Disney // 2004 // 115 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // April 11th, 2011
"Men at Robert's age are often unstable...prone to weakness." -- Edna Mole
Pixar was already on roll, having cranked out five extraordinarily heartfelt and visually stunning computer-animated features in less than a decade, when they decided to team with innovative director Brad Bird (The Iron Giant) for a freewheeling tale that mixed domestic dramedy with comic book action. The result was 2004's The Incredibles, now debuting on Blu-ray.
Bird's version of a world with superheroes is so early '60s sleek and mod that it makes television's Mad Men look drab by comparison. Chief among the movie's "supers" is the mega-strong Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson, Poltergeist), a guy whose square jaw, triangular physique, and tidy swept-back hair is pure old-school hip. That is, until Mr. Incredible's biggest fan, a freckle-faced kid named Buddy who dreams of being the big guy's sidekick, fouls up a takedown of supervillain Bomb Voyage, causing massive real estate damage and the inadvertent prevention of a suicide in progress. The ensuing lawsuits result in a government crackdown on superheroics, forcing all of the supers to enter a relocation program to help them assimilate anonymously into life among super-powerless.
Fifteen years later, Mr. Incredible is married to Elasti-Girl (Holly Hunter, The Piano), and they go by the boring, middle-American names Bob and Helen Parr. The couple has three children: teenager Violet (Sarah Vowell), who can turn invisible and create impenetrable spherical force fields with her mind; elementary school kid Dash (Spencer Fox, Kim Possible), who can move at blindingly fast speeds; and baby Jack-Jack, who doesn't appear to have any super powers. While the family works hard to hide their abilities and blend with the normal people around them, Bob and old friend Lucius Best (Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction), who once went by the moniker Frozone, covertly monitor the police-band radio and occasionally indulge in a bit of superheroics -- for old time's sake. Matters turn desperate when Bob, frustrated by the bureaucratic inhumanity required in his job as an insurance adjuster, beats the tar out of his boss and is fired. When he's approached by a mysterious woman named Mirage with a gig that involves destroy a prototype giant robot on a tropical island where it is being developed as a weapon, the offer is too good to pass up: The huge sum he'll make from destroying the robot will enable him to hide his sudden unemployment from Helen. Soon, the Parrs are riding high as Mr. Incredible rakes in huge sums for his ongoing contract work. He's taking so many jobs, in fact, that he has to set up a meeting with one-time fashion designer to the superheroes, Edna Moles (voiced by Brad Bird) -- an eccentric and opinionated little woman with a pageboy haircut, horn-rimmed glasses, and a cigarette holder -- to create a new costume for him.
Unfortunately, Mr. Incredible realizes too late that his battles with the prototype robots are part of an elaborate scheme by a new supervillain named Syndrome (Jason Lee, Almost Famous), who is systematically locating and killing all of the world's supers. Syndrome, who has no superpowers, wants to use his technological genius to initiate an age of uniformity and mediocrity in which he alone will be great. In order to defeat Syndrome, the Parrs must ignore government demands that they hide their powers, and become an unstoppable team of heroes known as The Incredibles.
The Incredibles isn't Pixar's most accomplished feature (that would be WALL-E), but it is their most fun. It's also one of the best superhero movies ever made despite (or maybe because of) its not being based on a comic book. It's an insanely entertaining mix of memorable characters, beautiful animation, hard-earned laughs, bodacious action setpieces, midlife-crisis storytelling, and a full-throated shout-down of the banality of evil as it is found in government bureaucracy, abusive litigation, and a cultural obsession with self-esteem for its own sake. There is a lot going on beneath The Incredibles' primary-colored surface.
Over the years, Pixar has evolved from making kids' movies with such artistry and earnest storytelling that they also appealed to adults, to making movies with themes and ideas aimed squarely at adults while maintaining characters, plots, and settings entirely appropriate for children. The Incredibles may be the movie with which the animation studio made this transition. It is certainly a key entry in Pixar's artistic evolution. At its heart, The Incredibles is a movie about middle-age, that stage of life at which people begin to ask, "Is this it? Is this all there is to my existence?" Though super-powered, Bob Parr finds himself stuck in a mind-numbing, dead-end job, locked in place by society's expectations and his responsibility to his family. Like cooking in Bird's second Pixar feature, Ratatouille, superpowers in The Incredibles represent a creative impulse whose suppression is the major source of conflict for the protagonist. Bob's dissatisfaction with spending his days in a gray corporate cube farm, his belief that he's meant for actions more meaningful and personally satisfying, are custom-made to fly over the heads of children and smack their parents square in the face. Meanwhile, kids can relate to Dash's grade school frustrations (his confusion over having to hide his abilities parallels young Clark Kent's in Richard Donner's Superman), and Violet's awkwardness (her power of invisibility proves a perfect metaphor for the travails of female adolescence).
