Take one part beautiful animation aimed at children, another action-packed superhero film, and a final of satire at both superheros and suburban life, and you have an apt description of The Incredibles. Here is a children’s film detailing a world where superheroes have been eliminated not by the villains, but by the government, as their lawsuits have cost taxpayers too much money for their antics to continue.
Now, it’s fifteen years after the exile. Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson) and his wife, Helen (Holly Hunter) are now living in a random city, raising three children, Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (Spencer Fox), and the baby named Jack-Jack. He works for an insurance agency in a cubicle his body can barely fit into, and has to put up with a terrible boss at his dead-end job. Once a week, he and his best friend, Lucius (Samuel L. Jackson), put on masks, listen to the police frequencies, and fight crime. This is what their lives have degenerated into.
Of course, Bob is delighted when he receives a note from a woman named Mirage (Elizabeth Peña). She tells him that she needs him to come to a mysterious island, don his superhero costume, and beat a machine called the Omnidroid into submission. Having just lost his temper and thrown his boss through multiple walls and subsequently been fired, he jumps at the opportunity. His wife doesn’t get to know, however, as she’s adapted far better to civilian life than he has.
Eventually, one thing leads to another, Bob is in danger, and his family has to team up in order to save him and, yes, save the world while they’re at it. Maybe. The bad guy is named Syndrome (Jason Lee), whose devious plan isn’t even worth explaining. He’s an egotist who wants attention, but little more. He doesn’t have real powers; instead, he uses inventions in order to act like he does. Perhaps the most uninteresting aspect of The Incredibles is its villain, although one of the machines he invents does pose a genuine threat.
I suppose I should describe the family and each member’s powers. Bob becomes Mr. Incredible, and is given super strength. Helen is, or was, Elastigirl, and just like her name indicates, she can stretch and morph her body like an elastic band. Dash and Violet don’t get nicknames. The male child has super speed, while the female can become invisible and also create force fields. Jack-Jack doesn’t have any powers, we’re told. Maybe he’s just too young.
After the plot gets rolling, it doesn’t slow down until the film reaches its conclusion. After the action starts, it doesn’t get to stop, and you don’t get a chance to catch your breath. This is the most action-packed Pixar movie, even if the action might not have been as exciting as the early parts which investigated what it might be like to live in suburbia with incredible superpowers. That aspect gets ignored once the characters are allowed to use their powers again (understandably so), although I think I enjoyed the earlier parts more than the “save the world” plotline.
The comedy also dries up once The Incredibles decides it wants to focus on action. I laughed quite often during earlier portions, like when Helen thinks that Bob might be having an affair with another woman (you’ll understand when you watch this), but once their lives are in jeopardy, the humor leaves them. Again, I can understand why this happens, but it disappointed me. Once this becomes a pure action film, it becomes more generic and less thoughtful.
That’s not to say that I still didn’t have a good time, because this is still an enjoyable film, even at its weakest point. But the commentary becomes relegated to an almost non-existent role once the Supers put on their red tights and decide to fight robots, lackeys, and one angry fanboy. I also disliked how Lucius is ignored for most of the film, only showing up a couple of times throughout. His power is to shoot ice out of his hands, if you were wondering.
Everything about The Incredibles screams that a lot of work went into it. The animation is beautiful, the character designs are gorgeous, the detail put into seemingly insignificant details is surprising — until you realize that this was made by Pixar and directed by Brad Bird (who also provides the voice of one of the supporting characters in the film; he easily gets the most laughs in this role). The voice acting was all quality, although, like I said, I wanted more from Samuel L. Jackson’s character. He’s more of a comic relief character, and that would have fit well after the other characters stop making us laugh. Regardless, the voice actors are all engaging and bring life — or a lack thereof in the case of some of them — to their characters.
The Incredibles is an incredibly ambitious animated project, even if it isn’t necessarily a great one. It never stops being interesting, and I enjoyed it, but it degenerates into pure action in its second half, chucking the heart and brains that made it great in the first half out the window with that turn. It’s exciting, and it was rendered beautifully in every aspect, but the narrative is what holds it back from being great. As it is, it’s an enjoyable animated action flick that most people will probably enjoy.