'The Incredibles': THR's 2004 Review

Pixar again hitches top-notch storytelling to the very best in CG animation.

On Nov. 5, 2004, Pixar unveiled The Incredibles in theaters, where it would go on to gross $633 million worldwide and win two Oscars, including best animated film, at the 77th Academy Awards. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below: 

Pixar Animation Studios boldly moves into new cartoon territory with The Incredibles, a red-hot and very funny action adventure that involves an entire family of superheroes. It's Spy Kids, James Bond and Spider-Man all rolled into one under the sage and savvy direction of Brad Bird, the man behind the terrific 1999 animated feature Iron Giant. What Bird and Pixar have essentially done is make a superhero movie that could just as easily have been live action. So this is not only Pixar's first PG-rated film but, at 115 minutes, its longest.

A cut here and there actually might have helped. Nevertheless, The Incredibles is as imaginative and astute as any general audience entertainment has been for a long while. By pushing computer animation in a new direction, the sky's the limit for worldwide box office. Domestically, the film should easily top $200 million.

The movie is stylized to look like a fantasy dreamed up in the 1960s, and that includes Michael Giacchino's jazzy score reminiscent of Mission: Impossible, The Avengers and John Barry's early Bond scores. The animators render the suburban homes and downtown offices in the sleek, clean lines with minimal details, while the villain's lair is a Dr. No-like jungle island-cum-weapons factory outfitted with Space Age gizmos and security apparatus.

Since CG animation has yet to produce the proportionally accurate human characters of cel animation, Bird chooses to go with 3-D renderings of the kind of 2-D characters one encountered in comic strips or Saturday morning TV cartoons in the '60s, only with a higher level of physical complexity than we have seen in CG animation. Thus, Bob Parr (voiced by Craig T. Nelson), a cheerful crimefighter known as Mr. Incredible, is drawn like an upside down triangle with all his bulk above a thin waist and legs, topped by a shovel face that features a broad smile. His wife Helen (Holly Hunter), known as Elastigirl, is a rubbery contortionist with limbs that extend seemingly forever, making her something of an Olive Oyl on acid.

Alas, as the story opens, an ungrateful citizenry has tired of its superheroes. Lawsuits force the Parrs into a superhero relocation program. So for 15 years, the couple adopts civilian identities and settles into a "normal" life with three kids, all possessing supernatural abilities that must be throttled whenever they threaten to erupt. There is shy and awkward teen Violet (Sarah Vowell), the rambunctious and speedy Dash (Spencer Fox) and baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile and Maeve Andrews).

Bob, now sporting a bulging gut, is a clock-punching claims adjuster. The movie gets comic mileage out of the sight of Bob squeezing his bulk in and out of the tiny cubicles where he works. He indulges his growing superhero angst in "bowling" nights with another ex-superhero, Lucius (Samuel L. Jackson), aka Frozone, where they moonlight as anonymous saviors.

Dying to get back into the game, Bob is lured by the mysterious Mirage (Elizabeth Pena) to the remote Nomanisan Island — don't you love that name? — for a top-secret assignment. Its success makes Bob feel Incredible for the first time in years. Thus, he works out to get back into superhero shape while hiding from Helen that he has been fired from his insurance job.

A second summons to the island is, in fact, a trap sprung by a former admirer of Mr. Incredible who now goes by the moniker of Syndrome (Jason Lee). A pint-sized version of Mr. Incredible only with Don King-like hair and an evil grin, Syndrome makes up for his lack of superpowers with an array of weapons and accessories he has invented. When Helen learns of her husband's deception, she rushes to the island in a souped-up jet where her children, unbeknownst to her, have stowed away. So the entire family re-unites on the island to fight evil-doers and once more save the world.

Action sequences contain terrific edge-of-your-seat suspense, while domestic scenes brim with wit and intelligence. At one point, Dash races through the jungle to escape from Velocipods at such a high speed that it's a wonder Pixar's computers didn't melt. Then there is a superhero costume fitting — a little like scenes in Bond movies where Q outfits 007 with his latest secret weapons — that features Edna (writer-director Bird), a tiny designer drawn to resemble Hollywood's legendary costumer Edith Head.

The action is intense enough to make the film unsuitable for very young or impressionable children. But these sequences certainly play brilliantly to everyone else. What makes them heart-stopping and hilarious all at once is that the kids, embroiled in the very first action allowed by their parents, discover their superhero abilities as the chases and fights progress.

At the very end, two old guys are voiced by Ollie Johnston and the late Frank Thomas, animators who worked with Walt Disney himself. This link to the past is apt because their pioneering work in cel animation is mirrored in Pixar's envelope-pushing in CG animation. Story and technique keep getting stronger with each feature. The Incredibles is, incredibly enough, Pixar's best work yet. — Kirk Honeycutt, originally published Nov. 1, 2004.