What are the secret ingredients to Pixar’s critical and box office success? For the sixth straight time Pixar Studios has cranked-out a huge hit and Disney executives better be taking notes. Disney hasn’t produced a decent animated story in a decade.
They seem quite content to torture parents with inane sequels (“Cinderella 2”) or trite little cartoons scored by aging popsters Phil Collins or Elton John. On the other hand, the brilliant minds at Pixar have perfected the art of the modern family film. Their accomplishments have very little to do with the computer technology they use to make films. Disney fails where Pixar succeeds simply because the folks at Pixar refuse to settle for cute or clever or political (i.e. Brother Bear), opting instead for creative stories that parents are sure to enjoy.
Not that The Incredibles contains much originality. It doesn’t. Scene after scene audiences will find the familiar; the giant boulder that chased Indy in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” funny little machines piloted by henchmen in pursuit of a teenage girl and her kid brother like “Spy Kids 2,” and the criminal’s secret lair inside a hallowed out Volcano. (Is that Austin Powers or James Bond? Actually it was both.) There is a landing ship that looks like those used in the more recent installments of “Star Wars,” a train scene that is the spitting image of the one in “Spiderman 2,” a computer control room that looks exactly like Cerebrum in “X-Men,” and a finale that is almost exactly the same as the one Robert Rodriguez shot for “Spy Kids 3D.” Batman toys, James Bond gadgets, Superman moments, and bad guy clichés abound.
And I loved every minute of it! I know it doesn’t sound like it so far, but let me tell you what Pixar does right.
First, Pixar knows their audience-the modern American family. For most families a trek to the theatre can cost upwards of fifty bucks with popcorn and cokes, even for a matinee. If you’re going to lure middle class families to the theater on their tight budgets you have to give them something they want to see. What parents don’t want to see are tree-hugging stories about bears, movies about stupid loud-mouthed annoying cows, another extended Phil Collins video, or “Snow White Episode 3: Revenge of the Dwarf.”
Please! If you build it, they will come. Oh yes, Ray, people will most definitely come. And they will keep on coming because Pixar has built a reputation and an audience by telling stories that parents really do understand.
Second, they create characters that are very human. Remember Woody in “Toy Story?” Flick from “A Bug’s Life?” Sulley, the big loveable fuzz ball in “Monsters, Inc.?” Or how about Nemo’s dad, Marlin? A toy, a bug, a monster, and a fish respectively but each one is decidedly human to the core.
“The Incredibles” gives us a few more. In order of preference we’re introduced to a teenage girl named Violet (Sarah Vowell) who possess the ability to make herself invisible and generate force fields around her self and others. She’s got a crush on a boy at school but, well, she is invisible. Right? Syndrome (Jason Lee) suffers from what I like to call Childhood Idol Rejection Syndrome (CHIRS for short). He becomes a villain because he thinks there’s nothing really special about being himself. Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) struggles to find himself and his belt line. Mrs. Incredible (Holly Hunter) just wants to be the best wife and mother she can possibly be, although she probably wishes her hips weren’t so wide. Dash feels restrained in school because he’s not allowed to use his abilities.
Actually, my favorite character was Edna “E” Mode, voiced by the director himself, Brad Bird. She is a mix of Donatella Versace, Rona Barrett, Frau Farbissina (Austin Powers), and Velma (Scooby Doo). As the designer to “the supers” her character is just plain super, though no one but Donatella Versace and Mya Rudolph (who mimics Versace on Saturday Night Live) could identify with her at all. Nonetheless, her character is the most fun.
Third, Pixar stories strike a personal chord. Who can’t relate to overprotecting their child, feeling insignificant, feeling lost and forgotten, getting dumped, or being stuck in a mindless job you can’t stand? I can’t relate to a guy turning into a bear and back again. Give me a break. But tell me a story about a father longing for the good old days, trapped in a dead-end job, looking for a way out? That’s life! A wife worried about her husband’s mid-life crisis? Protecting her kids? That’s life! A villain obsessed with revenge because his childhood hero spurned him? A girl who feels like she’s invisible at school that actually is invisible? Brilliant!
The story begins by making a powerful statement on our society at large. When Mr. Incredible saves a man attempting suicide, and soon thereafter the aforementioned train of passengers’ al-la Spiderman 2, it opens the door to a flood of lawsuits against all the so-called “supers.” They have to give up their heroics because an ungratefully greedy society littered with lawyers wants to make a quick buck or two. So, all the “supers” are rounded up by the government and placed inside the witness protection program. Here Mr. Incredible grapples with what he construes is a meaningless existence, stifled by the thought that the only thing he has to champion is mediocrity.
Some of the humor throughout The Incredibles is pretty sly. Clearly it spoofs the superhero genre in general. (For the record-James Bond is a superhero.) There are quite a few inside jokes many moviegoers will miss. Mr. Incredible erroneously calls Buddy Pine (Jason Lee) Brodie, the somewhat infamous character Lee portrayed in Mallrats and reprized for Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. (I was the ONLY person laughing at one.) Later in the film, Lucius Best (Samuel L. Jackson) splashes on some aftershave. Make sure you read the brand name on the bottle. In fact, the entire style and look of the film reminds us of the golden age of comic books. Watch carefully and you will see these little touches throughout the film.
As much fun as it was to watch “The Incredibles” (and I will watch it again and again), I still can’t offer up my highest rating because it lacks the total originality of “Toy Story.” We’ll call it a MATINEE and you really should take the family to one and see this film soon.
From a Christian Perspective:
I can’t recall anything that really gave me pause in this film. It might not go over well with really small kids because it is not cute in any way-no purple dinosaurs, huggable bears, or talking critters. Mrs. Incredible suspects her husband of having an extra-marital affair so there is some innuendo as well as some playfulness between the married couple. There are no foul words but it does contain quite a bit of cartoon violence. The movie does a good job portraying the value of family and showing the commitment between husband and wife, parents to children, and children to their parents.