Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), a superheroine whose limbs and torso can stretch the length of an Olympic swimming pool, pauses for just a second on the way to saving the world to check out her rear end in the form-fitting super-suit. Seems that after three children, there’s a bit of stretching there that doesn’t have anything to do with superpowers. Her super-strong husband, Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) finds that if he is not careful in throwing massive evil robots around, he can throw his back out, too.
These are superheroes who find that everyday life is just as much of a challenge as taking on the bad guys, especially when that challenge includes a baby, a super-speedy son and a middle school daughter who can create a force field.
People began suing the “supers” for malpractice, so the government established a relocation program to set them up with “normal” lives. Mr. Incredible, now known simply as Bob Parr, works in a cubicle for an insurance company. Though he is told to deny all claims, he is such a do-gooder at heart that he can’t help telling people how to get around the bureaucracy. Elastigirl, now known as Helen, is preparing leftover dinners and coping with the children, and that means making sure they don’t use those special talents and blow their cover.
Characters with super-powers that essentially super-size traditional family roles gives great resonance to the story: the father strong, the mother stretched in a dozen different directions, the hyper-active son and the daughter who just wants to be invisible and create a force field to keep the world away — and who can do it, too.
What is most incredible and most engaging about “The Incredibles” is how, well, credible it is. Writer/director Brad Bird and the brainiacs at Pixar have climbed the Mount Everest of animation and created human characters as vivid and believable and utterly endearing as any who have ever appeared on film — animation, live-action, and everything in between.
In a witty prologue, we see the superheroes being interviewed. As Mr. Incredible leans toward the television camera, he gets slightly out of focus. It must have been tempting to take advantage of the endless precision of computer images to keep the edges sharp. But this is a movie that is clever and confident enough to permit a little imperfection in pursuit of perfect believability.
The action sequences are superbly staged, inventive and exciting, especially the fights with a many-tentacled robot, and when the Incredible family is joined by the very, um, cool Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson), who can create ice out of the water molecules in the air.
It helps to have superb voice talents. Hunter, Jackson, and Nelson create marvelously warm and vivid personalities. NPR essayist Sarah Vowell’s adolescent growl is perfect for pre-teen Violet. Jason Lee is terrifically petulant as the bad guy, and and Elizabeth Pena is a sultry femme almost-fatale.
It’s also one of the funniest movies of the year, hilarious at every level from school-age snickers to good-natured teen-age snarkiness and good, old-fashioned knowing and subtle grown-up laughter. Bird himself plays the funniest character in the film, but I would not think of spoiling the surprise by telling you which one.
Most of all, though, the movie has wisdom and tons of heart. It is a smart, fresh, and funny movie about the real superheroes — families.
Parents should know that this PG movie is more violent and scarier than the previous G-rated Pixar films and may be too intense for younger children. While the violence is low-key and not graphic, even comic, it may be upsetting for some children. A character makes some mild exclamations (“My God!”, etc.). There is also a reference to attempted suicide that some audience members may find disturbing.
Families who see this movie should talk about what superpowers they would most like to have and why. What would your uniform look like? Why did Violet begin to wear her hair back after she used her superpowers? What made Syndrome so angry?
Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy other Pixar/Disney classics like Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., and A Bug’s Life. They should also see Bird’s previous movie, the under-appreciated The Iron Giant, an exciting and touching story featuring a combination of computer and traditional animation and the voice talents of Jennifer Anniston and Vin Diesel. And they will enjoy the Spy Kids series, also about a family of heroes.