The Incredibles review by The Grim Ringler
As a kid I never really wanted to be a superhero. I wanted to be a cartoonist, or a director, or a sound effects person, or a monster, but never a superhero. The fact is, for most of my life I never got the superhero mystique. I didnt like how black and white the world was for them. How no one suffered, and no one died, or at least that was how it seemed to me. I first got into superheroes when the animated Batman series came on television and was hooked on it immediately. And the older I have gotten the more I have come to appreciate the mythos and world of superheroes. The book that really did it for me was one drawn by comic artist Alex Ross called Kingdom Come that was the first depiction of heroes as flawed and mortal that I had found and I fell hard in love. The more I read of the modern superhero tales, generally just the short what if books, the more I have come to appreciate the world of the superhero. When I was a kid all I could see were the superpowers and the villains that were mirrored images of their foes, what I never saw though were the people in the suits. I never saw the lives they lead outside of their persona. I never saw anything but an adoring world. As I have become exposed to some of the more outstanding modern interpretations I have been able to see past the cape and tights and into the lives of these incredible people and have gained a better appreciation of this form of storytelling. Not since Unbreakable has a film given us such an open and honest view of what the world of superheroes would truly be. Of all the things The Incredibles does right, for me, the most interesting thing is that this film is able to create superheroes who are ordinary schlubs when they arent saving the world people who go to work and have family trouble and who question themselves yet the film still allows the characters to be heroes. Instead of destroying the mythical magic of the superhero, the idea that these are people who must struggle with their own lives and yet still feel beholden to save the world works to make the heroes even more special and adds an extra layer to them. What I found while watching The Incredibles was not just a simple kids movie about superheroes, but was one of those rare treasures we seem to get every time Pixar Studios releases a new film a film that is both for adults and children. A film that is both a deconstruction and a re-building of the superhero myth. A film that shows children both death and life. And best of all, a film that delivers on the promise of its potential a rare thing indeed.
The Incredibles begins during the height of the power and popularity of the supers as they are called, a sub-culture of superheroes that serve and protect the people of the world from the dark forces that have risen to threaten the innocent. The tone is set immediately with archival footage of Mr. Incredible as he vents a little about how quickly the world falls into peril after it has just been saved. Sure these are superheroes, but they have other things to do as well, we soon learn. And it seems as if things cant get better for the supers when Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl, another hero, are wed and prepare to begin a life together without the capes and masks. Little do any of them realize though that the days when the Supers would be heroes is about to pass, in large part because of Mr. Incredible, who accidentally injures a man he had saved from committing suicide. The injured man quickly finds a lawyer and a series of lawsuits casts a long and dark shadow over the supers and quickly puts an end to their reign. The world at large, a world that had relied on the Supers to protect and inspire them all, has suddenly turned on their heroes and wants nothing more to be rid of them, and with the help of a government agency that allows the Supers to go underground, humanity gets its wish and is rid of those who had served them so selflessly. And now, years later and resigned to a normal life behind a desk, working for a company that is a mockery of what he used to do himself (an insurance agency that is meant to help people but that only serves to cause them further pain in the end), he has become a shadow. He loves his family, he loves his wife, but he is a ghost. At night Mr. Incredible and his friend Frozone, the only other Super he knows outside of his wife, sneak off in the hopes of helping people secretly, disguised as cat burglars. But nothing can seem to quench the fire that still burns in Mr. Incredible. All of this changes when Mr. Incredible gets a message from a mysterious woman who claims to have been a super herself it seems a sentient robot has been stolen and is on an isolated island and it seems that only Mr. Incredible might be the only person who can stop the machine before it gets off the island and causes real damage. Overweight and out of shape, Mr. Incredible is far from prepared to return to duty as a superhero but the pull is too great and he cant resist the idea of helping the world againand now getting paid to do it. His mission goes well and hes hooked, and suddenly he is hiding a life from his wife as he had hidden his own real life for the rest of the world, almost reveling in his secret life and his undercover missions. What Mr. Incredible doesnt realize though is that the person who has hired him for all these missions has been testing him and assessing himand the time has come for this mystery man to reveal himself and to finally have revenge on the man he had once idolized and now despises. Meanwhile Elastigirl has problems of her own as she realizes her husband has been leading a double-life and is now missing and her children, both of them having powers of their own, feel caged because they are forced to hide the very things that make them special and unique. But just as things look the darkest its time for the family to pull together, pull out the old super-suits, and save their family and the world.
