- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 4, 2004

“The Incredibles,” a superlative salute to a tradition of superheroes encompassing both comic-book and adventure-movie prototypes, runs the Pixar winning streak to six straight.

Pixar has sharpened its edge and expanded its pictorial scope by recruiting director-writer Brad Bird to improve on his poorly marketed 1999 feature for Warner Bros., “The Iron Giant.” Here, Mr. Bird conjures up another generation of robotic menaces as a sideshow to family solidarity, heroic prowess and affectionate poaching on such successful live-action franchises as the James Bond series, the “Spy Kids” fantasies and the recent “X-Men” and “Spider-Man” spectacles.

During a whirlwind ride from metropolis to suburbia to secluded jungle island and back, “The Incredibles” emerges as such a fresh and satisfying pastiche of exaggerated heroism that you may decide no format is better suited to the needs of a hero as ultra-muscular as Mr. Incredible or a heroine as ultra-flexible as his devoted spouse, Elastigirl.

Mr. Bird begins by explaining that these identities belong to a recent past that became too heroic for a risk-averse, litigious modern society. A rash of damage suits caused the government to retire its cohort of superheroes to normality protection programs. The erstwhile Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl (dubbed by Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter) dwell in suburban anonymity as Bob and Helen Parr, parents of two youngsters whose distinctive traits underline flight and concealment — vanishing Violet and fleet-footed Dash. The Parrs also have a gurgling baby, Jack-Jack, whose super-specialty is kept under wraps until the denouement.

Bob’s bulk and middle-aged spread combine to mock his occupancy of a compact car and modular workplace. Employed as an insurance adjustor, Bob labors under a humiliating slow burn, bullied by a pipsqueak supervisor, perfectly voiced by Wallace Shawn. The tethered hero works off some frustration by teaming up with an old colleague, the ice-making Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson), on fire-chasing or crime-chasing exploits during their supposed bowling night.

Genuine vindication awaits a sacking (concealed from Helen) and hush-hush overtures from a mystery client in the South Pacific. The return to challenges worthy of his strength proves bait for a grave deception: Bob becomes the prey of a despot who calls himself Syndrome and seems to be targeting all the superheroes forced into retirement.

Thanks to a fabulous character called Edna T. Mode, an Edith Head look-alike who designs super-suits, Helen is able to trace Bob to the island where Syndrome has built a Dr. No fortress and rocket launchpad. Violet and Dash stow away for the rescue mission and prove indispensable at neutralizing Syndrome’s weapons and minions.

And Jack-Jack? He’s left with a baby sitter who has grown a bit manic by the time the other Parrs make it back.

“The Incredibles” excels at many aspects of popular entertainment, including character delineation, cliffhanging set pieces, elaborate sight gags, genre homage and throwaway jokes. It’s full of humorous grace notes, ranging from the faint plop of Bob’s pencil tray off his office desk to the dazzling sight of a waterfall that unzips to disclose a portion of Syndrome’s cavernous headquarters.

The first Pixar feature rated PG, “The Incredibles” is punctuated by several perilous situations and explosive encounters. Some of these take your breath away, but there has been no fundamental change in the company’s sense of optimism, decency and valor. The valor is so pronounced while Helen and the youngsters are in danger that the movie could cause problems for risk-averse younger viewers.

In a vehemently protective moment, Helen admonishes the children: “I expect you to trust me. These people will try to kill you, so don’t give them that chance. Doubt is a luxury we can’t afford anymore.”

Bravo, Mom, in and out of context. “The Incredibles” endears itself in part by insisting that there are times when nothing but exceptional heroism will save the day.

****

TITLE: “The Incredibles”

RATING: PG (Ominous episodes and perilous situations, occasional cartoon violence in a clear-cut adventure-spectacle tradition)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Brad Bird. Supervising animators: Tony Fucile, Steven Clay Hunter and Alan Barillaro. Cinematography by Janet Lucroy, Patrick Lin and Andrew Jimenez. Production design by Lou Romano. Art direction by Ralph Eggleston. Editing by Stephen Schaffer. Music by Michael Giacchino.

RUNNING TIME: 121 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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