There's something gently subversive in the way Bird delivers his rich themes wrapped in the kinetic trappings of the comic book genre. The Incredibles isn't merely a keenly observed family comedy/drama sporting half-formed superhero pretensions. It fully embraces the bold, stylized costume and set design as well as the bodacious action set pieces that define the genre. The details are so rich that the movie is practically a scholarly observation of comic books' place in the evolution of popular culture. During the film's prologue, the characters wear textured, woolen costumes that evoke the golden age of comics, while their costumes later in the picture have the smooth sheen of the form-fitting man-made fabrics of modern movie superheroes. This self-conscious toying with comic book convention is underscored by sequences in which Edna Moles comically dissects superhero fashion, including a biting indictment of capes. The movie's set design combines the sterile, modular, geometrical aesthetic of the International style, with the sweeping curves, reflective surfaces, and minimalist décor that emerged out of America's fascination with outer space during the early 1960s. That these competing styles of mid-20th-century architecture perfectly fit the movie's emphasis on meaningless labor versus creative altruism writ large makes the movie's themes and visuals feel all the more tightly integrated. Action sequences rival the epic scope and editorial coherence of live action blockbusters, adding sharply observed characters moments and witty humor to the explosions and mayhem (Dash's mischievous reaction to the revelation, while being chased by Syndrome's henchmen in disc-shaped flying machines, that his super speed allows him to run across the surface of water is both funny and enervating). Few movies that claim to be fun for all ages actually are. Not only is The Incredibles fun for all ages, it's also funny, intelligent, and absolutely beautiful. Plus, it's a movie that boldly draws a sharp causal connection between our undying fascination with mythical, larger-than-life costumed heroes and the all-too-often bland, assembly line life of the industrial and post-industrial ages -- not exactly what one expects from a Disney cartoon.
As with most of Pixar's home video releases, the nearly flawless digital-to-digital transfer on the DVD release of The Incredibles left me wondering how much better the movie could look and sound in high definition. The answer: A lot better. The Incredible is filled with vibrant colors, subtle lighting effects, and gorgeous set designs. Blu-ray's 1080p resolution renders it all with stunning clarity. It's doubtful that The Incredibles looked this good in most theatrical exhibitions.
The audio upgrade to a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is crisp, bright, and explosive when necessary. It's every bit as perfect as the image.
The set is absolutely stacked with extras. In addition to some new featurettes (all in high definition), the four-dic set contains all of the supplements from the DVD.
Extras begin with two audio commentaries. Bird and producer John Walker offer a big picture view of the movie's themes, story, and production in the Director Commentary. The Animator Commentary includes contributions by 13 animators and supervising animators, and digs more deeply into the technical aspects of making the film.
One of the few bummers of the migration of Pixar's catalog titles to Blu-ray is that the animated shorts originally included on the DVDs have been omitted in favor of gathering them in a single set, Pixar Short Films Collection: Volume 1. Thankfully, The Incredibles bucks this trend, delivering HD upgrades of the two shorts from the DVD, despite the fact that both were also featured in the shorts collection.
This musical short, which originally debuted in theaters before The Incredibles, involves a dancing sheep whose pride in his wool leaves him downtrodden after a good shearing until his close encounter with the mythical jackalope. There's an optional commentary by director Bud Luckey.
Jack-Jack Attack (4:42)
In this addendum to The Incredibles, Jack-Jack's ditzy teenage babysitter Kari discovers to her frazzled horror that the Parr infant does indeed have superpowers. Also on tap is Jack-Jack Attack Exploded, a visual commentary on the short with Bird, story supervisor Mark Andrews, character designer Teddy Newton, and animator Bret Parker.
The Incredibles Revisited (22:06)
In this roundtable discussion, produced for this Blu-ray release, Bird and his crew delve deeply into the history of the film's production, beginning with a contentious meeting with a former Disney executive who hated the idea of the movie, and progressing through concept art, character development, and the artistry of the animation. The group shares some entertaining anecdotes, like the fact that Bird had no idea that Syndrome's features had been modeled after his own until it was too late to change the character design.
First up on Disc Two is a quartet of new featurettes, all presented in full 1080p high-definition:
Paths to Pixar: Story and Artists (5:53)
Story artists Mark Andrews, Kevin O'Brien, Andrew Jimenez, Ted Mathot, Teddy Newton, Peter Sohn, and Valierie La Pointe talk about the tangled creative process of visualizing the movie in storyboards and animatics.
Studio Stories: Gary's Birthday (1:24)
In this storyboarded excerpt from the Filmmakers Roundtable, the group talks about a series of morale-building birthday parties thrown for Gary, a non-existent member of the crew, during the film's production.
Ending with a Bang: Making the End Credits (1:35)
This brief piece examines the origin and creation of the ultra-mod Saul Bas-style two-dimensional animation used in the movie's end credits.
The New Nomanisan: A Top Secret Redevelopment Plan (3:30)
This is a series of mostly 2D animated shorts advertising the transformation of Syndrome's Nomanisan Island lair into a vacation resort.
In addition to the new features, all of the extras from Disc Two of the DVD release are archived here. These included a nearly half-hour long making-of documentary, featurettes on story, character design, animation and character modeling, set design, sound, music, lighting, tools, superhero profiles, a still photo gallery, and video profiles of animator/designer/director Bud Luckey and Sarah Vowell (the voice of Violet).
There are also 11 Easter Eggs, a Character Interviews reel used to promote the film, and 11 trailers and commercials. The Deleted Scenes reel and the movie's teaser trailer are also included, and have been treated to a high definition upgrade.
Disc three is a DVD copy of the film.
Disc four contains a downloadable digital copy of the film.
Since the early days of the format, Disney has the led the way in making the most of Blu-ray's video and audio capabilities, setting a standard it has been difficult for other studios to match. This Blu-ray release of The Incredibles is in keeping with the high standards we've come to expect from the House of Mouse. The movie looks and sounds fantastic, the supplements are comprehensive, and the entertainment value is off the charts.
Review content copyright © 2011 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Top 100 Films: #39
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English, Descriptive)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes
* Animated Shorts
* Filmmaker Roundtable
* Image Galleries
* DVD Copy
* Digital Copy
* Video: Brad Bird roundtable
* Video: Frozone to the rescue