Kids are going to love The Incredibles, and it's possible their parents will love it even more. I'm betting a lot of dads and moms get action figures of Mr. Incredible and his wife Elastigirl in their stockings this year, and they'll be proud to display them at home or at work. While The Incredibles looks like a movie for the kid in all of us, the storytelling of writer-director Brad Bird is aimed straight at the concerns of grownups. The film makes as many key points as a presidential candidate on the campaign trail, and yet it does so with such seamless, exhilarating big screen entertainment that the profound convictions driving the action barely register until we stagger smiling from the theater.

It doesn't matter which scale you use to measure The Incredibles' success. As a comedy, a family film, a social commentary, a superhero movie, and as an animated feature, this movie excels. Just as Mr. Incredible and his nuclear family prove they're equipped to save the world from evil, the "dream team" of Brad Bird, the brain behind the overlooked masterpiece called The Iron Giant, and John Lasseter, director of both Toy Story movies, looks poised to defend family entertainment against mediocrity through what we can only hope will be a long-running franchise. The joy they find in working together is obvious, and it brings radiance and vitality to every frame of this film.

Nothing like a little cooperation when doing the housework

Nothing like a little cooperation when doing the housework

The story begins in a metropolis where the populace, like Bird and Company, are nostalgic for the simple valor of a bygone era of bold heroes who could save the world, unfettered by criticism and litigation.

Mr. Incredible (voiced with impressive range by Craig T. Nelson), a hero with a chin to make Jay Leno feel threatened, used to save the world as part of his daily routine. He took pride in casually wielding a tree as a crime-fighting weapon, and yet he was humble and patient enough to first remove the cat stuck in its branches. During that time, his central principle—"I work alone"—was challenged by a pretty piece of Silly Putty called Elastigirl (Holly Hunter, milking that quirky Southern accent for all its worth), who married him and taught him that family commitment requires one to be "more than flexible."

But those glory days came to an end. The general public, suffering from inferiority complexes, ran out of "tolerance" for the Supers. They filed lawsuits taking superheroes to task for the collateral damage of crime-fighting. The nation's saviors were driven into a "protection program," forced to blend anonymously into the daily grind, repress their powers, and support the illusion that everyone is comfortably equal in strength.

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Bob Parr, er, Mr. Incredible leads his family to the rescue

Bob Parr, er, Mr. Incredible leads his family to the rescue

Now, working a mind-numbing day-job as a claims adjuster for Insuracare, Mr. Incredible has receded into the hulking slouch known as Bob Parr. Bob suffers under the harassment of a whiny supervisor (Wallace Shawn), even as he looms over him. Then he goes home to his wife Helen and finds her patience—and her limbs—stretched to their limits by two tempestuous super-spawn. Violet (Sarah Vowell) is a waifish, willowy teen straight out of Tim Burton's sketch book. At school, she feels invisible, probably because she is invisible whenever a cute boy looks at her. At home, when her turbocharged little brother Dash (Spencer Fox) gets on her nerves, she just puts up a force field, which stops short his speedy approaches with a clang!

In this environment of talent-repression, humdrum routine, and excessive nostalgia, Bob starts sneaking out to perform covert hero-work with his icy super-buddy Lucius (Samuel L. Jackson), a.k.a. "Frozone." That's enough to last until he gets a mysterious invitation to wrestle an un-friendly iron giant, an offer he can't resist. Mirage, an exotic seductress, bastes him with compliments and serves him up like a Christmas turkey to Syndrome (Jason Lee), a nasty supervillain with a grudge. Before long, the whole family is drawn into the excitement, and they're forced to come to terms with the abilities they've stifled for so long.

You may have noticed that this does not sound like the typical tot-friendly Pixar fare. It's not. This is the studio's first PG-rated film, and it earns that rating with a surprising barrage of gunfire, explosions, bad guys who get vaporized, good guys who stop in front of the mirror to admire their sexy backsides, and some action that will have youngsters diving under their theater seats. Helen warns her kids that their enemies "won't exercise restraint because you are children. They will kill you."

The villainous Syndrome (voiced by Jason Lee) does his thing

The villainous Syndrome (voiced by Jason Lee) does his thing

But don't worry—Pixar's focus on the family has never been stronger. Packaging The Incredibles as family fun, Bird baits grownups into the cinema for a big fat serving of family therapy. He packs in observations about identity, family dynamics, the dangers of praising mediocrity, and the consequences of cultivating a lawsuit-happy culture (where heroes like doctors and teachers live in fear of offending trigger-happy patients and parents). "Valuing life is not a weakness," one brave soul defiantly declares, "and disregarding it is not strength!" There's even a message for potential adulterers, with a not-so-subtle suggestion that Mr. Incredible might pair up with a sexy new partner. Bob, Helen, Violet, and Dash learn to stretch their faith in each other, growing from a sullen, spat-prone clan into a rejuvenated and—if you will—purpose-driven family.

