Can you believe THE INCREDIBLES came out fourteen years ago? For millennials like me, that kind of thought makes us feel old. It’s a film that still holds up despite how much further on animation has come, this vibrant superhero-spy-family-sitcom really has legs, legs moving in a blur.
Following a backlash against the destructive actions of superheroes, capes are outlawed and heroes forced into early retirement. Two heroes, Mr Incredible (Craig T Nelson) and Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) marry, settle down and have three children, but a normal suburban life isn’t enough to keep Bob’s appetites for adventure sated for long. But someone is watching Bob when he has a crimefighting relapse, and soon an oportunity that seems too good to be true comes along, calling Bob and the Parrs back into action…
Brad Bird sets the tone from the start, with a Mr Incredible in his prime giving an awkward interview and opining ,”No matter how many times you save the world it always manages to get back in jeopardy again…Sometimes I just want it to stay saved, for a little bit!” The world may be heavily stylised, it may be animated, but it’s based in some form of reality that we recognise. Bird writes animated characters that feel more real than real people. The Parr family, their employers, friends and foes are all archetypes but askew, more interesting archetypes. Mr Incredible is the classic super-strong hero who finds humdrum domestic life as Bob Parr much bigger challenge than saving a city, who dreams of re-living the glory days to get his mojo back. Elastigirl put her successful superhero career on hold to settle down as stay-at-home mum Helen Parr, but is the family rock and the real leader when her powered family spring into action. The Parr kids Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (Spencer Fox) and Jack Jack have additional pressures than those usually encountered in growing up being in a family of supers and superfan-turned-supervillain Syndrome (Jason Lee) represents the (far more scarily relevant today) tragic and extreme end result of toxic fandom.
The shiny superheroics peppered with knowing gags are fun and all, but it’s the domestics, the arguments, broken dreams and unwavering support for family that really sticks. The contrast between the incredible and the everyday is key. Mr Incredible gets a new mission / Bob spends an evening drying waterlogged books with a hairdryer etc.
Michael Giacchino’s John Barrie-tinged jazzy score is one of my absolute favourites of any film. The music isn’t the only debt the film owes to early Bond movies. Interestingly, The Incredibles is probably more a spy movie than a superhero movie by quite some margin. The superhero references are relatively few and far-between: the family dynamic and power set from the Fantastic Four, heroes forced into retirement and past their best from Watchmen. For the spy (mostly Bond) stuff you’ve got the recruitment by recorded expository message; the cover of a mysterious unspecified job with lots of time away from home; the government handler; the gadget vendor who goes by a single letter; the villain’s scheme (monologued); the villain’s island paradise lair; the villain’s apparent defeat, surprise return then actual defeat at the end.
A lot of creativity may have gone into the action, but a decade-and-change on and some of the environmental effects are looking a bit ropey. Wet hair and skin goes shiny but doesn’t behave quite right; fire, ice and lava doesn’t look especially convincing in motion. The heavily stylised character and retro-futurist digital sets are timeless, but some of the binding elements of this world are starting to get a slightly uncanny sheen.
The grab-bag of technology and mix of decade-specific design details gives the film a similar alternative universe feel to something like BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES before it or ARCHER to follow. There are references to the “Glory Days” being some time in the late 40s, so the Parr family “present” must be the early 60s, but an early 60s set along a different path. It’s a distinctive, timeless world full of characters who make a genuine connection. It’s clever, inventive and it makes a connection. It’s a bit of a classic. SSP