Thursday, November 11, 2004

Here's my review of "The Incredibles," which any superhero fan worth his or her salt needs to head out and see right away --

Some movies are just critic-proof.
“The Incredibles” is from Pixar, the reliable creators of computer-generated animation classics from “Toy Story” to “Finding Nemo.” And it’s got superheroes. And cute babies. And Samuel L. Jackson.
What more do you really need to know?
OK, for those who didn’t contribute to the film’s sky-high $70 million opening take last weekend, here’s a brief summary.
“The Incredibles” takes place in a world filled with superheroes, and the biggest of them all is Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson from TV’s “Coach”). With his new wife, Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), they lead the fight against crime — that is, until an avalanche of lawsuits by the people they were trying to save put them out of business.
Pick up 15 years later, and Mr. Incredible is now an insurance agent working incognito in a “Dilbert” style cubicle maze, while Elastigirl is a humble housewife helping raise their three super-powered kids, Violet, Dash and baby Jack-Jack. But Mr. Incredible feels the call of heroism and spends his free time secretly doing heroic deeds with fellow retired crusader Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson)
Then, a mysterious woman offers Mr. Incredible the chance to put back on his spandex and do undercover good deeds for big cash. But little does Incredible know an old enemy may be pulling the strings in hope of defeating the Incredibles once and for all.
If it weren’t for the superlative “Spider-Man 2,” this would be the best super-hero movie of the year. Writer-director Brad Bird piles on the heart without being sappy, and doesn’t stint on the action. His first feature, 1999’s excellent, criminally overlooked “The Iron Giant,” clearly was just a warm-up for this.
“The Incredibles” represents the first Pixar movie that comes from a mature adult’s perspective, rather than a childlike or outcast one. Mr. Incredible worries about putting food on the table, raising his kids and is haunted by the idea that his best days are behind him. This gives the film an emotional heft that makes it as appealing to grownups as it is the little ones.
But lest you think this is “American Beauty,” “The Incredibles” is also fast, funny and crowd-pleasing, parodying James Bond movies, The Fantastic Four comic book, family sitcom clich├ęs and more. The entire final act is an ecstatic overload of bright battles, one-liners, killer robots and resounding heroism.
The animation, as always from Pixar, is top-notch. This is notable for being the first Pixar film to star human (or superhuman) characters, and they come off seamlessly, nicely balanced between being cartoony and realistic. They don’t look stiff and unnatural, as the upcoming “The Polar Express” actors do.
I appreciate that the producers went with lesser-known voice talents like Nelson and Hunter rather than a Tom Hanks or Jim Carrey.
Nelson, particularly, nails the world-weary resignation and unflagging heroism of Mr. Incredible, and Hunter is hilarious as the spunky Elastigirl. Jason Lee also shines as the villainous, bratty Syndrome. And although Jackson’s screen time is too short, he’s great fun as Frozone.
Quibbles? OK, the story does take a while to get going, and at two hours it might seem a bit long for a cartoon feature. But “The Incredibles” does a great job of setting up its universe, and it’s all done with such care and a lot of superhero in-jokes that it’s hard to mind.
With its PG rating, this is a slightly darker toon than much of Pixar’s earlier work. Characters die, and some of the humor will sail right over the head of the wee ones.
To point out the obvious, “The Incredibles” lives up to its name, and continues the winning streak of Pixar’s family-friendly, intelligent entertainment for all ages. It’s enough to make you want to leap a tall building in a single bound.
***1/2 of four

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