Saturday, June 7, 2014

Stubs – Second Opinion: The Incredibles (2004)

The Incredibles (2004) Starring the voice of: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Spencer Fox, Jason Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Elizabeth Peña and Brad Bird. Directed by Brad Bird. Screenplay by Brad Bird. Produced by John Walker Run Time: 115 minutes. U.S.  Color, Animated, Comedy, Action

By 2004, Pixar Animation Studios was considered to be on the leading edge of animation. They had burst on the scene in 1995 with Toy Story and had followed up every few years with A Bug’s Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), Monsters, Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo (2003). All had been directed by original members of the Pixar team and all had been incredibly successful. During the same period, Brad Bird had moved from animator to writer/director with The Iron Giant (1999), a great film that flopped at the box office due in part to the lack of marketing by Warner Bros., which was gun shy after the boxoffice failure of Quest for Camelot (1998). But the film impressed John Lasseter, head of Pixar and an old friend of Bird’s.

If you think live-action features have a long lead time, they are nothing compared with animated films. Bird pitched the idea of The Incredibles to Lasseter in March 2000. Pixar signed Bird to a multifilm contract in May of that year. There were a lot of firsts in this film for Pixar: the director was not one of their own, there was only one writer on the project, Bird, and all the main characters were humans.

The Incredibles (previously reviewed on Trophy Unlocked here), in a family friendly way, covers many of the same themes that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons covered in the 1986 Watchmen comics, itself made into a movie in 2009. Society has become disillusioned with superheroes and tired of picking up the huge financial tabs super heroes leave in their wake. While Moore and Gibbons set their tale in a dystopian world, The Incredibles live amongst us in Middle America.

When the film opens, superheroes are in their prime. Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) is on his way to an important engagement, but has the time to get involved in a police pursuit, taking a few minutes to rescue a cat from a tree. Once again he helps out tracking down a purse thief and, with the help of Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), subdues the criminal. There is obviously an attraction between the two superheroes, but Elastigirl tells him that she has an engagement later.

A young and single, Mr. Incredible (Craig T.Nelson)

But one more stop on his way; Mr. Incredible foils a suicide attempt by intercepting the jumper on his way down and crashing him in through some windows in a bank tower. There, Incredible foils a bank robbery attempt by Bomb Voyage (Dominque Louis). But fanboy Buddy Pine (Jason Lee), self-proclaimed Incrediboy, who wants to be Incredible’s sidekick, interferes. This allows Bomb Voyage to escape, while Incredible removes a bomb from Incrediboy’s cape. The bomb goes off on the elevated track of a commuter train and while Incredible stops the train, passengers are injured.

Mr. Incredible has a date to keep with Elastigirl (Holly Hunter).

Still on an adrenaline rush, Incredible arrives at his destination, a church, where he married Elastigirl with his best friend, and co-crime fighter, Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) standing with him as his best man. But their future together isn’t all that rosy. The lawsuits that follow, from the suicide victim denied his effort and the injured passengers, not to mention the collateral damage done to the bank building and commuter train, lead the government to relocate the Incredibles.
Fifteen years after relocation, Bob and Helen Parr, formerly Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl, live in the suburbs with their three children Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (Spencer Fox), and baby Jack-Jack as a suburban family. Bob works as a claims agent at Insuricare, an insurance company, working for Gilbert Huph (Wallace Shawn), a job which he finds very unsatisfying.

After fifteen years in exile, Bob Parr works for Gilbert Huph (Wallace Shawn) at Insuricare.
Longing for the glory days, Bob meets up regularly with Lucius Best (aka Frozone) and they spend the night listening to the police radio and perform vigilante work, all while Helen thinks they are bowling. One night, under the watchful eye of a woman called Mirage (Elizabeth Pena), the two get involved in a burning building, rescuing several tenants, but accidentally break into a bank as part of the escape. They manage to elude the police, but Helen is not happy with Bob’s behavior.

Mr. Incredible longs for his Glory Days.
When Bob loses his temper with Mr. Huph and throws him through several walls when he won’t let him interfere with a mugging in progress, he is fired. His government handler, Rick Dicker (Bud Luckey), warns Bob about such outbursts and offers, for old time’s sake, to relocate the Parr family once again, but Bob turns down the offer.

Returning home, Bob finds a Mission: Impossible-style message from Mirage, who needs him to be Mr. Incredible again and help with a mission to destroy a malfunctioning robot called the Omnidroid, promising a substantial reward. Arriving on Nomanisan Island, Bob is able to defeat the robot by tricking it into ripping out its own power source.

Mirage (Elizabeth Pena) elicits Mr. Incredible's help with a project.
Bob is rejuvenated by being able to use his powers freely, improving his attitude and relationship with his family, and he begins rigorous training while waiting for more work from Mirage. Discovering a tear in his Mr. Incredible suit, Bob visits superhero costume designer, turned fashion mogul, Edna Mode (Brad Bird) for repairs. Edna decides to make him and his whole family new suits, unbeknownst to Helen and the children. She rejects Mr. Incredible’s desire for a suit, recounting all the supers who have been killed by accidents with their capes.

Mr. Incredible brings his suit to Edna Mode (Brad Bird) for
repairs. She makes him and his family all new outfits.

