SAVE THE DAY.
In 1999, there was a film called The Iron Giant. It was an animated tale about a boy who ran into a being from outer space, a gigantic figure made of iron. The giant was befriended by the boy, but the grown-ups feared it was nothing but a massive weapon of mass destruction (which it actually was) manufactured by the Russians (which it wasn’t) and tried to destroy it. It was a beautifully made film, funny, warm and exciting, and the critics loved it, but it didn’t attract the huge crowds and its commercial failure ultimately helped ruin the Warner Bros. animation department.
When Brad Bird, the director of that film, a few years later asked Pixar if they would ever consider making something darker they reluctantly agreed.
Superheroes forced to live ordinary lives
Why on earth did they? Well, Bird is a very talented guy; those who did see The Iron Giant recognized his potential, and he had previous experience from working with Disney as well as the people behind The Simpsons. I guess it also helped that Bird was able to present the Pixar brass with a very attractive idea for a film. What happens when a metropolis no longer can afford help from superheroes, because of all the lawsuits and destruction of property? Well, the heroes are assigned new identities and forced to live ordinary lives, which is not easy considering how difficult it is to keep one’s extraordinary powers hidden.
Bird introduces us to the Parrs, your average suburban family. Bob works for an insurance company and Helen stays at home with the kids, of which there are three. No one’s particularly happy, especially not Bob who used to be the superstrong Mr. Incredible. He’s still got his strength, but also an impressive gut; when his help suddenly is required he decides to try to get into his old tights again. He doesn’t tell Helen about it, but the mission turns out to be a trap, so she has to don her Elastigirl costume and come to his rescue. What about the kids? Oh, they’ve also got superpowers and this is a time as good as any to test their skills.
Bond a primary source of information
There are ingredients in the film that remind one of The Iron Giant. That movie was set in the 1950s, this one probably takes place about ten years later, and both movies feature robots that are very deadly and always run out of control (a part of the story that does not really make it suitable for the smallest of children). James Bond seems to be the primary source of inspiration. Mr. Incredible’s arch-nemesis keeps a hideout that would make any Bond villain green with envy, the music borrows heavily from John Barry, and there is even a “Q” character, the eccentric lady who designs costumes for superheroes.
The animation may not impress the audiences who loved the smooth and detailed underwater environs of Finding Nemo (2003), but I like it, it’s clean and stylish. Colors are used in a symbolic way; as long as the subdued Parrs stay in the suburbs the movie looks pretty bleak, but when the adventure kicks into high gear, the colors grow brighter.
Craig T. Nelson is perfect as Mr. Incredible; Samuel L. Jackson terrific as Frozone, another former superhero. Jason Lee makes the bratty supervillain really annoying and Bird himself is hilarious as the diminutive costume designer (when he couldn’t find an actor who would do the part justice, he did it himself). Bird obviously put a lot of love and labor into this project, not only when it comes to designing superheroes and their strengths and weaknesses, but also creating a family that sticks together through thick and thin. Watching the constant collisions between trying to raise kids and stopping evil from taking over the world is great fun. Thank God Pixar was ready for something darker.
The Incredibles 2004-U.S. 115 min. Animated. Color. Widescreen. Produced by John Walker. Written and directed by Brad Bird. Music: Michael Giacchino. Voices of Craig T. Nelson (Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible), Holly Hunter (Helen Parr/Elastigirl), Samuel L. Jackson (Lucius Best/Frozone), Jason Lee, Wallace Shawn, Sarah Vowell… John Ratzenberger.
Trivia: Co-executive produced by John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton. The character of Edna Mode was based on Edith Head, the legendary Hollywood costume designer. Followed by Incredibles 2 (2018).
Oscars: Best Animated Feature, Sound Editing.
Last word: “I still really love the characters and love the movie. You’d think I would be sick of it. But I don’t just see the movie when I see the movie, I see all the great people who worked on it and all their hard work, because they could not have worked any harder. They were just absolutely committed. I had about the biggest, longest wish list anyone could have, and 99 percent of what I wanted to get on the screen we got on the screen within our schedule and within our budget and within our resources. So I’m just stunned we were able to do it. We were told at the beginning of it by some people here that it was an unmakable movie. […] Just way too complicated, too many characters, too many costume changes, too many effects, too many locations, too many sets.” (Bird, IGN)