Incredibles, The

The superhero has by now been done to death, or so you might think, and the idea on which Pixar’s The Incredibles, written and directed by Brad Bird, has been founded, namely that of a hero whose superpowers can’t protect him from the ordinary troubles of life — of work and love, friendships and “relationships” — was anticipated by Spider Man. But Mr Bird and his computers have taken this idea further down the road. Now the troubled superhero is a whole family: Mr Incredible (voice of Craig T. Nelson) and his wife Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) and their budding superhero children, Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (Spencer Fox) and the baby, Jack Jack. The children, like their parents, have to keep their superpowers hidden from the world. In fact, they are in the government’s “Superhero Relocation Program,” established to give the Incredibles and other “supers” like Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) new identities out of public sight when a wave of lawsuits puts them all out of the hero business.

So is there, then, some serious satire here? Alas, no. Lest anyone be offended, Mr Bird drops the subject of over-litigation as soon as it is established that the Incredibles, now going under the names of Bob and Helen Parr, are living in a cramped suburban villa as Bob attempts to support his family in a dull, frustrating civilian job with a nasty and rapacious insurance company that doesn’t care about its policy-holders. That should keep the trial lawyers happy.Whatever promise might be left of original and interesting stories developing out of this scenario is quickly dismissed in favor of the obvious one: Mr Incredible is called out of retirement to save the world from a new and sinister threat, and his family — including the children just becoming aware of their powers, won’t be denied their chance to come with him.

From this point on the movie strikes, rather perversely I think, the John Henry note. Can an ordinary superhero with nothing but his superpowers to fall back on — and the ordinary superhero’s family and friends with nothing but their superpowers to fall back on — defeat an apparently limitless number of diabolical machines designed and built by a disappointed superhero groupie (Jason Lee) driven mad with envy of them? There’s something a little ironic, a little postmodern perhaps, about a film made by the guys at the cutting edge of computer-generated imagery which makes high-technology the villain. Are they serious? No, not really. The joke — and there is essentially only one joke, endlessly reworked — is that the comic-book world of superheroism has become so commonplace, so much a part of movie culture, that it can now be treated as the comforting reality that the scary world of tomorrow threatens.

Just as well, then, that the scary world of tomorrow looks equally unreal and movie-ish.

But the point in joke after joke, is the normality of the superhero family, from the kids’ squabbling at the dinner table to the wife and husband arguing about directions as they career down the highway in their rocket-borne campervan to s. the w. When Bob sneaks out to do superheroic deeds, telling Helen that he’s going bowling with Frozone, there begins a whole series of jokes treating his addiction to superheroics as a form of infidelity. For the family itself is in a bad marriage with normality, and the narrative thrust of the film leads us to what seems at first a clever mockery of Hollywood morality: an impassioned plea to let superheroes be superheroes.

Underneath, however, the Pixar geniuses are offering up at least a somewhat serious case on behalf of human excellence. Thus the bad guy’s purpose is to use his machines to bring superheroism into anyone’s reach. “If everyone can be super, no one will be,” he says, proving his villainy. One is, of course, sympathetic to the moral even if doubtful about the concept. For however familiar it has become by now, such comic book heroism as The Incredibles celebrates will never quite lose its air of unreality so long as there is any real-world world-saving to be done. They are Incredible indeed, as perhaps those playful ironists at Pixar intended when they titled the movie. Not that that will stop hordes of media- and movie-savvy kids from loving it anyway.

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