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The Incredibles

[No real spoilers here, but I do plan to get rather detailed. If you'd rather
come to the movie as a blank slate, you may want to skip this review.]

Unless you've been living under a rock, you are probably aware that The Incredibles is the latest Pixar offering -- a modern fable about a family of superheroes who work together in order to save the day ... or something. The family was spawned by "Mr. Incredible" -- uberstrong man extraordinaire -- and his beloved "Elasti-girl" -- whose name is rather self-explanatory.

These two masked crusaders marry and are promptly forced to retire to civilian life [in a manner that suggests the writers were well-acquainted with Watchmen, by Alan Moore]. They go on to produce three children: Dash (short for Dashiell, a nice touch I thought), Violet (cutie-goth teenager), and Jack-Jack the baby. Together, they become the "Par" family -- their very name a declaration of their feigned averageness. Pay attention to that.

This is a marvelously practical movie -- downright wicked in its own fierce little way, and I adored the way it refused to pull punches. This is the story of what really happens when the credits read "And They Lived Happily Ever After." This is where the lovers go after they ride off into the sunset. This, ladies and gentlemen, is suburbia.

Fifteen years lapse between Mr. Incredible and Elasti-girl's glory days, and those years are not terribly kind. Each member of the family -- with the exception of the apparently un-gifted baby -- is deeply flawed and unhappy. The Par kids are miserable from moving all the time (to keep their parents' identity a secret), and Mr. Par is embarking on a mid-life crisis of epic proportions. But it was Mrs. Par I found most convincing in her imperfectness. She has bought into the idea of "normalcy" so hard that she holds her childrens' abilities against them; she berates them, represses them, and refuses to allow them to thrive -- demanding instead that they conform.

At one point Dash argues with her, insisting that it's not fair that he should be held back because he's special. "Everyone is special," she tells him in a bland, off-handed way -- and Dash angrily outlines the subtext of the entire film: "That's just another way of saying nobody is."

Speaking of anger, there is a lot of it in The Incredibles. I found more frustration, fury, rage and thwarted ego in this flick than I was prepared to expect from 2 hours of a cartoon. Mr. Par is mad because he's going bald and fat, and he's stuck at an unfulfilling desk job; Mrs. Par is mad because she feels the weight of the family's secret falls upon her shoulders, and she sees herself as the sole disciplinarian; Dash is mad because he wants to run fast and no one will let him; Violet is mad because she's just hit puberty and she's insecure enough without being made to feel guilty for her super-hero abilities.

And of course, then there's "Buddy." Buddy wanted to be just like Mr. Incredible when he was a kid, but Mr. Incredible works alone -- with no sidekicks. Thanks to Mr. Incredible's gruff and persistent rejection, Buddy grows up to be the veritable personification of hateful Short-Man Syndrome™.

Alternately hilarious and poignant, this is a movie that's not afraid to kill people. Seriously. That fact tripped me out -- in this day and age where nobody ever dies in kids entertainment, this is a movie that doesn't pretend the bad guy gets away by leaping out of the plane at the last minute. We don't see poofty white parachutes drifting away from explosive wreckage. There are no closing scenes where the villains slump grimly in their jail cells. People just ... die. And they die without any angsty moralizing -- Mr. Incredible defends himself and his family without any whiny interior debate about how he must make sure not to kill anyone. Oh no. Not here, baby. When Mr. Incredible gets pissed, people get hurt.

I think that's one thing that makes him so much more sympathetic, ultimately, than his wife. Even in his emasculated state, he is capable of taking action. Mrs. Par becomes so deliberately drab that the very excitement that used to define her life has become abhorrent to her. There's nothing she'd rather do less than don a super-suit and fight crime.

This gulf in the spousal philosophy is underscored nicely when Mrs. Par goes to see "Edna," hoping to find out what her husband has been up to behind her back. Edna is a world-famous, fantastically-wealthy fashion designer who created the original superhero leotards, and boy is she a hoot. I loved her with every fiber of my trembling little being. You've probably seen on the previews -- Edna parades before Mrs. Par a collection of superhero wear designed for her entire family, and poor Mrs. Par is deeply appalled. She wants nothing to do with any of it.

In the end, of course, Mr. Incredible sloughs off his "I WORK ALONE" mantra and the family bands together in hopes of kicking evil's ass -- but not before Mr. Incredible is tortured, his best friend [Frozone -- voiced by Samuel L. Jackson, yeah baby] is in mortal danger, his kids are nearly murdered a couple of times over, and his wife thinks he's having an affair. Even so, the moral of the piece is not so much "cooperation" as "individuality" -- which I hadn't really expected. Sure, people need to work together; but don't pretend to be something you're not just because you think that's what the world wants from you.

All in all, I have to say this is one of the finer things you could expose your kids to. The characters are pleasantly human, and the violence is present but never gratuitous; it's realistic in its portrayal of mortal foibles, and it doesn't leave the audience with any tritely-phrased illusions. I give it two thumbs, two big toes, and five stars up.



Nov. 8th, 2004 01:40 pm (UTC)
Re: Incredible Incredibles
yeah, I read about your fine movie-going company and I meant to comment ... but I lost my internet connection, and then forgot about it later on.

but Edna ... ah, Edna.
so cute. so stubby. so much fun, dah-link!

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