Friday, October 22, 2004

The superhero-team concept melds with the importance of the family in the Nov. 5 release of Disney-Pixar’s animated epic “The Incredibles.”

The movie relays a tale in which the golden age of costumed heroes has passed, forcing Bob Parr and his family to turn to the superhero relocation program to inconspicuously blend into the suburban population.

However, when a new opportunity arises 15 years later for Parr’s alter ego, Mr. Incredible, to return to the glory days, he unknowingly becomes part of a diabolical plan that puts his family and city in serious peril.

Created from the fertile mind of famed “Iron Giant” director Brad Bird, the film mixes his fondness for sequential-art entertainment with a passion for the art of animation in a computer-generated masterpiece.

Mr. Bird recently talked to The Washington Times about his influences, the genesis of “The Incredibles” and the work involved in making the film.

Origins of the Incredible family’s powers: “In any prototypical family, the dad is expected to be strong and show no pain, so Mr. Incredible is super strong. The mother in the family is always juggling a million things and pulled in a million directions, so I had Elastigirl’s power be stretchability.

“Teenage girls are very self-conscious and do not want to be looked at, so I gave the daughter Violet the powers of invisibility, and they are also kind of defensive, so I gave her a protective shield. Ten-year-old boys are energy balls and spinnings tops, so I gave the son Dash super speed.”

Origin of costume designer Edna Mode: “I’ve seen a lot of superhero films and television shows, and they always have these flamboyant costumes, and I always wondered, ‘Who made them?’ Every once in a while, they would have kind of an awkward scene with a muscle-bound hero who would be in the basement sewing very sensitively, and I never really bought it.

“So I figured that if you had a world that was populated by superheroes, then somebody would have to be designing their costumes, and that somebody could not just be a fashion designer, but she would have to be something of a scientist, also.”

Favorite comic strip: “I started getting into the Spirit after reading an interview with William Friedkin and was amazed by how cinematic the character was. My first love has always been movies, and it struck me as a comic-strip version of ‘Citizen Kane.’

“The angles were tremendous and the lighting was dramatic. It was even arranged on the page that was cinematic. Panels were not just broken up into geometric squares, they were longer, shorter and abrupt with a feeling of almost movielike timing.

“And I think this was one of the first comic strips to do that, and I love the fact that Will Eisner had all of the draftsmanship that one would look for but wasn’t afraid to get broad or cartoony with some of the expressions.

“I also tipped my hat to Mr. Eisner’s work in ‘Iron Giant.’ The kid pulls out stuff that the giant would enjoy seeing, and he pulls out a copy of the Spirit. I thought that not a lot of people know about this and it is a great thing.

“I think Will Eisner is a genius.

Working in an animated format: “You have absolute control over every frame, and if you control it badly, you are making people miserable 24 times a second. But if you control it well, you are delighting them 24 times a second.”

The process of giving superheroes names: “One of the challenges is that I knew I had to have X number of heroes because the world is populated with them. I would just write down pages and pages of names that I thought sounded like superheroes and were fun, and then I would narrow the list down.

“We then had to clear the names to make sure they were not already used. If anybody publishes 10 issues of something from his basement in Ohio, if he has registered it, we can not use it.

“In a couple of instances, there were obscure uses of the names. Elastigirl was a character that was in a couple of DC Comics from the 1960s, and we actually had to make an agreement with Warner Bros.”

Involvement with the Dark Horse Comics adaptation of “The Incredibles”: I had some involvement, but mostly the guy who is drawing the books, Ricardo Curtis, worked on ‘Iron Giant’ as an animator and storyboards for ‘The Incredibles.’ I was really happy we got him.”

If I could be a superhero: “I would want to fly. I have had flying dreams probably seven or eight times in my life, and I am always bummed out when I wake up and I can’t do it. It feels like high-speed swimming in the air, and I really like that.”

What I want viewers to take away from the movie: “The movie is about the importance of the work you love and, even more importantly, having a family — and that family can be defined in a number of ways. It could be friends, or it could just be anybody who has a mutual affection for you, and it’s the value and importance of that.

“I think that every character in the movie is underestimated, and I think the movie says, ‘Don’t underestimate me.’”

Zadzooks! wants to know you exist. Call 202/636-3016, fax 202/269-1853, e-mail or write to Joseph Szadkowski at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.

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