Thursday, 24 December 2009

You didn't save my life, you ruined my death, that's what you did!

No 400 - The Incredibles
Director - Brad Bird

Pixar is a brave and very interesting stable. I mean look at it... it definitely has a strong concept, after all despite the obvious differences Monsters Inc, Toy Story, Nemo, Ratatouille, Cars are all buddy films. About a mediocre person who finds someone to pull them up to greatness.
You've then got The Incredibles which is a domestic drama superhero film in which a member of a family is trying to pull the rest of them to greatness after they've struggled to get down to mediocre.

It is a surprisingly dark film - it is tight, well script and wickedly funny at times. Not only does this stand up against Pixar's phenomenal back catalogue, it stands up against Superhero films. I'd probably but this up there in the top 5 superhero films, and it is a cartoon.... featuring entirely made up characters who don't have a legion of comic book fans.

It is easy to view this as 'Watchmen for kids' - both stories tackle the outlawing of superheroes and the difficulties of keeping a mundane and normal life after having been a superhero. Both stories see a character get back into his old ways, investigating the disappearances of former colleagues. Both tackle danger of using capes in superhero costumes (Watchman's Dollar Bill gets caught in a revolving door and shot whereas we're treated to an entire montage of death - during Edna's AMAZING show stealing appearance - throughout The Incredibles).

In fact, Edna's speech about 'No Capes!' is just a small part of the darkness which is hidden throughout this film. For what is essentially a children's film, we're given a very real sense of danger in the action pieces. We have a huge amount of deaths in the film, both as the aftereffects of the fight scenes but also implied throughout the film. Hell, at one point Mr Incredible hides behind the mostly skeletal corpse of one of his former superhero colleagues. We're not just talking 'Sid's Toys' dark... we're talking dark. Death is an important part of the film, as Helen Parr points out to her children:
Remember the bad guys on the shows you used to watch on Saturday mornings? Well, these guys aren't like those guys. They won't exercise restraint because you are children. They *will* kill you if they get the chance. Do *not* give them that chance.

The danger is then mixed with the film's strongest and smartest touch. The family dynamic. The family bicker and bounce off of each other. Arguing and worrying and working together like a real family. It is a strong family dynamic and some excellent voice acting from Spencer Fox in particular (seeing as the woman that voiced Violet is very much a grown up) in conveying the madness and anarchy of being a child.
You also have Bob Parr's constant resentment at having to be normal and Helen's frustration at being the one that has to keep the family together. For around the first 45 minutes of the film we are just watching the mundane life of the Parrs post superhero ban. We're just getting to know the family.
By the time the action begins and the danger really comes out, we care about the Parrs and we are invested in the success of the Incredibles.

The action scenes are also helped by logic. Surprisingly, logic is not always evident in Superhero films, especially not with origin films. It seems that the writers get too involved discussing the origin of the hero they forget they have to include some kind of triumph over adversity and just crowbar in a villain.
Film 2 is normally the film for the villain to shine. Film one is usually weak.

Yet, Incredibles handles it perfectly. The villain, Syndrome, has brilliant (if slightly warped) motivation. An excellent plan. He has the most ridiculous hideout ever. He has a reason to be targeting Mr Incredible.
His emergence is the fault of Mr Incredible. That is what makes it brilliant. A spurned former fan that goes on a petty rampage to try to make the world dependent on him and also annul super heroes completely. He isn't a maniacal power hungry maniac (well he is a little bit) he is mostly a petty, vindictive sadist who has turned against his hero.
Which is a scary type of villain if you ask me.
The fact that

What we have is a family drama. About finding your strengths and working with them, looking at the slick machine 'The Incredibles' become at the film's end and compare it to the ramshackle arguing mess of the initial Parr family.
We have the moral of being true to yourself and gaining more confidence (a theme which is best shown in Violet, the insecure teen character).
We also have a moral about playing fair (after all, the villainous Syndrome didn't play fair and he gets all killed up) which is seen as well in the hilarious school race with super fast Dash trying to look inconspicuous and win the race.

When you look at the morals, we have fairly standard Disney Pixar fare, seen in Ratatouille and Wall:E as well as those mentioned up earlier in the blog... we have the inclusion of John Ratzenberger, a Pixar talisman, crow barred in for the final line. But the film towers over the risk of being standard. It delivers an engrossing and surprisingly edgy story with a great plot, great characters and infinite opportunities for sequels.

It also gave us an excellent spin off cartoon - Jak Jak Attack... which explains what the baby was doing throughout the film...


Tobias Clayton said...

Jak Jak Attack is an awesome short. The Incredibles is easily one of the best Superhero films, simply because it assumes you know what's going on. It doesn't try to explain how or why the powers work, it doesn't sit you down and say "These are the abilities that people have" it just plunges you in and lets you fill in the blanks. As a Supers fan I loved all the subtle nods to different franchises and in jokes- another stable of Pixar films

cdave said...

"The fact that" ... missing a paragraph?

One of the things I loved from the extras on the DVD was that they were originally going to have a non-super pilot on the family Jet who got killed. But they had to cut him, as they didn't have enough time before that to let the audience build up enough of a relationship with him for his death to really hurt!