Retro Review: The Incredibles

Incredibles poster

Despite the exponential growth that the genre has experienced, it remains a rarity to see superhero movies with original characters – i.e. not based on those found in a comic book. The only notable exception in recent times has been this animated effort from Pixar, a film that continues to enthral years after its initial release.

Mr Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) is the world’s most famous, most celebrated superhero, using his feats of strength to both save those in peril and thwart any evildoers. Or at least, that was the case, until a night of botched heroics sees him sued for negligence, leading to his government’s outlawing of superheroes. These days, he lives under the alias of Bob Parr as an insurance agent, longing to relive his glorious past.

In the meantime, Bob must act as breadwinner for his family, most of whom possess superpowers of their own. His wife Helen (Holly Hunter) – once known as Elastigirl – is able to stretch and distort her limbs to any length at will; teenage daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell) has the ability to turn invisible and produce temporary force-fields; and son Dash (Spencer Fox), as per his name, can run at breakneck speed.

It is at a low-point in Bob’s mundane career that he’s approached by Mirage (Elizabeth Pena), a woman claiming to work for a top-secret government agency. She is seeking to recruit Mr Incredible for an assignment on a remoter tropical island, where he is to deactivate a weaponised robot gone rogue. An overweight, inactive Bob readily accepts Mirage’s offer, soon after finding that superhero work is more strenuous than he remembers.

Upon its premiere in 2004, many saw The Incredibles as a huge gamble for Pixar. It was the first of the studio’s features to contain only human characters, rather than one of anthropomorphic toys or creatures; it was an original superhero property, rather than one already established; its cast had few mainstream stars, unlike Pixar’s other films; and it was directed by Brad Bird, an animator whose previous film, The Iron Giant, bombed at the box-office.

Yet The Incredibles managed to become a resounding success, and the reasons for it being so are many. Chief among those reasons is the family dynamic, an element rarely witnessed in superhero blockbusters – or in the field of animation, for that matter. The characters interact much in the way a real family would, albeit with their powers utilised during arguments; additionally, each family member has a distinct personality – for instance, the introverted Violet uses her ability to hide from others.

Beyond the family of Incredibles, there are two other memorable protagonists worthy of mention. The first is Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson), a superhero who can produce ice out of thin air; he acts as a sidekick and confidant to Mr Incredible. The second is Edna Mode (voiced by director Bird), a short-statured fashion designer who makes costumes for heroes. Both characters have some hilarious lines and exchanges with others, many of which are now ingrained in pop culture.

The Incredibles can also boast a rather interesting villain: Syndrome (Jason “Earl” Lee). While undoubtedly cartoonish – as is typical with this type of film – he is one of the better-written antagonists to grace a superhero picture, having been given backstory, motivations beyond greed and an explanation for his extraordinary riches, none of which this reviewer is keen to spoil. What can be said, though, is that Syndrome is a rather fun antagonist.

Tasked with composing music for The Incredibles was Michael Giacchino, with this being his very first effort for Pixar. Giacchino’s brassy, catchy, jazz-like soundtrack is akin to an old spy caper, emulating the retro architecture, vehicles and costumes that are present throughout the film. Adding to that, the animation still looks great after fourteen years – it’s not particularly realistic, but it is clean, colourful, detailed, well-rendered, and looks better than plenty of animated offerings from the past decade.

One major issue this reviewer has with The Incredibles is a lack of continuity during certain scenes. The moment where this issue is most glaring comes about halfway through the film – it sees events switch between Bob and Helen in different parts of the world, without properly accounting for the change in time-zones. Another example comes later in the story, when Dash talks excitedly about incidents which never occurred. It’s aspects like these that blemish an otherwise brilliant movie.

Even after fourteen years, The Incredibles remains a landmark achievement for both Pixar and the superhero genre, possessing well-developed characters, great animation, unforgettable quotes and a lively, hummable soundtrack. In other words, those people who haven’t already experienced the brilliance of Brad Bird’s creation are sorely missing out.


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