Incredibles, The (US - BD)
Gabe thinks way too hard about Brad Bird's classic CG superhero romp...
Hey guys, I haven’t included any huge spoilers here, but I’ve written this review from the assumption that those reading it have seen The Incredibles. Those that haven’t should probably just understand that my opinion of the film is wildly positive.
Brad Bird is probably the most obsessive and controlling writer/director in the animated movie game. He’s like Terry Gilliam – a man with a vision that exceeds the budget of any independent film, and unlike George Lucas he doesn’t have an empire to fuel his obsessions. Most animated films, especially ones with Pixar-sized budgets, depend on more than one director to bring a vision to the big screen, or at the very least a director and team of assistant directors. This co-op of creative forces stems from the fact that animation requires more hands in the pot to be produced in any sort of timely manner, whether it be a Korean sweatshop full of people scribbling the same drawing over and over, or a creatively nurturing building full of computers in San Francisco. I suppose that thanks to the simplification of computer technology like Flash, one person could make an entire animated film without any assistance, but something the scope of The Incredibles would take a lifetime for one man to complete. Bird doesn’t make movies alone, of course, but he’s notorious in all the right/wrong circles for his ‘finger in every pie’ approach makes for the most personal $92 million cartoon ever made (but only because Iron Giant only cost $70 million). Good thing for us, Bird is also one of the best writer/directors working in the animated movie game. So far this OCD master only has three directing credits to his name – [/i]The Iron Giant[/i], The Incredibles and Ratatouille – but all three rank among the best films of any genre over the last two decades.
Bird’s second film was Pixar studio’s sixth production, and the first spearheaded by an outsider. Bird was invited to Pixar (along with some of his Iron Giant team) to do his thing. He came to them with an unconventional, and subversive take on the superhero genre, which had just re-carved its niche in the Hollywood machine following the box office successes of Bryan Singer’s X-Men and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. The Incredibles is to the superhero genre as Jackie Brown is to the Blaxploitation genre, or Unforgiven is to the western genre, it’s a semi-revisionist look at what might happen if our simplified heroes might spend their middle-ages. Despite these post-modern aspirations, The Incredibles is easily one of the best traditional superhero movies ever made. The only two films I’d personally set above it are Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and X-Men 2, with the first two Spider-Man films, and Ang Lee’s Hulk nipping at its heels. At the very least The Incredibles is the best Fantastic Four movie ever made, despite Roger Corman and Tim Story’s best efforts, encompassing the family themes Stan Lee and Jack Kirby infused their original treatments. The X-Men films thoroughly covered the ‘fear of the other’ metaphors found in superhero myths, several Batman films covered the real life psychology of a vigilante, and pretty much every Superman flick features at least some inkling of the Moses and Jesus myths, so even at the time family was really Bird’s only option.
Bird’s script, which likely remains among the least team developed scripts in the studio’s history (most Pixar films are real group efforts, though apparently Wall-E was Andrew Stanton’s ‘baby’ as well), is almost perfect in terms of structure, character dynamics, witty dialogue, subtext and homage. The jokes range from pure slapstick and spoof, to character nuance and everything in-between, and for the most part these stick with the intended degree of laughter. More impressive is the film’s ability to touch an audience emotionally without the sentimental tricks Pixar films (and even the infallible Iron Giant) occasionally employ. Bird doesn’t shy away from the dark side either, hinging his story’s inception on a suicide attempt, a montage of superheroes with capes meeting ghastly ends, Bob/Mr. Incredible discovering a list of heroes super villain Syndrome has killed, and several scenes of the Incredikids in mortal danger. The darkest moment comes when Bob is told his family has been killed. The blow is softened because the audience knows no one has actually met a violent end, but Bob’s resulting threats of violence, and his quiet weeping at the end of the scene speak to something most PG rated films try to avoid.
