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Alex Stroup, editor

Pixar's The Incredibles

Newest pic one of the best superhero movies of all time

Friday, November 5, 2005
by Alex Stroup, MousePlanet editor
[Are you a parent wondering how Pixar's rated PG movie might fare with your child? Read Lisa Perkis' special “Parenting in the Theater” review of The Incredibles below.]

With the penultimate release of the current partnership between Disney and Pixar, Disney has to be hoping that Pixar continues its existence as a money-printing machine. It might have been to Disney's negotiating advantage for Pixar to have a bit of a stumble at this stage, but after a terrible year at the box office, any money is good money.

And let there be no mistake: Pixar is eventually going to release a dud. Just not in 2004. The Incredibles is a dazzling mix of action, humor, satire, and visual style that makes it not only the best animated movie of the year (yes, better than the sweet but overly ironic Shrek 2) but also one of the best superhero movies of all time (a genre of admittedly weak competition).


© Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.

If you are fan of director Brad Bird's The Iron Giant (1999)—and if you've seen it, you should be—then you'll likely really go for The Incredibles. The style is very different, but it has a core of sentimentality that keeps you connected to the characters without becoming treacle. The story is high-concept and simple to explain: An overly litigious society forces superheroes to give up their work and live only within their secret-identity lives. One average family (the Parrs, of course) are drawn back into the superhero life by a new supervillain.

The idea of superheroes giving up, or losing, what it is that makes them unique is hardly new. It was done earlier this year in Spider-Man 2, and it was done 24 years ago in Superman II. Brad Bird, however, who also wrote the movie, gets to both have his cake and eat it. Reveling in the superhero formula, he also gets to satirize it. In his world, superheroes give up their heroic deeds not to have a normal life with a loved one, but because innocent bystanders keep suing them for the damage caused in the pursuit of supervillains.

It is a clever set-up that correctly sets the mood for a movie that will be more action-oriented and less comedy-oriented than Pixar's other films. In fact, this may be the only thing that could blunt the success of the movie. When I first saw it in unfinished form almost a year ago, I thought it was a bit too talky and, at 115 minutes, too long for the core audience. Seeing it in completed form I no longer feel so strongly about it, but I don't really see 4-, 5-, and 6-year-olds wanting to watch it over and over again.

I can't complain, though, if an animated movie has erred on the side of playing too old. Older children and adults will find plenty to entertain them, and if the youngest lose interest and hurt the bottom line at the box office and on DVD, it in no way detracts from the quality.

It is perhaps true that every success by computer-generated animation is another nail in the coffin of traditional animation, and if so that is to be lamented. Regardless, the advances in the form shown by Pixar and Dreamworks (through PDI, the company that creates Dreamworks' animated CGI movies) are phenomenal. Human characters are the greatest challenge (see Andy in the Toy Story movies), and you could sense Pixar trying to avoid them as much as possible. Has Pixar solved the human problem? No, they've avoided it and likely created more “real” looking characters through comic-book caricatures than if they'd gone for complete realism.

Traditional animation and comic books require a stylized vision, as it is just too labor intensive to capture every detail of reality. It is perhaps ironic that live-action filmmakers spend so much time trying to get reality out of the frame while computer-generated filmmakers have spent so much effort trying to get it back in. This is a long-winded way of trying to say that Brad Bird's vision well uses the CG form while still relying on the visual simplicity he required as a traditional animator.

Pixar has also continued its genious at voice-casting. With the exception of the Toy Story movies, they've again avoided the pitfall of Disney's other animated films where every voice is a somebody, and you spend half your time trying to recognize or remember who some bit character is.

Craig T. Nelson (Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible), Holly Hunter (Helen Parr/Elastigirl), Jason Lee (Syndrome), and Sarah Vowell (Violet Parr), of NPR fame, are all distinctive voices while not being overwhelmingly familiar. Samuel L. Jackson's ice-wielding Frozone is probably the most familiar voice, but his screen time is limited to a couple minutes at most.

