It takes a fresh, imaginative, and smart computer-animated effort like "The Incredibles"much like the bright past features from Pixar Animationto call particular attention to what a snide and pseudo-hip throwaway Dreamworks' recent "Shark Tale
" was. If Pixar's oeuvre, nearly without fail, dodges condescension and bewitches widespread child and adult audiences through timeless storytelling, "Shark Tale
" is a flash-in-the-pan dim bulb that will be out of date in five years and never manages the same sort of creativity.
Written and directed by Brad Bird (1999's "The Iron Giant
") with a giddy glint in his eye, "The Incredibles" is boundlessly enjoyable, extravagant to look at, and a frequent adrenaline rush. It also happens to be a slightly more adult-oriented film, as the typical animal/toy/creature characters have been traded in for human figures, and the premise itself takes a large page out of the superhero genre that older audiences will more clearly understand and savor. Still, "The Incredibles" is a crackerjack entertainment for almost anyone over the age of six or so, and if it doesn't quite reach the lofty, emotionally resonant heights of 1999's "Toy Story 2
" and 2003's "Finding Nemo
," it remains the equivalent of 2001's almost-as-delightful "Monsters, Inc
Set in a world relying on superheroes to keep the streets clean and the cities safe, ultra-strong Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) and stretchable new wife Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) suddenly find themselves out of a job when a number of lawsuits are placed against all of the so-called "Supers" and they are forced to secretly relocate under alias identities. Switch forward fifteen years, the Incrediblesgoing by the names Bob and Helen Parrnow have a family and a comfortable suburban lifestyle. Their two older children, shy teenage daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell) and gleeful troublemaker Dash (Spencer Fox), are blessed with superpowers of their own but must conceal them, while insurance claims specialist Bob has begun to tire of his nine-to-five job and itch for his old danger-filled life. Through the maniacal workings of disgruntled inventor Syndrome (Jason Lee)an archvillain with past ties to the hero and living on a desolate, extra-security island (are there any other kind?)Bob and, later, his family, are suddenly swayed back into action. Their goal: to defeat a giant, exceedingly intelligent robot creation of Syndrome's from taking over the world.
The crowning achievement of "The Incredibles" is in nearly matching the awe-inspiring action and all-important humanity that have made 2002's "Spider-Man
" and 2004's "Spider-Man 2
" pinnacles of the superhero movie. Because the picture is animated, the limits of what can be done in live-action have no consequence here, free to take its characters anywhere and have them do anything without compromising the story. And, perhaps most impressive of all, writer-director Brad Bird has concocted the plotting of "The Incredibles" freely of his own invention and without the reliance of comic book source material. With today's alarming reliance on cinematic adaptations and remakes, it comes as an invigoratingly welcome change to experience something new and inspired.
As for the computer animation, it approaches the best of its kind. "The Incredibles" is absolutely gorgeous from a visual standpoint, amazing in its painstaking details (pay close attention to its use of shadows) and overall realism. Certain shots of the landscapesthe city streets and buildings, and the look of the jungle island, for examplecould easily be mistaken for live-action footage. The animation aids in bringing what surrounds it to life, from the thrilling opening action set-piece, to Mr. Incredible's initial face-off with Syndrome's robot, to the large-scale climax that takes its characters from the island to the city to a suburban neighborhood as they fight the robot and try to stop Syndrome.
The characters are nicely developed, too, with the Incredible family being the heart and soul as they come together, learn to trust each other, and find a newfound love and appreciation for each other. Also notable is Edna "E" Mode (voiced wonderfully by director Brad Bird and taking a page from the James Bond series' M figure), a tiny, no-nonsense costume designer for superheroes everywhere. The rest of the voice work is superlative, working as a unit to create real characters rather than, like "Shark Tale
," being on hand for the sole purpose of box-office draw. Craig T. Nelson (2000's "The Skulls
"), Holly Hunter (2004's "Little Black Book
"), Jason Lee (2003's "A Guy Thing
"), and newcomers Spencer Fox and Sarah Vowell are far from the biggest names Pixar could have chosen for the parts, but they are the most apt and talented for the job.
"The Incredibles" isn't as funny or clever as "Finding Nemo
," nor as touching as "Toy Story 2
," but, then, it wisely chooses to go off in its own direction without having to copy past Pixar successes. First and foremost, "The Incredibles" is a character-oriented fantasy-adventure, and its action sequences are mesmerizing, taking on the appearance of a theme park ride. Likewise, there is a truth and knowing perception in its portrayal of a tight-knit, but dysfunctional, family who has been forced to hide who they really are in order to blend in with the rest of society. "The Incredibles" boasts showmanship and a real expertise for its craft that further cements Pixar's place at the top of today's modern animation filmmakers.