Speaking of Bird and his bestestness, the guy is also one of the top five action directors currently working in any genre. The Iron Giant and The Incredibles are sort of obvious nominees for extraordinary animated action, but even Ratatouille, a movie about a cooking rat and his awkward human friend features one of the most gob-smacking foot chases in recent cinematic history. I’d written off the Mission Impossible franchise right up to the point Bird was brought on as director, and now I can’t wait to see what he can do with live action (and I’d still mark him as a better pick than Bryan Singer, JJ Abrams, McG or Zach Snyder to revitalize the Superman franchise). But until M:I:IV is released, The Incredibles remains the director’s action scene magnum opus. On top of being viscerally satisfying experience (I still find myself holding my breath during the plane crash, and can’t help but grin like an idiot every time Dash realizes he can run on water), the majority of the film’s action scenes do the impossible (no, there was not a pun intended there) by featuring genuine narrative drive. The opening number, which sees our heroes in their prime, sets up all the important characters other than the kids, gives insight into the scope and tone of the story, and plants a kernel of the entire film’s thematic thrust by including pre-Syndrome Buddy. Bob’s first encounter with one of Syndrome’s robots rather hilariously establishes the character’s current physical ability, while simultaneously establishing the threat level of the robot, which we learn later is an inferior product to the ‘big boss’ at the end of the film. The forest chase/escape is the closest the film comes to a gratuitous action set-piece, but even this takes the characters from point A to point B, and the following city based battle royale serves the narrative equivalent to most family dramas’ climatic coming together sequence.
The Incredibles was the first exclusively human cast Pixar ever dealt with, and up until Up I’d argue they never grasped the same kind of graphic design ideal presented here. From Toy Story on, digitally animated humans tended to be pretty putty-faced, and until recently they didn’t match the nuance nooks and crannies of hand drawn animation, as most of the expression seemed to be dependent on body movement instead. The Incredibles characters wouldn’t work if the designers had tried to make them look like real people, but not only because the technology wouldn’t have allowed it at the time, they also wouldn’t have blended with their hyper-stylized surroundings. Bird and company’s production design choices set almost half the film’s tone without the story or characters even doing anything. The Iron Giant physically took place in the Red Scare era of the 1950s, and embraced the look as part of Bird’s golden era sci-fi movie homage. The Incredibles pays homage to the silver age of superhero comics, and though a real world timeline is never really specified (Edna Mode does mention exact dates when recalling cape-related fatalities, which, assuming we know how old Bob is would place the film in somewhere between the ‘70s and ‘80s) the 1960s have a major design influence over the entire film, from the costumes and home décor, to the groovy, James Bondian lairs and gadgets. (For the record Ratatouille appears to take place during the French New Wave era of the late ‘60s, though again, dates aren’t specified.) The slightly deformed quality of things also leads me to assume Chuck Jones’ ‘50s and ‘60s work was another big influence. As a piece of pop art I’m not sure Pixar has ever achieved anything better than this.
The film will always have its detractors, and I’ve found they mostly fall into two groups – those that resent Bird for ‘ripping off’ a very famous comic book game-changer, and those that resent the often mooted Objectivist subtext. I’m personally comfortable with all the narrative aspects Bird borrowed from Alan Moore’s and David Gibbons’ Watchmen (which, of course, was made into its own film a few years back by Zach Snyder), mostly because he’s regularly owned up to it. I also forgive the swipe because Bird only takes the inception point of the Watchmen narrative, the point where superheroes are outlawed by the government. From here he looks at the ‘real world’ implications from a different angle, dealing with the corruption of the system around the superheroes instead of the superheroes themselves. I actually enjoy the idea of the stories taking place at the same time, even though they feature huge tonal differences, and take place in different fake eras. The Incredibles isn’t exactly a ‘mirror universe’ version of Watchmen, but both stories cover the clampdown on superheroes (a metaphor that works for both sides of the political isle) from a very adult point of view, and both were novel for their times, though The Incredibles didn’t have the same lasting effect on the subgenre in any medium.
Then there’s the whole Objectivist angle, which critically plagued the film for years. Personally, I tend to buy the accusations. Syndrome’s ultimate plot is to create a world where everyone is super, ‘and when everyone is super no one is’. This sounds to me like it could double as a quote from The Fountainhead. As far as I know Bird has never discussed his politics openly, but it would make sense that such a self-motivated guy would be a fan of Ayn Rand. Admittedly it’s hard to do anything with superheroes without drawing some parallels to Rand. Tony Stark (Iron Man) has a lot in common with the protagonists of Atlas Shrugged, and both Batman and Superman has been adapted to fit the philosophy on occasion (Superman’s name comes from Nietzsche, Nietzsche was an early influence on Rand…okay, I’m stretching now). Most pertinent, long-standing Spider-Man artist/co-writer Steve Ditko is a staunch, unapologetic Objectivist, and the creator of the ultimate Objectivist superhero, The Question. The Question was, of course, then re-imagined as Rorschach by Alan Moore for (full circle people) Watchmen. Arguably many of Watchmen’s characters epitomize the worst of varying political/philosophical ideals…I’m sorry, I’m rambling again.
