The Incredibles Movie Review
Far less funny and considerably more violent than audiences have come to expect from Pixar movies, "The Incredibles" is the animation studio's first feature to lack the winsome pizzazz that makes for mandatory repeat viewing.
Created by Brad Bird, the writer-director of "The Iron Giant," one of the greatest animated movies of all time, the story revolves around a family of far too sincerely glum superheroes trying hard to live normal suburban lives at a time when frivolous lawsuits have made saving the world cost-prohibitive.
But out of their spandex, they're just a bunch of sitcom clichés. Bob Parr (secretly super-strong do-gooder Mr. Incredible, voiced with idealistic comic-book resonance by Craig T. Nelson) is an irresponsible dad who tries to keep secrets and stupid mistakes from his (literally) stretched-in-every direction wife, Helen (a.k.a. Elastigirl, voiced with adoring irony by Holly Hunter). Their kids are, of course, a hyperactive 8-year-old named Dash (Spencer Fox), who can run 100 mph, and mopey teenage Violet (NPR radio's droll Sarah Vowell), blessed with a gift many junior high girls would kill for -- invisibility.
Down in the dumps about his unsatisfying job as an insurance adjuster, Bob welcomes an offer from a mysterious stranger with a secret volcano-island lair (and matching James Bond-like theme music) to resume superhero-ing on the sly. He gets a new costume cut to accommodate his middle-age paunch (by a hilarious midget Coco Chanel of super-garb), sneaks away from home under the guise of a business trips (leading to hackneyed misunderstandings and overly serious family tension that sucks a lot of joy from the movie), and soon discovers his benefactor is a face from the past -- and he's up to no good.
Terribly clever in many small ways (the Parrs' neighborhood is straight out of a 1960s Looney Tunes short) but terribly overreaching in many others (several action scenes are conspicuously calculated to tie-in with a video game that went on sale Tuesday), "The Incredibles" is at its best when poking fun at the genre that inspired it. "You sly dog, you got me monologing!" chuckles glib villain Syndrome (the perfectly voice-cast Jason Lee) after stopping himself from revealing his nefarious plan to the hero.
But strangely enough, the scary scenes (Mr. Incredible is tortured, a plane crashes with the kids on board) and explosion-laden, game-selling action sequences (Mr. Incredible fights a robot programmed for mass destruction) that earned this flick a well-deserved PG rating leave a more lasting impression than even its best moments of light humor.
This isn't to say "The Incredibles" won't amuse and entertain enough to justify the price of a movie ticket (just don't bring small children) -- and Pixar still runs artistic circles around any other computer-animation house. The movie's gadget designs are inventive and the deliberately plasticized visuals are a crafty homage to action figures and diorama play sets. The characters even have realistically doll-like hair.
But after two brilliantly original "Toy Story" movies, the sweet, clever charm of "A Bug's Life," the wild imagination of "Monster's Inc.," and the astounding visuals and genuine heart of "Finding Nemo," it's something of a let-down to see Pixar release a movie that's even a little bit short on originality, charm, imagination and heart.