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Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #400: The Incredibles

Brad Bird’s “The Incredibles” is a blend of madcap superhero action, a solid family drama, and homage to the early Bond films. It is among the best of the films made by the geniuses at Pixar studio who have set the bar for animation in the last 15 years. Kids can enjoy the humour and colourful imagery, while adults of all ages can enjoy the smart story and action, which rivals some of the best action sequences of live-action summer movies.

This was a great film to watch during the holiday season back in 2004. It’s a perfect way to end the year as far as I am concerned. After spending my first college semester in Quebec City and preparing for my exams, it was time to kick back, relax, and watch a movie filled high-tech gadgets, giant robots, exotic locations, explosions, and funny quotes by Samuel L. Jackson playing a cool character called Frozone. What I didn’t expect was for the main character Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson) to suffer a mid-life crisis and risk ending his marriage. That’s a pretty grown-up problem for an animated movie. I wanted escapism at the movies, not a drama that would remind me of my parents’ divorce. Still, I have to admit, even within a superhero movie, it’s a solid depiction of a family drama.

As the story begins Bob a.k.a Mr. Incredible is on his way to marry Helen (Holly Hunter) a.k.a Elastigirl. Bob has superhuman strength while Helen’s body is like stretchable plastic. She can stretch her limbs across the room, squish into corners, and even turn into a parachute, which comes in handy when your airplane is about to explode.

Bob and Helen would be happy to live happily ever after fighting crime, but something unexpected happens: they are no longer wanted. There is a public outcry after damage done to a train Bob saved from destruction. A man even sues him for damages after Bob stopped him from jumping to his death. The government forces all superheroes into a form of witness protection and forbids them from ever wearing a cape. Bob finds himself working at an insurance company inside a cubicle that can barely contain his massive body, while Helen raises their two children, hyper-active Dash (Spencer Fox), shy Violet (Sarah Vowell) and baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile and Maeve Andrews) in suburbia.

One day Bob gets an offer from a mysterious femme fatale called Mirage (Elizabeth Peña). She works on behalf of a mysterious millionaire who wants Bob to freelance for him by securing on out of control robot on his private island. Eager to once again use his powers, Bob decides to take the job and hide it from his wife. Unbeknownst to him, the job is a trap set by Syndrome (Jason Lee) a villain with a rather affecting back-story.

The villain’s island is itself a great reference to early James Bond movies. It is filled with an army of armed henchmen with matching uniforms, state-of-the-arts surveillance, an active volcano, and of course a launch pad for a rocket.

Also standing in for Q, Bond’s gadget whiz, is Edna Mode (strangely enough, voiced by Brad Bird), costume designer for the superheroes. A diminutive woman with round spectacles, she lives in a giant mansion where she misses the days when she used to design uniforms for gods. When Bob comes beeping at her intercom asking for a new uniform, she sees this as an invitation to design a clothing line for the whole family. She isn’t satisfied with merely making her uniforms bulletproof they are rocket-proof.

Within the barrage of gunfights and explosions the Incredibles face, the writers at Pixar have also inserted some big ideas about family and marriage. Bob and Helen argue about whether or not Dash should use his emerging powers or simply blend in and act like everyone else. When Helen discovers Bob is hiding something from her she wonders if he is cheating on her. Helen herself has somewhat of a mid-life crisis moment in the villain’s lair when she catches a glimpse of her behind in a mirror and is saddened to see retirement hasn’t been kind to her. 

These elements make a superhero movie filled with very human characters. I loved the movie enough to eventually get the DVD, which is chock-full of fun bonus features, including files on all of the superheroes. A highlight is “Jack-Jack Attack” a short feature about what happened to baby Jack-Jack while the rest of the family went to the island. I feel sorry for the babysitter.


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