In the end, Bird doesn’t utilize the more Darwinian extremes found in Rand’s philosophy, opting instead for the traditional cartoon moral of ‘be yourself’, which, in my opinion, keeps The Incredibles from being classifiable as propaganda, and that’s what’s important. As my friend Blake put it while we were discussing the subject: at worst it's propaganda so well designed that it has no aspect of propaganda, and at best, it reflects how nearly all superheroes are, in part, Objectivist fantasy. Though I also can’t help but notice Edna Mode bears an uncanny resemblance to Rand herself. If we’re going to talk about the film’s politics perhaps we should discuss the more inescapable indictment of insurance companies and their unethical business practices. There’s positively zero grey area here.
Each of Pixar’s original DVD releases managed to recalibrate our eyes to the highest possibilities of the format, and for the most part the old Incredibles DVD still stands up among the format’s best. But as we’ve learned since the advent of HD technology, there’s almost always room for improvement, and this new Blu-ray is no exception. Thanks to the 1080p upgrade we can now see minuscule details like Buddy’s hand painted eye-holes, along with other easily missed costume details, but it’s the wide angle shots of the island’s tropical fauna that truly destroy the old DVD release. The higher detail levels hurt some of the images in terms of texture, especially the human characters. It’s obvious that more rendering love went into Mr. Incredible’s skin than the rest of the human cast, who all have immaculate hair, but rather plastic looking skin, and somewhat detached mouth movements. The characters also stick out a bit uncomfortably against any concrete background for whatever reason, which was certainly something I didn’t notice in SD. Oh, right, and there’s the matter of colours too, which match the studio’s usual overwhelming frequency. Difference settings have different palette themes, which opens the transfer up to a lot of variety. The insurance office is sterile, lit by sickly and coolly by fluorescent lamps that accentuate only blacks, whites and blues. The Parr household reflects the family’s strife, moving from dark and moody to bright and warm during the good news montages. The sharp contrast between black and red is another consistent visual theme, as seen on the Incredibles costumes, and even more impressively on the chairs in Edna Mode’s office. The island’s lush greenness cuts nicely against the vibrant explosions during the chase sequence, and Syndrome’s base is a celebration of the contradictive blacks and oranges of moving molten lava.
Disney has predictably included another top end DTS-HD Master Audio track to match the new HD transfer. There are far too many aggressive, loud collections of sound design, including epic fisticuffs, evil robots destroying municipal property, a building fire, and a plane crash to single out just one for discussion. Let’s just say the whole track will impress your friends, ensure your directional channels are busy, and blow up your LFE channel (no, not literally). Contrast is even more important than sonic power in this case, leading to more subtle environments like Bob’s office, Edna’s lab, and various parts of Syndrome’s lair. The two sequences featuring characters sneaking into and around the villain’s base are among the most successful sound design moments, especially Helen’s rescue sequence, which plays with the utter silence, the rubber band creak of the Elastigirl powers, and bursts of sound like gunshots. I’m also quite fond of Violet’s force-field effect, which recalls the abstract-yet-familiar sounds Ben Burtt created for Star Wars. This brings us to Michael Giacchino’s magnificent score, which, like everything else in the film, was almost sadistically puppeteered into existence by Bird. Giancchino was brought on to the project (the first non-Newman to work on a Pixar score) when John Barry (RIP), the man who basically invented the sound of James Bond, refused to do an impression of himself for Bird. Turns out, the as yet untried in the major motion picture composer is the best brand of mimic – one that can evoke a style without ripping off specific themes or melodies. Giancchino would go on to write one of the best Star Trek scores ever for J.J. Abrams.
When released the original Incredibles DVD was probably Pixar’s most impressive collection in terms of extra features. The first disc starts with two commentary tracks, one featuring Brad Bird and producer John Walker, and the other featuring a room full of animators. Bird and Walker keep the facts moving, focusing mostly on technical aspects of making the film, and on patting the backs of every single freaking person that had anything to do with the film (Bird is nothing if not gracious). It’s an entertaining track thanks to the energy of the participants, but not a ‘must listen’. The animators’ track is even more technical, and super dry. There’s plenty of information for budding animators to work from, but it can be brutal at times.
