Thursday, March 11, 2010

From the archives: The Incredibles Review

Before blogs existed I wrote for an actual website.  Scary, huh?   Check out this classic gem.

That's Incredible!!
("The Incredibles" PG)
(Monday Review 11/15/4)

Going to a Pixar film is more of an event than just seeing a movie. It's never just about the opening to ending credits, it's about the entire experience. It's the anticipation, then the kids talking through the movie ("Mommy, that's the same way Buzz Lightyear starts!"), there's the previews (including the debut of the new Star Wars and Pixar's next film "Cars"), and of course the Pixar short that directly precedes the feature (In this case a wonderful piece of encouragement called "Boundin'").  It is a testament to Pixar's genius that all of these things somehow work to enhance the main event and not distract from it. It's like the chef who knows his meal is more than just the final entree.  It's the perfect appetizers, the immaculate presentation that, though amazing in their own regard, really ultimately serve to prepare the way for the main course, and what a main course it is.

"The Incredibles" is the story of your prototypical Superhero family whose bane is that there really is no such thing as a prototypical Superhero family. Forced to hide their identity as "Supers" from the world, each member of the clan struggles to fit in and make due. Mom (once Elastigirl) and Dad (once Mr. Incredible) attempt to make married life work and suffer the slings and arrows of the workaday world and the domestic duties of the home. Preteen Daughter Violet disappears (literally) from sight as she struggles with fitting in at school and getting a sense of her self worth. Her younger brother Dash isn't handling school too well and can hardly contain his super speed. Only baby Jack Jack seems blissfully unaware of the difficulty of being an extraordinary person in an ordinary world.

The Wow Factor

Pixar continues to make technological strides that result in some of the most gorgeous images you will see on a movie screen. Pixar never forgets that making animation is not about trying to look amazingly real, it's about taking advantage of the fact that it isn't real to make it look amazing. You can see it in the way Dash's hair flies when he runs or the way the supersuits have the perfect sheen for the material. Once again Pixar sets the bar exceedingly high for all animation (computer or otherwise).  It's not just the technical achievement though that makes your head shake in amazement, it's also the sheer creative force that Pixar continues to be. I would have loved to have been there when they brainstormed ways that Elastigirl could use her stretchiness and watched how some of the ideas germinated. Without giving away too much let's just say she embodies what it means to be a mom stretched thin to meet the needs of her family (a fully intentional metaphor to be sure.)

The Whoa Factor

If "wow" is embodied by shaking your head in "How did they do that?" amazement then "whoa" is the drop your jaw adrenaline of absolute cool. There is no better example of this then the chase scene where Dash fully unleashes his abilities and you get 15 full minutes of your 5 year old yelling "WOO-HOOO!" or maybe that was me yelling. Either way, the action in this movie is the best superhero action of the year, if not ever (and that includes the amazing "Spiderman 2").  Now, I'm all for huge chunks of eye popping action, but it's the story that gives it the weight. Pixar's main mantra has always been "story first" and it once again shows in "The Incredibles".

The Awww Factor

At the heart of this story is family. This family that deals with the same issues as most other families. Dad deals with missing the "glory days", daughter Violet deals with fitting in at school, son Dash deals with needing an outlet for his ADHD personality and Mom deals with holding it all together. It's no accident that their superpowers reflect the issues they deal with. Mr. Incredible's brute force is an metaphor for his need to be strong for his family. Violet (as in shrinking violet) wears her hair in front of her face and hides every time the cute boy in class is around, so it's no surprise her powers are invisibility and the ability to create a force field around herself. Dash's super speed is a perfect fit for every pre adolescent hyperactive boy, and Mom's elastic limbs represent her need to be a million places at once and the flexibility every mom needs to survive. Each member learns over the course of the movie that they are strongest using their "powers" together instead of all going their separate ways. Though this family unity theme is certainly important, the message of their gifts goes deeper.  It's also about how the gifts are used. As if taking a page right out of I Corinthians 12 (that's in the Bible) there is a large emphasis on how the family must use their gifts for good. Though this is certainly a common theme in any superhero story, it's one that is touched upon more deeply here. Each family member must come to grips with how their powers fit in a world that is no longer welcoming them, which brings us to the final message that this movie slams home. "In a world where everyone is super, no one is."  These words are spoken by both Dash and bad guy "Syndrome" at different points in the movie. It is a purposeful commentary on a culture of forced mediocrity and false equality. It certainly resonates in a world where kids are told they are all the same, and grades are discontinued in favor of gold stars and candy bars. The point is some people are better at certain things than others. It doesn't make them more valuable as a life, or more important as a human being, it just gives them more ability. If a child is "super" at academics, athletics, arts, or any combination of these and other gifts it's not something that should be "dumbed down" so the rest of the class feels better about themselves. It should be celebrated, cultivated, and allowed to grow. The people who use their gifts to their fullest and for good are truly the ones we should refer to as "The Incredibles" and we shouldn't let jealousy detract from their greatness.

The truth is "The Incredibles" is well.... Incredible. And we have the superheroes at Pixar to thank for using their superpowers for good and not being afraid to be leaps and bounds better than any other studio working today.

Overall: A

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