer animated movies. Fun for the whole family. All you need are a stack of celebrity voices, a few arse gags and pop culture references for people that still think mentioning New Kids on the Block or Flock of Seagulls is cutting edge, and the great unwashed will be killing each other in their single-minded desire to get into the cinema first.
Of course this is going to result, as it does whenever any genre becomes popular or is re-discovered, in a few decent movies and a thousand crappy ones made by people who can think only to say ‘Me Too!!’ when it comes to coming up with creative ideas.
The Incredibles is definitely in the decent movie camp. The animators are achieving the bleeding edge of computer technology and finding ways to make it bleed even more with graphics that are breathtaking, truly, despite the fact that each time a new Pixar film comes out it makes the one that came out before it look exceedingly dated. But the writers also manage to craft a decent story rife with humour, intelligence and even a touch of pathos in an industry where none of those three elements are generally considered that important in the movie-making process.
And though, as are all the Pixar stories thus far, and presumably for the foreseeable future, this is obviously a ‘family’ film, it avoids enough of the saccharine and treacle to make watching it still a treat for someone who usually runs a mile from such fare. When I say run, I kind of mean ‘casually stroll away with an affected disinterest’, since running really isn’t usually my thing. Unless it involves running for a tram in the morning on the way to work, or running away from a tram if the ticket inspectors are gunning for me.
The reality and the concept of ‘work’ surprisingly plays a large role in the story here, which raises this further above standard kiddie fare. It’s an unusually adult story, but then that’s always been Pixar’s shtick as well: get the kids in with the bright colours and merchandise (thus guaranteeing revenue), but focus the story as much from an adult point of view as well as that of a child.
The story deals with the lives of a particularly unusual family forced to live a mundane existence out in the suburbs. Two former superheroes, Mr Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) and Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) are forced by litigation and a hostile press to go into a Relocation Program for Superheroes, after years of loyal service to the citizens of Metroville. They’ve settled down, the wife’s squeezed out a few puppies, but something just doesn’t sit right for Mr Incredible. As Bob Parr he’s forced to work a crappy insurance job in a cubicle that’s way too small for him, for pay that means the car he can afford is a tad too snug for him as well. He returns to his suburban home to a nagging wife and three difficult kids, exhausted from another day of drudgery and the overwhelming feeling of pointlessness. The way these aspects of his daily reality are represented is beautifully, succinctly done.
In truth, with the exception of the superstrength and the nagging wife continually trying to squash you down and make sure you maintain the requisite amount of mundanity required at all times, doesn’t that describe most people’s lives anyway? This isn’t exactly virgin territory. The only people who need to be reminded of these concepts are the chronically unemployed, who therefore feel gratitude for not having to be part of the daily 9 to 5 shitfight, and those tight-mouthed humourless people who brag about having worked 14 hours a day since they were 12 who end up dying in an apartment full of cats at age 45 of a massive heart attack.
Then there’s the rest of us in between, some of whom like our jobs, some who don’t, but most of us always wish there was something out there that we were made for. Some vocation, some calling that it wasn’t a struggle to get out of bed for, but a delight instead. A reason for being that we excelled at and were appreciated for.
You know, like a porn star or the driver of an ice cream van.
Bob doesn’t handle the civilian life very well. All he wants is to help people, to battle evil, and to be the superhero that he was born to be. His son Dash wants the same thing: the freedom to be exactly as super as he can be, without consideration for the sensibilities or the mediocrity of the people they are surrounded by. All Mrs Incredible wants is for her family to fit in, for their own good and the good of the people around them. Daughter Violet just wants to be a sulky goth who’s both literally and figuratively invisible. And the youngest member of the clan, Jack Jack, presumably just wants to crap his nappies in some super heroic fashion.
Circumstances compel the super duper ones to go into hiding, and then as you can only expect for the story to have somewhere to go, to come out of retirement to save the city, the world and Steve Jobs’ prostate. Will our heroes triumph, or will the forces of evil win for once? Who can tell? I mean, in every single other story the good guys win and the bad guys lose, but statistically speaking they’re about due for a win any day now.
To call the film a pastiche of themes and influences doesn’t do either the film or the term ‘pastiche’ justice. It combines stunning visuals with a design sensibility from the 1930s and 1950s, the Saturday afternoon matinee serials, the old Buck Rogers / Flash Gordon kitsche and the Jetson’s kind of idea as to what the future was going to look like that was nowhere even close. It adds to this the dynamic from the Bond films (including the aesthetics, the music, one of the characters and much of the action), action sequences that are only possible in something of this magnitude, an attention to detail that is simply staggering, a supervillain that for once has a believable or at least understandable reason for wanting to make his impact upon the world, and a humorous and literate script that’s better than pretty much any mainstream action film or comedy from the last bunch of years.
In short, it is a brilliant little chestnut of a thing. Even the credit sequences are superb.
The completeness with which this film achieves its goals is somewhat intimidating. It makes you wonder how other people can work in the field, see something like this and not give up their chosen profession entirely.
So, yes, I do think this film is several shades of wonderful.
Some of the more noteworthy scenes out of a long list, for my money: seeing Bob in his office cubicle with the energy being sucked out of him by the evil office environment, Bob and his friend Frozone fighting crime dressed as criminals to hide their identities, Bob’s shrine to himself and to heroism in his den, the Thunderbirds-like / Bond villainesque island fortress, especially the manner in which the mechanical design of the place deals with waterfalls and lava flows, Elastigirl’s difficult experience with doors, the case against superheroes wearing capes, the Omnidroid in its various incarnations, the super hero outfit designer Edna E Mode (who is hilarious, truly), I could go on and on.
It’s good, it really is that good.
Still, speaking as I did at the beginning of this monstrosity of a review about human perversity, something about it still bugged me. Though I liked it, it felt somewhat empty. I’d pretty much forgotten about it until discussing it with friends afterwards. And some of the cliches of domestic life have been overdone so often even when satirised they can still be highly annoying.
Maybe that’s not it. Maybe it’s just that hearing people talk about how, being super people, they should be allowed to do what they want to ‘help’ society sounds oddly reminiscent. Hmm, ‘superpeople’, or ‘super’ and ‘man’. In German that’d be ‘ubermensch’, wouldn’t it? I’ll have to look it up in my history books to see who first suggested that crazy idea…
8 thwarted nerds who become supervillains out of 10
‘Now that's the way to do it. That's old school.
And you know there's no school like the old school.’ – The Incredibles