The entire voice cast is excellent, with Holly Hunter being a particularly edgy choice that works wonderfully. Hunter doesn't have the greatest voice in the world, with some rough edges and verbal tics that end up solidifying Elastigirl as a real person.

Bird heard Sarah Vowell narrating on National Public Radio's This American Life and knew she'd be the perfect voice for Violet, a teenaged girl trying to figure out who she is, and her shyness well represented by her powers of invisibility and force fields. Vowell's quirky voice captures this girl living inside herself, waiting for permission to control her body and her personality.

Perhaps the best voice, though, is that of Brad Bird himself as Edna Mode, clothing designer to the superheroes. Her lecture on why heroes should not wear capes may be the funniest bit in the movie.


© Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.

As mentioned before, The Incredibles has some scenes that may simply be too boring for the youngest watchers. Simultaneously it does earn its PG rating with action scenes that may be too intense for those same youngest viewers, and while nobody dies on screen, the deaths of various minions and henchmen can be directly inferred.

Seeing the trailer for Cars brought home how close we likely are to the end of the Disney/Pixar era. Only one more movie to go and then we'll all begin to learn whether it was a symbiotic or parasitic relationship.


Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Alex here.

Parenting in the Theater Review

The Incredibles a solid winner for the whole family

Friday, November 5, 2005
by Lisa Perkis, staff writer

[Caution: There are very mild spoilers in this review.]

In our house, seeing new Pixar movies is a no-brainer. They come out, we go. However, when the commercials for The Incredibles started running, my 7-year-old declared she didn't want to see it, because it looked, in her words, “Way too scary, Mom.” The commercials didn't look all that bad, but it did look like some more intense action and a departure from the usual mild storylines. Also, the film was rated PG, instead of the G all other Pixar films received. But come on now, this is a Pixar movie—it can't be too bad, can it?

Let's get one thing out of the way before we answer that question. The movie is great, stupendous, ingenious, fantastic, amazing, wonderful, exhilarating, and if you give it a dollar it will give you back five quarters for your four. It's everything you've heard and more so. If you have a job, quit it and go see this movie as soon as humanly possible. But, the reviews you are reading are all from adults. Grown-ups who have a history of watching bullets fly and people, animals, and cartoon characters getting shot at, beaten on, imperiled, impaled, and generally put in what the little ones call “stranger danger.” Getting back to the small concern some parents might have, how is this movie for children?

The short answer is, it's great! And it's not just great for those parents who let their 4-year-olds watch Terminator 2 (like a very nice but not particularly bright friend of ours did). If your children are already watching Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Spider-Man, or Pirates of the Caribbean, you have absolutely nothing to worry about. This movie is much less intense, scary, and “bloody” than all of those. Even if your younger children aren't yet watching such movies, you should be fine taking them to see The Incredibles. This is a true family film—engaging, jaw-dropping, and humorous for the adults, and thrilling, funny, and inspiring for the kids.

The hardest scenes for some parents and their little ones might be the times when the Parr/Incredible kids, Dash and Violet, are put in very real danger by, oh, just about everything: Bullets shooting directly at them, large men attempting to pummel them with their fists, being nearly blown up, getting stomped on by a big robot, drowning… you name it. Director Brad Bird, however, does a good job of presenting that danger in a way that is exciting and a little scary without being terrifying. You've started to see that Dash and Violet have the special powers to protect themselves, and that it's just a matter of time before they start using them to excel against their foes.

In addition to the violence involving Dash and Violet, the movie presents some real danger and peril. Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl kick some major buttocks in this film and that includes a lot of bad minions dying some fairly horrible (although bloodless) deaths.

Also, although not shown on screen, the deaths of some good guys are referred to. Fortunately, while parents may understand just how gory those deaths were or will end up being, they should fly over children's heads (but they may not be asking for caped costumes next Halloween.) The villain in the movie, Syndrome, is probably on the level of Randall from Monsters, Inc., starting off bad in the beginning but becoming more and more fearsome and evil by the big showdown. He does have enough doofusness in him, though, to remain less than terrifying to the little ones.