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Bird accomplishes all of this without ever letting the momentum of his virtuosic storytelling stumble. What is more, his movie never stoops to crass punchlines, never flaunts any extraneous pop music in order to sell a soundtrack album, and avoids cheap pop culture references. It exposes the Shrek films as sophomoric and vastly inferior.

As an animated work, The Incredibles lacks the beauty and grace of Finding Nemo, but it has a different agenda. Here, Pixar takes digitally generated mayhem to new levels, offering us the most expressive human characters ever created by a computer. Pixar's animators impressively adjust their style to match Bird's designs, which have more in common with the frenetic exaggerations of Looney Tunes than with Toy Story. (Syndrome looks like an homage to that classic villain from The Year Without a Santa Claus, the Heat Miser, his bright red hair flaring up like a flame from his matchstick head.)

What you see is only half of the fun. The sound design is enthralling, and, like his work for TV's Alias, Michael Giacchino's nostalgic score echoes classic spy-flick themes. Characters and voices are perfectly matched, the best of which belongs to the Incredibles' costume designer, Edna, who looks like famed Hollywood costumer Edith Head. She's voiced—believe it or not—by Bird himself.

Things are heating up for Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson)

Things are heating up for Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson)

The Incredibles' only weakness is the familiarity of its superhero genre. The family's super powers are surprisingly standard stuff, although they do use those powers with staggering cleverness. (In the most riotous sequence, Helen demonstrates that mothers really can fight several battles at once.) Many action sequences merely revise things we've seen before. Indiana Jones outran a boulder; Mr. Incredible outruns a smart boulder. The Skywalker twins fled from stormtroopers on speeder bikes; the super-kids dodge Velocipads, speeder discs with tree-cutting bumpers. Syndrome probably bought his volcanic fortress at a James Bond auction. One violent crisis so closely resembles a scene from Spider-Man 2 that it must be an unfortunate (but uncanny) coincidence.

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But Bird knows he's in familiar territory, so he has fun tweaking the conventions. There's a hilarious tangent about the impracticality of superhero capes. And later, Syndrome interrupts a gloating speech about his evil plans to chuckle, "Now you've got me monologuing!"

Is The Incredibles Pixar's finest achievement? That all depends on your units of measurement. For this Pixar fan, The Incredibles is not as moving or as visually pleasing as Finding Nemo or Toy Story 2. It is, however, a stronger "Episode One" than Toy Story, A Bug's Life, and Monsters, Inc. It's also more ambitious and complicated, and the spectacular antics run a full 115 minutes—the most generous Pixar flick yet.

And thus, this wholehearted recommendation.

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. Name five skills or talents God gave you. How are you using them? Are you not using some of them to their potential? Why or why not?

  2. Were the Incredibles a healthy family before they set out to save Bob? Was Bob a better father when he repressed his gifts, or when he embraced them? Why? Did Helen do the right thing by telling the family to hide their gifts?

  3. Talk about each member of the Incredibles family: What did each member learn by the end of the story? How did they change?

  4. Discuss this statement from the movie: "Your identity is your most important possession." Do you agree? Why or why not?

  5. In the movie, superheroes have gone into hiding due to lawsuits against their heroics. Are there parallels in our own culture? What does the threat of lawsuits stifle in our own culture?

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

The Incredibles is rated PG due to comic-book-style violence. It's not the typical tot-friendly Pixar fare. There is a lot of gunfire, explosions, and bad guys getting vaporized; some of the action might send young children diving under their seats. The mom in the movie even warns her kids that their enemies "won't exercise restraint because you are children. They will kill you." On the other hand, the film does not stoop to typical PG-13 fare; there's no over-the-top sexual innuendo or sensuality, extreme violence, or bad language. But take the PG seriously.

What Other Critics Are Saying
compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet

from Film Forum, 11/11/04

"No gut, no glory." That's what the billboards advertising Pixar's The Incredibles say, and the picture of Mr. Incredible, with his super-sized mid-section, underlines the point. Yet, while the film is about a middle-aged superhero who is full of nostalgia for the "glory days," Pixar Animation Studios is demonstrating that they are as fit and as formidable as they've ever been. Mr. Incredible and his family—Elastigirl, Violet, and Dash—are sure to become favorite big screen heroes for moviegoers of all ages, and The Incredibles is destined to become one of those DVDs that never strays far from the player. If there is such a thing as an "instant classic," The Incredibles is it.

