I knew I was going to like The Incredibles for the second I saw the first teaser. For those who don’t remember: it features Mr. Incredible attempting in vain to squeeze the buckle of his super-suit belt over his gut while the bombastic horns from the James Bond film On Her Majesty‘s Secret Service provide soundtrack. This let me know the people making this movie were my people. The Incredibles is easily my favorite Pixar film mostly because it’s soooo cool. And by cool I mean, cool like super-spy, death ray, badass, slick cars, everything-has-awesome-names, cool.
But, in a universe of superhero movies trying to depict what being a superhero would really be like by injecting emotional realism into the situations, the Incredibles beats them all.
When the Pixar thing was still new and somewhat novel, it was almost subversive how their stories stepped out of the regular boundaries of kid’s cartoon movies. It was as though by using only computer animation, as opposed to traditional techniques, the themes of the stories were also going against old school form. Simply, the Pixar movies truly became something the whole family could enjoy. These euphemisms previously meant, “these movies don’t totally suck.” But thanks to Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and the others, it means they became events that adults truly look forward to.
With The Incredibles, they made a movie the whole family could enjoy, that I still believe was specifically aimed at me. I love almost everything about it. I’m not saying I’m a massive comic book fan who can explain to all the various continuities of the DC and Marvel universes. (Though I do work with some nice people who can.) Nor am I someone who gets all pitter-patter when thinking about the Golden Age Comic book aesthetic. Instead, when it comes to superheroes, my childhood self liked stuff I considered “cool. “And I really, really, really liked James Bond.
More than just being a send-up of superheroes, The Incredibles is also a nifty pastiche of 60s Bond-style spy flicks. Even though the aforementioned Propelleherheads version of John Barry’s Bond composition “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” is not heard in the film itself, composer Michael Giacchino does channel this musical style for the entire score. When Mr. Incredible’s car transforms and those awesome horns blare, it gives me chills. The music in this movie is like the alternate universe version of Johnny Quest, where the show isn’t terrible. This works because the film suggests that the glory days of superheroes were sometime in the 1950s-1960s and the “present day “of the film is sometime in the 1970s. Brass was in throughout all those periods!
If you haven’t seen the movie, here’s the premise, briefly. Once there were a lot of superheroes, but then they had to go into hiding because public opinion turned on them. Now, two previously famous superheroes Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) and Elasti-Girl (Holly Hunter) are married and live under their real names Bob and Helen Parr. They have three children, pre-teen Violet (Sarah Vowell), young Dash (Spencer Fox), and an infant; Jack-Jack. Bob’s superpower is super-strength and agility, making him more like Captain America or early incarnations of Superman. (Initially, Superman could just “leap tall buildings in a single bound,” not fly!) Helen is like a way better version of Plastic Man and Mr. Fantastic: she can extend and contort her shape in all sorts of ways. It’s awesome. The children have powers too: Violet can turn invisible and generate force fields, while Dash is a child version of the Flash, he’s super quick. I won’t tell you what Jack-Jack’s power is because it’s not a big part of the movie and it’s kind of a spoiler at the end. There are also a bunch of other superheroes either referenced or involved with the plot, with the most relevant one being Bob’s best friend, Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) who is a sort of cross between the Silver Surfer and a good version of Mr. Freeze.
Eventually, through a lot of twits and turns, they have to do battle with Syndrome (Jason Lee) who was once know as Buddy, a childhood fan of Mr. Incredible. It’s here where the movie is truly brilliant: the villain is a comic book fan gone bad. After Mr. Incredible tells child Buddy to leave him alone, the kid goes on to become an insane super-geek. I suppose some elements of fandom could take this as an affront, but I think it serves more as a cautionary point.
Sure, one could make the agruement that The Incredibles presents the “good guys” as people who are “special” and the “bad guys” was people who are “normal.” But, I think this is thematically addressed when Dash bickers with his mother about showing off his powers at school. “Everyone’s special,” she says. “Which is another way of saying no one is,” he replies. I feel like here the movie says to anyone in the audience: what’s wrong with wanting to be a little incredible?
With this, the film truly succeeds at feeling more legit than another superhero movie because it has a lot more heart. People talk endlessly about how to render-larger than life super-heroes as real people. Should Batman brood? Should Thor doubt himself? Should Cyclops have serious problems with his student loans?
Brad Bird, writer and director of this film makes it look easy: put the superheroes in hiding and make the story about a family. Could you possibly conceive of a better idea for a superhero movie? I certainly can’t. The biggest tragedy of The Incredibles is it can never be done again. (Though I’m really bummed a sequel was never made.) Truly.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the standout, possibly best part of this movie. Back in the good-old-days, the supers had to have their costumes designed by someone. Enter Edna Mode (voiced by Brad Bird!), a diminutive, hilarious fashion designer who is like an insane cross between Dr. No and Vogue editor Anna Wintour. The scenes with her, punctuated by her excessive “darlings” and cocky declarative statements, make the movie super special. When she’s standing on the table lecturing Helen about what do with her life, she says perhaps the best line in the movie.
“Fight!” and then she turns to face Helen with an insane grin on her face and two tiny hands go over her head,
Ryan Britt is the staff writer for Tor.com. He always liked capes until the saw this movie. No capes!