When writer-director Brad Bird’s excellent Pixar animation feature beat out DreamWorks’ more financially successful SHREK 2 for the Best Animation Feature at the 2005 Oscar ceremony, fans around the world breathed a sigh of relief at seeing the most deserving film actually take home the award. This truly is a film that turns is every bit as incredibly good as it has been made out to be. In fact, it may be the best Pixar film up to that time.
The sensibility seems somewhat different from previous Pixar efforts, perhaps because it is essentially an auteur piece by Brad Bird (THE IRON GIANT). The concept seems to have been to make an action-packed, amusing family-oriented superhero fantasy that just happens to be achieved in animation. On that level, it succeeds as well as — and in some ways better than — recent superhero films like SPIDER-MAN 2 and X-MEN UNITED.
The film features Pixar’s best ever depiction of human characters, probably because the often exaggerated physiques and facial characteristics often avoid trying to duplicate believeable human features; in fact, the CGI creations somewhat resemble stop-motion puppets, but with a great degree of expressivity. (This helps to avoid the zombie-like quality seen in the trailer for THE POLAR EXPRESS, where the faces look more human but lack any believable life in the expressions.)
One interesting element you might not be aware of from watching the commercials is that the film is not just a comic book superhero spoof. In fact, much of the plot and action is far more reminiscent of a 1960s spy movie, complete with a maniacal supervillain with a massive facility located inside an uninhabited volcanic island (not too disimilar from Scaramanga in the 007 film THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN).
In keeping with this tone, the pacing is fast and the action is frantic. The CGI technique offers a certain buffer, removing the violence from any semblance of reality, and yet the plot works hard to inject a genuine sense of jeopardy, along with the laughs. Consequently, the film is not too scary for kids, but it is exciting and fun for adults in a way that the SHREK films never could hope to be.
In some ways the film might not be as endearing as previous Pixar movies (like TOY STORY and FINDING NEMO), but it really works as well as any contemporary live-action adventure movie . The carefully choreogrpahed action scenes, achieved in CGI in THE INCREDIBLES, leave you with yet more reason to wonder why George Lucas hasn’t been able to put together even a halfway decent scene in the recent STAR WARS prequels. Lucas takes live actions and makes their peril seem cartoony and unthreatening by combining them with computer-generated effects. With THE INCREDIBLES, Brad Bird created CGI characters that come to life in a wonderfully thrilling way.
THE INCREDIBLES (2004). Written & Directed by Brad Bird. Produced by Pixar Films. Voices: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Jason Lee, Wallace Shawn.
Copyright 2004 Steve Biodrowski