November 23, 2004

The Incredibles

Every now and again a movie comes along that strikes you at the right moment and in exactly the right way. I’ve had two this year, and The Incredibles is the latest and greatest.
The last one, Garden State, spoke to me at a specific time and place in my life. I think Bird’s genius is in creating a work that speaks to everyone. I knew I’d love this movie from the very first belt-popping teaser in front of the fun and well-crafted but ultimately bland Finding Nemo, but it wasn’t until the black, white, and grainy newsreel footage at the beginning that I gained an idea of exactly how much.
The world of the Parr family is in various ways both retro and modern. The design of the metropolis looks as if it was ripped from the pages of golden age Superman, but the stale and monotonous realm of the insurance business is an all too current play on our times.
Too many recent superhero flicks make the mistake of trying to force their heroes into our world. Like any Pixar production, the “supers” of this movie exist in a world of their own, which influences them and is influenced by them. The thing that propelled Spider-Man 2 past its predecessor was that Spider-Man wasn’t planted into a superficial mock-up of Manhattan landmarks. His Manhattan exists only in that movie, but it lived and breathed around him. Likewise, I can trace the influences of all the locations in The Incredibles, but the way they are blended into a cohesive whole is unique and much greater than the sum of its parts.
But beyond all of that, the thing that sold me on the movie above all else was the characters. The trailers presented the typical post-feminist “Mother knows best” role reversal that has become all too tired as of late. That aspect is definitely there, but there are greater complexities that the trailers would lead to believe. Bob Parr aka Mr. Incredible is a revelation; I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a dedicated and complete portrayal of the adult male in an animated feature. There are plenty of times when he is vulnerable and flawed, and Helen (aka Elastigirl) definitely rounds him out around the edges. But he is not the helpless fool man that is too often portrayed any more; from the opening action sequence to the way he helps his clients at the insurance company to the way he handles himself on Syndrome’s island to the way he notices his daughter’s new hairstyle in the midst of chaos, Bird and company take the time to present as many admirable traits as human weaknesses.
The kids are also revelations; Dash falls into the rambunctious schoolboy cliché and Violet into the shy and introverted goth stereotype. Like their father, however, all is not as it seems. Both children are affected by the quirks of a super-powered family. Rather than relying too much on angsty diatribes of “I just want to be normal,” we are shown their family life and how exactly things are the same and different. The dinner scene, for instance, feels perfectly natural even though Bob is holding up a table with three people attached to it and each of Helen’s arms are stretched several feet further than they should be. When the parents get in an argument late at night, neither the impetus of the argument nor the kids’ manner of eavesdropping would exist in an average household, but the impact the arguing has on the children exists in every home and the united front the dueling spouses put on to shield them from it happens in the better ones.
Finally, the most inspiring thing about this film is the way it bucks the trend of conformity and uniformity. Increasingly, children are being taught to ignore one another’s talents and faults and treat people exactly the same regardless of who they are. So fixated is our society on surface differences like gender, race, and age, we lose sight of the rapidly dwindling diversity of talents and ideas. There’s a moment in which Helen tells her son that, “Everyone's special, Dash.” The son replies, in an uncommonly melancholy tone, “Which is another way of saying that nobody is.” Very few people are truly special anymore, because they succumb to the oppressive blandness that society nurtured so well. It’s about time a film came along that tells kids to act out, stand up, and approach life differently and relate to others differently. Bravo. ()

  - ADAM LENHARDT

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