“The Incredibles” kicks into theaters

Ted Pigeon

“The Incredibles”

***½ out of five

Starring Craig T. Wilson, Holly Hunter, Jason Lee

and Samuel L. Jackson

Written/Directed by Brad Bird

Running Time: 115 minutes

Rated PG

Over the past couple of years, there has been a competition between the Disney and DreamWorks studios over which can deliver the best in family entertainment. Every year, each studio tries to beat the other by showcasing their advancements in the ever-growing realm of computer animation. DreamWorks struck gold with the “Shrek” movies, yet Disney shows no signs of wavering. The latest film to come from the Disney owned Pixar animation studio is “The Incredibles,” and it should come as no surprise that this movie is yet another superb entry in Pixar’s long list of notable animated films. It has great laughs, interesting characters, fantastic visuals and surprisingly good action; it is near-flawless family entertainment and a pure delight.

“The Incredibles” is essentially the story of a former superhero who, in his prime, was one of the most famous and best known superheroes around, Mr. Incredible (voice of Craig T. Nelson). But much has changed since then and the heyday of heroism has come to an end. The world has changed and people can now sue for being unwillingly saved by a superhero, therefore all superheroes have been relocated to suburbia and are forced to live a normal life among the masses of people they are no longer allowed to protect. Mr. Incredible, now known as Bob Parr, is married to another former superhero, Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), now Helen Parr. They have three kids, all of whom have their own super powers that they are afraid to use outside their own house, where it’s not accepted because it’s not normal.

Bob goes off to a nine-to-five job every day in the city, and with each day that passes him by he approaches middle age and yearns more for the good old days. He and his superhero friend, Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) often go out to the city at night and listen to a police scanner and provide their aid. But one day, Bob is approached by a mysterious woman who is apparently interested in recruiting him for some secret mission. Unable to turn away from such an offer, Bob quickly accepts out of his undying passion for heroics. But what he ends up doing is getting himself involved in an evil plot until he is captured by a superhero wannabe turned madman, Syndrome (Jason Lee).

One thing that stands out almost immediately with this film is that it’s a little bit more complex than what one might expect, at least in terms of its story. After the initial sequence of Mr. Incredible saving the day at the beginning of the film, writer-director Brad Bird slows things down and allows us to understand this family struggling to live in the “mediocrity” of suburban life. While no one watching this film is looking for real character depth, it’s important that the characters are firmly established in this section of the film, and Bird does a great job of setting everything up while never allowing the film lag along. The kind of humor in the film at this point is more subtle, yet very intelligent in how it portrays a superhero going through a mid-life crisis.

The plot of the film eventually picks up as Mr. Incredible is captured by Syndrome and held on a deserted tropical island much like the kind the villains from the James Bond films used to occupy. The rest of the film plays out like a cross between one of those old Bond films, a light superhero action-adventure and a Disney comedy, and all of these come together rather brilliantly in the action-packed and often hilarious third act, when the Parr family, donning their “Incredible” uniforms, learn to use their superpowers together to stop Syndrome and his henchmen. There are some truly priceless sequences such as when the Incredible family is fighting baddies together while at the same time fighting each other in the way brothers and sisters or fathers and mothers would. In an equally humorous and poignant way, the film really captures the feeling of being part of a family with how it juxtaposes their bickering with their protection and support for one another. And it does so all in a series of a wonderful action scenes.

“The Incredibles” is in many ways a different kind of Disney film. Unlike “Finding Nemo” and “Toy Story,” this movie is aimed at a slightly older audience. It is true that an adult can easily enjoy the prior entries in Disney’s recent animated efforts, but the themes and values of most of them are simple (though still deep) and easily understood by the target audiences. Many of those themes, such as friendship and being yourself, can be found here but are dealt with in a more mature manner. Unlike DreamWorks’ “Shrek” films, which deal with more adult humor but fairy tale themes, this film has a surprising wit and intelligence not only in its comedy but in the themes of the story.

Aside from the strong and intelligent story, “The Incredibles” has much to offer in regards to its production. The animators at Pixar have once again built an amazingly detailed world that is every bit as wondrous as the ocean depths in “Nemo.” In this film, we are taken into a cities, suburban neighborhoods, tropical islands, volcanic caverns and through waterfalls into secret lairs, and every element of these environments is beautifully rendered by the animators. One other important element to the film’s taking shape is the voice acting work. The test of good acting in animation is for the actor to make us forget we’re listening to that actor, but instead the character they’re creating, and Craig T. Nelson does a phenomenal job as Mr. Incredible, essentially creating the character with his fine voice work. In supporting roles, Holly Hunter and Samuel L. Jackson do fine work as well, but it’s Nelson who holds the movie together by adding such dimension to Mr. Incredible.

Like so much in our current culture, the better computer animated films have looked in recent years, the less interesting they have gotten. As the technology keeps improving on these films, the storytelling is eroding to the point that many animated films today seem to only exist in order to parody something in popular culture. “The Incredibles” is a breath of fresh air because though it does get its inspiration from old superhero stories and James Bond films, it focuses on telling its own story and it does a fine job of it. It is not merely a hodgepodge collection of assorted techniques and styles, but instead a rather original and quietly affecting movie which at its heart is not about superhero family but about a real, everyday family who happen to be superheroes.