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Moviegoers can thank storyteller and director Brad Bird, who joins forces with John Lasseter (Toy Story) and the Pixar team to unleash his enormous imagination on a scale that makes his previous film The Iron Giant look more like The Iron Dwarf. Packaging The Incredibles as family fun, Bird baits grownups into the cinema for a big fat serving of family therapy. He packs in observations about identity, family dynamics, the dangers of praising mediocrity, and the consequences of cultivating a lawsuit-happy culture (where heroes like doctors and teachers live in fear of offending trigger-happy patients and parents). Bob, Helen, Violet, and Dash learn to stretch their faith in each other, growing from a sullen, spat-prone clan into a rejuvenated and—if you will—purpose-driven family.

Religious press critics are joining mainstream critics in calling it one of the year's best films, and several say this is the peak of Pixar's run of near-perfect family films. I personally prefer Finding Nemo, but I'm giving The Incredibles four stars in my review at Christianity Today Movies.

"How nice to finally have a film that delivers on its title," says Michael Elliott (Movie Parables). "The Incredibles is simply that—incredible. Combining the crucial superhero elements … with the real life concerns that beset a typical family, Bird has crafted a fantasy adventure film that touches us where we live."

David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) determines that the film "falls short of its title—but only slightly. Visually, The Incredibles is a hyper-frenetic tour de force, though it doesn't quite match the bar set by Finding Nemo. Storywise, The Incredibles lacks the heart—not to mention the cuddly, easily merchandised finned and fuzzy protagonists—of past Pixar productions. Still, the script, also by Bird, is extremely clever and supplies enough eye candy for the kiddies and multilayered dialogue and sharp wit for grownups along for the ride."

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You won't sense any disappointment in Steven D. Greydanus' assessment (Decent Films). He raves, "The Incredibles is exhilarating entertainment with unexpected depths. It's a bold, bright, funny and furious superhero cartoon that dares to take sly jabs at the culture of entitlement, from the shallow doctrine of self-esteem that affirms everybody, encouraging mediocrity and penalizing excellence, to the litigation culture that demands recompense for everyone if anything ever happens, to the detriment of the genuinely needy. It's an ideal collaboration, a perfect storm of heart, wit, energy, and style."

Greydanus's raves continue in another article as he sizes the film up alongside other recent family films and finds the competition lacking. "The Incredibles is terrific—terrific enough that it would be a contender for the year's best family film in nearly any year. Right now, it just about owns the field. Let's face it: So far, it's been a lousy year for family films. Until now, the fine Two Brothers has been just about the only bright spot."

"Pixar can't seem to make even a single mistake when it comes to elevating the artistry of animation," says Steven Isaac (Plugged In). "Likewise, while illustrating the value of an intact family or the beauty of individuality or the negative results of pride, The Incredibles is, well, incredible. If its director had left more of its computer-generated violence on his hard drive … it would have been sublime." He advises parents, "If anything in any of Pixar's previous projects proved too much for you or your tots, stay far away from The Incredibles."

Phil Boatwright (CBN) says, "For some reason some parents are still under the misguided assumption that if it's animated, it must be okay for all ages. Not so. Though this film is creative, funny and addresses life issues, it is an action adventure about superheroes—which means violent acts of derring do. That said, entertainment-wise, The Incredibles is everything other family adventures such as The Thunderbirds and Agent Cody Banks 2 wanted to be this year and failed."

Keith Howland (Christian Spotlight) says, "Unlike the Shrek films, which are often crass and crude, the humor in The Incredibles is clean fun. Sadly, there are two fleeting instances of God's name used vainly. However, there are several issues that can be used to initiate discussions of spiritual matters. All in all, The Incredibles is another triumph from Pixar, and a great movie for the family, although the very young would find it to be too intense."

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Mainstream critics are pulling on their Spandex to accomplish mighty feats of raving.

from Film Forum, 11/18/04

Andrew Coffin (World) says, "Pixar has done it again. The Incredibles is not just one of the best family movies of the year; it's one of the best movies of the year, period. The Incredibles … is the first Pixar film not to be rated G, so it's not as suitable for young audiences as the studio's other animated films, but it easily ranks with Pixar's finest achievements."

Josh Hurst (Reveal) raves about "brilliant computer animation," "the loveable, delightfully quirky superheroes," the "perfect" character voices, and the "immeasurable" imagination of Brad Bird. "The world he creates here is deep enough and rich enough to become lost in, and he has a knack for taking familiar action sequences from films like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Return of the Jedi and actually improving them, making them even more exhilarating then they were in their original context." He concludes, "This is the most charming, believable, and enjoyable family I've seen on the big screen in a long time."

At GetReligion, Terry Mattingly ponders the fact that The Nation and The New York Observer are interpreting the film as being driven by a right-wing agenda. After all, the film dares to portray a complete and healthy traditional family.

The Incredibles
Our Rating
4 Stars - Excellent
Average Rating
(1 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
PG (for action violence)
Directed By
Brad Bird
Run Time
1 hour 55 minutes
Craig T. Nelson, Samuel L. Jackson, Holly Hunter
Theatre Release
November 28, 2004 by Disney/Pixar
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