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The Incredibles (2004)


“WHERE. IS. MY. SUPER. SUIT?”

Being a superhero is tough. You need to be everywhere, to do everything for everybody, and you need to maintain a civilian identity in order to protect yourself and your loved ones. Sometimes you make mistakes – unforgiveable ones.

Being a retired ex-superhero can also be tough. You need to be everywhere, to do everything for everybody, and you need to maintain a full-time civilian job to keep a roof over your head and to support your wife and 2.3 kids. And sometimes mistakes come back to haunt you…

The Incredibles is a computer-animated superhero comedy produced by Pixar and directed by Brad Bird. It features the voices of Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Spencer Fox, Jason Lee, Elizabeth Peña, and Samuel L. Jackson.

In a world where people called “supers” possess metahuman abilities, Mr. Incredible (Nelson) used to have a good thing going. Using his super-strength, he would save lives in his old stomping grounds of Municiberg, with enough time left over afterwards to court and eventually wed a fellow super named Elastigirl (Hunter), who can stretch her body into any shape. (I think there’s a fetish for that in Japan.) Mr. Incredible also has fans, among them a high-Intelligence low-Wisdom fanboy calling himself Incrediboy (Lee), who has no innate superpowers but builds James-Bond-like gadgets in the hopes of becoming Mr. Incredible’s sidekick. Mr. Incredible rejects his attempts, however, stating that he works alone. Eventually, though, frivolous lawsuits from injured bystanders make the world hostile for superheroes, forcing all of them to retire and take up civilian lives.

Fifteen years later, Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl live unhappily in suburbia as Bob and Helen Parr. Of their children, Violet (Vowell) can produce forcefields and turn herself invisible, and Dash (Fox) can run faster than the eye can see, but the newest addition, baby Jack-Jack, appears to be an average child. They are all forced to hide their abilities and masquerade as normal humans, a restriction that is starting to chafe on all of them, particularly Bob, who rankles at his desk job at an insurance company, has gained weight, and must sneak out with his best friend Frozone (Jackson, as himself), likewise forcibly retired and married to a woman only identified as “Honey”, to fight crime on the sly. When Bob’s boss refuses to let him aid a pedestrian getting mugged right outside their building, Bob loses his temper, causing him to get fired from what appears to be only the latest in a long series of civilian jobs. Before he can tell his wife that they will have to move again, he is contacted by a mysterious woman named Mirage (Peña), who offers him a chance to return to his old life as a superhero. He jumps at the chance, never suspecting that this decision will send him hurtling into a collision course with the fallen Incrediboy…

This affectionate deconstruction/reconstruction of the superhero movie was quite enjoyable, exploring the difficulties of being a superhuman in a mundane world, trying to live a normal family-oriented life when forced to turn your back on something you enjoyed. The respective powers of the Parr family make sense for their family roles: Bob is superstrong, allowing him to protect his family; Helen’s elasticity allows herself to stretch across the respective roles of homemaker, wife, and mom, as well as keeping up with her kids; superspeedy Dash is your typical hyperactive kid turned up to eleven, and the initially shy and insecure Violet uses her invisibility powers to hide from a male classmate on whom she has a massive crush. And Jack-Jack… boy howdy. When his powers finally manifest every mom watching the movie will be smiling and nodding.

The plot is also darker than Pixar’s previous films, coming right out and telling the viewer that being a superhero can really, really suck. It doesn’t shy away from the possibility of death; rather, Helen Parr comes right out and tells her kids that Syndrome’s minions will not hesitate to kill them, even though they’re just kids. Add to this the number of supers either killed on-screen or whose deaths are mentioned, and you’ve got what amounts to Watchmen, with a brighter palette. Syndrome is utterly psychotic, better filed with villains like the Joker than, say, Megavolt from Darkwing Duck, and his plan to make the supers obsolete, while smacking of disproportionate restribution, does have a genuine foundation in his past rather than being, “Hey, I’m a villain – I’m supposed to act like this!” Fans of DC and Marvel comics will find a lot of oblique references sprinkled throughout this movie as well, not least of which is a correlation between the Parr family and the Fantastic Four.

If you like self-referential, deconstructive superhero movies but don’t have enough anti-depressants for Watchmen (or if you have kids), try The Incredibles. It’s fun and serious in turns, but ultimately satisfies any superhero fan.

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