Finally, how is the “boring” factor in this one? Early scenes show the Parr family doing less-than-incredible things like working at shlubby jobs and going to school. However, enough humor packs these scenes to keep children interested, especially from Dash, who would have been a huge star this Halloween had the movie come out earlier this year. There is also a substory relating to potential marital problems between the Parr parents and the influence of a Syndrome henchwoman in that area. Parents will find this interesting but most children will miss it entirely. However, these scenes still include a lot of humor or action—for example, the parents fighting with each other while fighting the bad guys is a classic—providing entertainment for all ages.

Our daughters (ages 7 and 10) were very enthusiastic, and are currently plotting ways to get every adult in their lives to take them to see it over and over again. Take your children to see it; you won't regret it.

On a side note, Disney's El Capitan Theater in Hollywood is screening The Incredibles along with a live stage show before each showing. The stage show has nothing to do with the movie and is titled “The Magic of Hollywood.” It's about 10 to 15 minutes of live singer/dancers (who sound accompanied by vocal tracks on the group numbers) along with a hodge-podge of Disney characters such as Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Buzz, Woody, Mike, Sully, Snow White, Belle, and maybe one or two others. The singers belt out classic movie/theater songs like “Singing in the Rain,” “That's Entertainment,” and “Funny Face” while the characters dance along.

Overall, it's fun for the kids (less so for adults) and combined with the Wurlitzer Organ you see being played live on stage when you enter, a decent pre-show. Is it worth the $15 for adults and $13 for kids and seniors (or a whopping $24 VIP ticket, which gets you popcorn, a drink, a reserved seat, and no line waiting)? Well, it's a nice theater, the organ is cool, and every Friday they are giving away a digital camera package to one lucky patron. You shouldn't head over to the El Cap just to see the stage show, but if you want to make it a nice full day and don't mind shelling out $5 or $6 more than you would to see just the movie at your local theater, it's a fun time. The Incredibles with the stage show runs five times daily between now and January 2.


Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Lisa here.

Mini-review: Boundin'

Friday, November 5, 2005
by Alex Stroup, MousePlanet editor

Boundin' is a Pixar short that will be shown before The Incredibles. Boundin' has been floating around since 2003, and while The Incredibles is now becoming a contender for an Academy Award, Boundin' already lost one last February to Harvie Krumpet.

For most people, though, this will be their first easy opportunity to see this short film that is almost entirely from the mind of long-time animator Bud Luckey. Luckey wrote, directed, designed, narrated, and scored the bit.

It is very much a short; just over four minutes, it involves a vain sheep who loves to dance. He preens for his neighbors and is thrown into depression when shorn of his beautiful fleece. Then a bounding jackalope sets him straight that it isn't the outside that matters.

It isn't any great piece of art, but it is a nice confection before the featured film starts, and the writing is wonderful.

Pixar uses shorts as a means for testing ideas and letting people cut their teeth (though, at 69, Luckey has been in the industry for a while) and all animators are encouraged to submit ideas. Animated from January to October of 2003, Boundin' was reportedly an opportunity to test some new lighting techniques that will be seen in next year's Cars. It would be great if we started to see Disney doing the same and attaching shorts to its feature releases as well (recognizing that they did attach Lorenzo to Raising Helen).



MOVIE DETAILS

The Incredibles is a Walt Disney Pictures release.

Wide theatrical release: November 5, 2004.

Directed and written by Brad Bird.

Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Jason Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, and Sarah Vowell.

Rated PG for action violence.

Running time: 115 minutes.

Alex's Rating: 9 out of 10.

Lisa's Rating: 9 out of 10.


Boundin' is a Pixar Studios release.

Wide theatrical release: November 5, 2004 (attached to The Incredibles).

Directed, written, and narrated by Bud Luckey.

Not rated, though equivelant of a G.

Running time: 4 minutes.

Alex's Rating: 7 out of 10.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alex Stroup is a degreed librarian with an undergraduate degree in history. An avid reader, movie buff, and devoted “information junkie,” Alex currently lives and works in the Northern California Bay Area. Alex is also the CEO of MousePlanet.

Click here to contact Alex.

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