Saturday, November 13, 2004

Movie Review - The Incredibles

I saw The Incredibles last night. I'm ready to go on a holiday movie barrage pretty soon. I have been such a cinematic piece of sh*t this year. I've been to the theater like maybe 5 times total. Pathetic for a self-proclaimed cinephile. Disgusting.

Anyway, Pixar may have the highest hit-to-miss ratio of any movie studio in history. It seems like everything they put out is simply top notch. Not only do they have one of the greatest CGI departments in the world, but they have a creative team (mostly John Lasseter) that puts story and narrative first, effects and other stuff second. It's fun to see all sorts of effects and gadgets, but if there is no plot or emotional investment, who cares? The Incredibles is perhaps the most mature and fully-realized film Pixar has ever made. It was written and directed by Brad Bird, who also created the outstanding, underrated (and horribly marketed) The Iron Giant. That film, like this one, was a mature vision, a cartoon that lives in the realm of reality.

The Incredibles is the perfect balance between whimsy and gravity. It's not as slight as, say, Monsters, Inc. but it's not as heavy as something like Spirited Away. Instead, The Incredibles is an exhilarating thrill-ride that never stops its momentum. And while there is a lot of funny stuff, it never is done cheaply or at the peril of the story.

Some observations:

+ Craig T. Nelson (you may remember him from the TV show "Coach") was the perfect choice to play Mr. Incredible. His balance between strength, frustration and vulnerability is the anchor the hold the film together. Holly Hunter is also great as Elastigirl, grounded, but not invincible.

+ The CG backgrounds are hands-down the best I've ever seen. At no point did I see anything that looked poorly crafted or less-than-realistic. The different landscapes here are magnificent; the art-deco buildings in the city, the lavish island lair of the enemy Syndrome, the cookie-cutter ranch houses of the suburban home of the family of heroes, the decadent home of the designer Edna. When you have minds as fertile as the ones at Pixar, it's amazing to see the worlds they create.

+ This may be the least funny of all the Pixar movies, but that's not an insult. Rather than relying on throwaway humor or cheap jokes, the film only puts the funny stuff where it would naturally be. Mr. Incredible is not wise-cracking and does not trade in pop culture references. It's a surprisingly restrained, pre-ironic script and adds to the force of the film.

+ When it's all over, this film is really about family. Everything else is just window dressing, as they say. Mr. Incredible thinks he has to leave his dull life to find adventure, but realizes his family is the most important thing of all. Sure it's a trite little lesson, but it really works in the context of the film.

+ Director Brad Bird seems to have a bit of an obsession with 1950s/early-1960s Americana. (See The Iron Giant for other examples.) From the newsreel footage to the dress of the characters, to the homes, to the almost 007ish mood of the film, Bird really captures a different time period from our own.

It gets an A- from me.

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