The first disc also features both the original release’s shorts. Boundin’ (4:40, HD) is a cute little song and dance about a dancing sheered sheep that rediscovers his self esteem written, directed, scored, sung and acted by veteran animator Bud Luckey. It features an optional commentary with Luckey himself. Jack-Jack Attack (4:40, HD) is the story of what happens to the youngest Incredible while the family is away. It’s followed by ‘ Jack-Jack Attack Exploded’ (4:40, HD), a new commentary featuring Bird, story supervisor Mark Andrews, character designer Teddy Newton, animator Bret Parker, and various pop-up images. The disc ends with the biggest of the new extras – ‘ The Incredibles Revisited’ (22:10, HD), a roundtable discussion featuring Bird, Andrews, Newton, producer John Walker, supervising technical director Rick Sayre, production designer Lou Romano and animation supervisor ‘Tony Fucile’. This includes some interesting new information, including problems with the pitch, early story ideas, getting away with some of the heavier moments, Bird’s social problems, Bird’s team’s interaction with the Pixar regulars, and the film’s release. Bird threatens to touch on my Objectivist questions at one point, but never does.
Disc two starts with some new stuff. First up is ‘Paths to Pixar: Story Artists’ (5:50, HD), a quick look behind the scenes of the studio’s storyboarding process by way of the artists themselves. ‘Studio Stories: Gary’s Birthday’ (1:20, HD) is another in the cute, partially animated ‘Studio Stories’ collections that have been featured on all the Pixar Blu-ray releases so far. ‘Ending with a Bang’ (1:40, HD) takes a quick look at the making of the 2D, Saul Bass inspired end credits. ‘The New Nomanisan: A Top Secret Redevelopment Plan’ (HD) is a cute pseudo-sequel ad for the redevelopment of Syndrome’s evil island. Following the introduction the viewer can chose from ten slots on the Nomanisan map, each of which features their own brief flash animated piece.
From here the extras should be familiar to anyone who owns the DVD release, starting with six deleted scenes and a deleted scene intro, all of which have now been upgraded to HD video, and the original teaser trailer, which has also been HD enhanced (I never noticed the background music was from James Bond before). ‘The Making of The Incredibles’ (27:30, SD) is one of Pixar’s usual EPK-plus productions, covering most of the important aspects of filmmaking, including Brad Bird’s social issues, production meetings, musical scoring, animation, design, and technology. A series of follow-up featurettes are next, including ‘Story’ (7:20, SD), ‘Character Design’ (5:30, SD), ‘E Volution’ (2:50, SD), ‘Building Humans’ (6:20, SD), ‘Building Extras’ (2:00, SD), ‘Set Design’ (2:00, SD), ‘Sound’ (3:10, SD), ‘Music’ (5:20, SD), ‘Lighting’ (3:00, SD) and ‘Tools’ (2:40, SD). ‘Mr. Incredible and Pals’ (4:00, SD) is a funny pretend Saturday morning cartoon staring classic Mr. Incredible and Frozone. It spoofs the cheap quality of ‘60s television animation, including every manner of animation shortcut. This short features a commentary option with Craig T. Nelson and Sam Jackson revisiting the cartoon in character. Things close out with ‘NSA Files’ (7:00, SD), a mostly audio and text based data hub with information about some of the superheroes and villains seen in the film, ‘Who is Bud Lucky’ (3:50, SD), ‘Vowellett – An Essay by Sarah Vowell’ (10:10, SD), Art Galleries (now in HD), all 11 DVD Easter Eggs, character interviews, and trailers.
I admit I was a little worried revisiting The Incredibles after so many years away, and I’m happy to say it’s still great. Not only is it great, it’s starting to feel timeless. Even better, I can’t think of a better way to introduce your kids to Mad Men than a ‘60s tinged superhero cartoon, because who wouldn’t want to introduce their kids to Mad Men? Fans with Blu-ray players should be happy with this 1080p, DTS-HD upgrade. Even if the new extras are a bit on the thin side, all the old stuff is included, and as a whole there isn’t a lot more to say about the production.
*Note: The images on this page
are notrepresentative of the Blu-ray's image quality, and were taken from the previously released DVD.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 12th April 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DVS 2.0 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French and Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Director and Producer Commentary, Animators Commentary, The Incredibles Revisited, Jack-Jack Attack, Jack-Jack Attack Exploded, Boundin' with Commentary,New Nomanisan Island Interaction, Paths to Pixar, Studio Stories, Deleted Scenes, Bloopers, Making Of The Incredibles, Image Galleries, Trailers, TV Spots, DVD Copy, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Brad Bird
Cast: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Sarah Vowell
Length: 115 minutes
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