Telling a story that is as gripping to a child as it is to an adult is no easy task, but for some reason Pixar and their artists get it. I suppose that, more than anything, they refuse to dumb down their subjects. Or dumb down their ideas and themes. Will the kids pick up everything? Perhaps not right away, but some day they will. And the films are so strong that the kids will WANT to go back to them time after time. And adults can see reflections of reality in the tales of fish, toys, bugs, and now superheroes. The heart of The Incredibles is the story of the Parr family and how they deal with being super. This is a damaged family that is learning to deal with a world that doesnt want them to be the best they can be. Their son isnt allowed to try out for track because he is just too fast and would always win. And people dont like to know they will always lose. They dont like being inferior. Which brings us to another theme that runs through the film the idea that sometimes we have to accept that we arent the greatest, and that thats ok. The villain of the film could have become a strong ally to the Supers, might even have helped to create a new era where the Supers were accepted again, but instead sets his life up in a way so that he can punish Mr. Incredible for never allowing him to be Incredibles sidekick. The humans too reflect a sad tendency in humans to love and all but worship people yet come to loathe those same heroes when we realize we will never be able to do what they can. Its the same mentality that leads us to stalk our celebrities with paparazzi and takes a sick pleasure in seeing our idols laid low. The idea too is raised that the villains in this film arent like cartoon villains in that these villains truly do intend to kill the Incredibles, children and adults alike, something we havent really seen in many childrens films. Its this attitude, that children deserve to know the truth, that sets this film above many in this category because it serves as a bridge between the wonder and innocence of children, and the cold reality of a big, dangerous world that adolescents must begin to face. This film and its makers are saying look, the world is a scary place, but if you trust in yourself, in your family, and are careful, you will be ok. And sure, thats simplifying reality, but for a kids film to say that, its pretty damned impressive. Which makes you realize that Pixar and Disney could never have survived were they to stay together. Pixar needs space to grow and to explore themes that Disney films just dont. Disney films are generally pretty black and white, but with a film like The Incredibles, the best you can do are shades of gray.
Having read a couple reviews of the film before it opened I saw that people were getting a distinctly conservative ideal from the film that I didnt catch at all and I think that people are ascribing things to the film that may not be there. Or at least, that I didnt pick up on. Sure, there is a moment where you get the idea that the world has moved on, and that the world that needs superheroes is shunned, but thats underplayed. What I picked up more on was the idea of a world where it is seen as weak to need saving. A world that would rather perish, so it would seem, than to ask for help. The biggest faults I can find were, for me, manageable. The larger of the two is that the film falls victim to its own speechifying, or rather, the film gets pretty talky. There is no way around it because the family needs to interact, needs to work things out. And some kids, and adults, may find that the action doesnt kick in soon enough, and well, it doesnt. I can live with that. Instead of setting this up like a traditional action film where there is action, action, action, and then plot smashed into the scant minutes between all that, The Incredibles focuses on the Parr family and then works outwards from there. The magic of the filmmakers is that even Frozone, a background character for most of the film, and Syndrome, the villain, both feel fleshed out even though they are far from the stars here. The focus is on how this family can stay together, can come to terms with their places in the world, and learn to be who they are no matter what, and the action is secondary.
From the absolutely adorable short cartoon before the film (a gem called Boundin) to the last frame, this is an instant classic. Better than the other Pixar films? Time will tell. There may be one or two that are better, but The Incredibles can stand tall with any of the others. This is not just a wonderful animated film but also a great film in general, and truly a love letter to comic book geeks. Honoring the past and creating a new way to look at these heroes and how they cope with a world that both loves and hates them. Its rare when a film so rich and deep comes out and is as engaging for adults as it is for children. Rent The Iron Giant and then go see this. You wont be sorry.
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