The Incredibles is the first Pixar movie (and the first Disney movie) to win the Hugo (through three of their five previous had been nominated), the first fully animated film, and the first superhero film. The rise of computer animation over the past decade is so obvious that it’s hardly worth mentioning, and we’ve already discussed superheroic domination of the summer blockbuster. The Hugos have sort of resisted these trends in their winners, but I guess the combination proved undeniable.
Mr. Incredible, one of America’s greatest superheroes, has a series of misadventures on his way to a wedding with another superhero, Elastigirl. He saves the day, but along the way he alienates the president of his fan club by denying him a sidekick role, and he wracks up a couple of lawsuits from a prevented suicide and a train crash. This opens a pandora’s box of superhero liability, and eventually the government steps in to pay legal fees in exchange for the superhero community going into collective retirement. Years later, Incredible and Elastigirl have settled into typical suburban lives. Their daughter can turn invisible and their son is superfast, but they try to prevent their children from using their powers in order to keep their cover. Mr. Incredible is restless though, and he jumps at a chance to do a special job fighting a robot on an isolated island. He gets back into the game, commissioning a new costume, but then uncovers a supervillain’s plot that draws his whole super-family into action.
At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon or a contrarian, I don’t like this movie as much as everyone else I know. Let me be clear, I like it. I like it a lot. I just don’t love it. It’s closer to the bottom of my personal Pixar rankings…which still puts it above most movies out there. I have two big problems of varying degrees of nitpickiness. Nitpickiest first: there’s a big part of me that wishes this were a Fantastic Four movie. The powers, and a lot of the set up, are straight out of the epic, genius sixties superhero-family comics of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The similarities are numerous enough to bother me (and the FF movies are awful – so unfair), but I know I should just get over this. My second problem, which I think is a more legitimate issue, is that the political message is really weird. Writer/director Brad Bird is claiming that society forces exceptional people to hide their talents, which feels a lot like a straw man to me. I don’t really see this problem in the world. The villain’s grudge is that he doesn’t have powers, and one of his threats is that he’ll distribute his magnificent inventions to the people to put them on par with people with superpowers. The inventions themselves seem to negate his grudge and keeping technology from the masses just so powered people can feel their full specialness just seems petty. I really don’t get it. I’m probably thinking about it a lot harder than I’m supposed to.
While I’m complaining about a universally beloved film, I’ll go all in and add that the animation is showing its age a bit. It looks fantastic, but the limits if the character animation and the static nature of some of the backgrounds go a long way to showing how quickly computer animation advances. It’s still dazzling and gorgeous, but more recent Pixar pics are even moreso.
Okay, now that I’ve got all that off my chest, I will say this is a very fun movie, and one of the best superhero films of all time. It does look great, despite being long-in-the-tooth in computer animation terms, and the character dynamics are interesting and rich. I would say that Eternal Sunshine should have won, and I also prefer Prisoner of Azkaban and Spider-Man 2. But these are four great films (the fifth nominee Sky Captain…not so much), so I’m not really complaining.