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Incredibles, The

Reviewed By Robert Flaxman
Posted 11/15/04 18:07:14

"Bird and Pixar turn cliches into gold."
5 stars (Awesome)

The teaser trailer for Pixar's 2005 release Cars runs before The Incredibles, and it has to be said - it's monumentally uninspiring. Pixar hasn't released a bad feature yet, though, and managed to turn talking fish into the best film of 2003, so I won't write it off yet. Further reason not to is provided by The Incredibles, which takes a stable full of shopworn superhero clichés and uses Pixar's standards - sharp writing, dead-on voice work, and superior animation - to turn them into the most entertaining film the studio has put out to date.

The basic ideas may be borrowed from decades of comic book lore - the basic lineup of the Incredibles and their friend Frozone is pretty much the Fantastic Four plus the Flash - but writer/director Brad Bird takes the concept to another level when he decides to explore more into the world of the secret identity. Bird's presentation of a family trying desperately to keep their powers hidden from the public as events make it harder and harder is probably the strongest part of the film, which should say a lot about how good it is.

From the family dynamic of the film's first half, Bird launches the action into the stratosphere when he sends Mr. Incredible on assignment; the hero is pressed into service by what at first appears to be a shadowy government agency, but turns out to be a front for the operations of super-villain Syndrome. Bird's instincts here are dead-on as well; in this age of pop culture, who better to play the villain than an obsessed fanboy bent on revenge on the hero who spurned him? Casting Kevin Smith vet Jason Lee as the voice of Syndrome is no less a stroke of genius; playing a twisted version of characters like Mallrats' Brodie Bruce, Lee nails the perfect combination of menace and lionization, as when Syndrome pronounces himself "geeking out" at the way Mr. Incredible was able to evade his scanning robots after an explosion.

It may be fun, but this second half suffers a bit in comparison with the first. Bird's idea to depict superheroes as people struggling to fit into a world that had grown upset with their powers recalls the principles behind the X-Men films, and the idea of someone with superhuman speed having to try to keep from easily outdistancing other kids in a footrace, among others, is a clever one. The various ways in which the Incredibles try, and generally fail, to fit in are depicted well. In so doing, Bird has made a film that may borrow some of its ideas, but which has taken on a life of its own: rather than being a superhero film or a family film, The Incredibles truly melds into a superhero family film.

Thus, the second section, which is mostly action, lets the movie down a bit. This isn't to say that it's bad, of course - Syndrome has a terrific character arc, and the idea of the family having to use its powers to save the day as well as themselves ties in well with the first half. But things get a bit rushed, and ultimately forced, at the end, thanks to Bird trying to squeeze in as many climactic battles as possible and then tacking on a second ending that feels kind of silly. It's a relatively minor complaint in the long run - The Incredibles holds up well over its two-hour running time.

Never any less than fun, The Incredibles has moments of pure genius and some of pure glee as well. It spends a bit too much time on the action, risking becoming a standard genre film, but survives the rough patches to be one of the year's best films and probably its most purely entertaining. Pixar, you've done it again.

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