Leaving for Nomanisan once again, Bob discovers that Mirage is working for Buddy, now identifying himself as the super-villain Syndrome. Buddy, after being shunned by Mr. Incredible, took to weapons design, which has made him incredibly rich, but there are some weapons he has kept for himself, including the Omnidroid, which Syndrome has been perfecting at the expense of former Supers. Syndrome plans to release and then defeat the Omnidroid in Metroville, the Parr family’s hometown. Using controls he’s built into his own suit, Syndrome can manipulate the robot and become a hero himself. Then he plans to retire and sell his inventions so that everyone will become super, meaning that nobody really is.

Annoying Incrediboy grows up to be Syndrome (Jason Lee)

Meanwhile, Helen visits Edna, who shows her the new suits she’s gleefully designed. Edna tells Helen what Bob has been up to, making it sound like he’s having an affair with Mirage. She encourages Helen to find Bob, using a homing beacon built into his suit and go fight for him. The activation of the beacon gives Bob’s presence away and he is captured.

Syndrome captures Mr. Incredible.

Helen borrows a jet and heads for Nomanisan, but on the way she finds out Violet and Dash have stowed away wearing their own costumes, leaving Jack-Jack in the care of a teenage babysitter Kari McKeen (Bret Parker).
Syndrome picks up Helen’s radio transmissions and despite Helen’s plea that there are children onboard, sends missiles with destroy the jet. But Helen, along with the children, survives and makes it to the island, following the jet trails from the short range missiles, but Bob thinks they are dead.

Helen rescues Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Dash (Spencer Fox) by turning herself into a raft.

Leaving the children in a cave, Helen proceeds to the base to find Bob, discovering Syndrome's intentions to send the Omnidroid to Metroville in a rocket. Mirage, who is distraught when Syndrome acts indifferent to Incredible’s threat to kill her, releases Bob and informs him that his family is alive. Just when Bob hugs Mirage in celebration, Helen appears. Her suspicions realized, Bob has to convince her there’s nothing going on. The two end up racing after the children when alarms go off when they are spotted by security. Dash and Violet use their powers (Dash’s speed and Violet’s invisibility and force field capabilities) to escape their captors and are joined by their happy parents. But their freedom is short-lived when the whole family is captured by Syndrome; his plan is initiated.

The Incredible strike their iconic pose before being captured.

Violet manages to escape, but the family needs Mirage's help as well to get off the island. Using a security van, a rocket booster and Elastigirl’s stretchiness, they pursue Syndrome and the Omnidroid to Metroville. But the Omnidroid proves to be too intelligent for Syndrome and knocks the remote controls out of his grasp, knocking him unconscious and rampaging through the city.

Syndrome's Omnidroid about to wreck havoc on Metroville.

The Parrs and Lucius team up to fight the robot, but are losing until they use Syndrome's remote control and one of the Omnidroid’s detached pincers to blow a hole through the Omnidroid, the only thing strong enough to break inside, tearing out its power source and destroying it.

Lucius, aka Frozone, (Samuel L. Jackson) teams up with the Incredibles to stop the Omnidroid.

On their return home, the Parrs find Syndrome has taken over watching Jack-Jack from Kari, much to the teenager’s relief. But Syndrome intends to raise Jack-Jack as his own sidekick to seek revenge on the family. As Syndrome attempts to escape to his waiting jet, Jack-Jack, whom the family thought had no super powers of his own, shows that he has several, including turning into fire and becoming a lead weight. Syndrome drops the baby and Helen is thrown by Bob to intercept. Syndrome tries to escape in his jet, but Bob throws his own car at the jet, knocking Syndrome into the jet’s intake which catches his own cape in the blades of the engine, which sucks him in. The jet explodes and destroys the Parr's house, but Violet's force field shields the family.

Baby Jack-Jack, who no one thinks has any powers, becomes a handful for babysitter Kari.

Three months later, the Parrs have readjusted to normal life. Dash is allowed to participate in sports as long as he holds back. Violet has come out of her shell long enough to attract the attention of Tony Rydinger (Michael Bird), a popular boy at school, who asks her out. All seems right with the world, that is until a new villain called the Underminer (John Ratzenberger) tunnels up and invades the city. The family dons their superhero masks and prepares to face this new threat.

It wouldn't be a Pixar film without a vocal appearance by John
Ratzenberger, here appearing as a new villain, the Underminer.

The Incredibles would go onto win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and earn over $600 million at the worldwide boxoffice. Bird would take over the direction of Ratatouille (2007) and again win the Best Animated Feature Oscar. While the budget was 50% higher, Ratatouille, like The Incredibles would also earn more than $600 million worldwide. Bird would move on to live action films, directing Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011). He is currently working on Tomorrowland, co-written and co-produced with Damon Lindelof, and is expecting a release next year. And there are plans in the works for an Incredibles sequel.

It’s difficult for me to comment on the acting in an animated film. While the voice is very important, there are no screen captures, so much of the physical acting is animated. However, all the voices seem to hit the right notes so to speak.

The animation is typically amazing Pixar rendering. At this time the studio was setting the animation bar very high with not only incredible CGI, but amazing story-telling as well. That has arguably dropped off since, as Pixar, like all the studios, seems to rely on sequels: Toy Story 3 (2010), Cars 2 (2011) and Monsters University (2013) as they ramp up their output at the expense of invention. Their films seem to still do well at the box office, but the bloom of infallibility, which the studio once had, is off the rose by now.

Having recently watched The Incredibles again, I can tell you that it still holds up very well after ten years. It is still a lot of fun to watch and is definitely one of those family films that people over 10 can really enjoy. While I worry about Disney/Pixar going back to the well again, The Incredibles 2 is in pre-production, the magic is definitely present here and The Incredibles lives up to its name.

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