We’re ranking the films of Pixar Studios, leading up to the release of Inside Out.
Directed: Brad Bird
Writers: Brad Bird
Prior to 2004, each Pixar film was written and developed in the Pixar bubble of intense collaboration and criticism. Multiple directors and often 6 or more writers are credited on each. Then came Brad Bird, from outside the Pixar – Disney universe. Bird made the magnificent box-office bomb The Iron Giant in 1999 before pitching story of dormant superheroes in the suburbs to Pixar (how does one get a pitch meeting with Pixar, by the way?).
The Incredibles provided a new technical challenge for Pixar. It is the first of the studio’s movies that starred an all-human cast, and with humans came a need to develop a more realistic animation style. If Pixar’s visual representation had a weak spot, it would be the rendering of human bodies, skin and faces. If you look at the humans in film’s past–Sid in Toy Story, Al the toy collector in Toy Story 2, Boo in Monsters, Inc.–its clear that creating a family of five distinct family members, plus a community of students and friends and a villain, would require additional animation development.
The other big difference that comes with The Incredibles is the setting of this story: a family. While every previous Pixar film explored familial relationship dynamics–parent / child in Finding Nemo, or the community of toys in Toy Story–The Incredibles is the first (and to date, only) Pixar movie about marriage and children. The story of the Parr family is one of middle-class, suburban strife. Bob is having a mid-life crisis, his marriage is in a rut, the kids are, well, human children: lovable pains in the ass. Work sucks, life the ‘burbs has turned boring, and the only excitement Bob Parr finds in his day-to-day existence is going out with his buddies and trying to relive the glory days of his youth.
That this family consists of individuals with superpowers is really just a detail. The dinner table scene in the film’s first act is so human and recognizable, despite the super-nature of the behaviors, that it’s clear that the Parrs are not different than the rest of us. They’re a family working to stay together.
Of course, Bird’s family of supers is super. And the Parrs do not find the simple life that is celebrated in most Pixar films to be satisfying. Unlike Up, or the Toy Story trilogy, The Incredibles begins with Mr. Incredible wanting to settle down into the simple life, only to find that life wholly unfulfilling. Not until the family unites behind the very thing that makes them special, BEING SUPERHEROES, does the family find their peace together.
Brad Bird’s superheroes came just at the beginning of the comic-book hero explosion. It’s 2004 release predates Batman Begins by a year, and the spirit of joy that accompanies the super-powered Parr family allows The Incredibles to remain a fresh in the nearly exhausted genre. What And the film’s concept–superheroes have gone into hiding after the public’s rejection of their meddling interference–hits just the right pitch of the early Bond films, 1960s spy-thrillers, and early superhero comics that inspired Brad Bird.
Bird’s script also provides a terrific cast of supporting characters, including fashion designer Edna Mode (voiced by Brad Bird himself). Mode is a classic supportive odd-ball, but even better is the movie’s villain. Jason Lee’s Syndrome, the spurned child who longed to be Mr. Incredible’s side-kick in his youth, grows up to be a straight bad guy. What Bird does with Syndrome is both hilarious, and unusually, completely un-redemptive.
These elements come together, vivid human animation, domestic story-telling, and superhero action, to create a wildly entertaining family film. There’s satire of American Modern Life in the same breath as or image as rousing, highly choreographed action sequences. It’s escapist comedy action animation at its absolute best.
Best Line: “No matter how many times you save the world, it always manages to get back in jeopardy again. Sometimes I just want it to stay saved! You know, for a little bit? I feel like the maid; I just cleaned up this mess! Can we keep it clean for… for ten minutes!”
Best Villainous Self-Realization: “You sly dog. You got me monologuing!”
Best Fashion Philosophy: “I never look back darling. It distracts from the now.”
New Guy Syndrome: Brad Bird brought most of his animators from Iron Giantto work on The Incredibles . He also pushed them to be more creative than any other Pixar picture in animated style and realism. Bird’s task-master style with his animators led them to create Syndrome in his likeness. By the time Bird realized the fact, it was too late to turn back.
Character Research Highlight: Holly Hunter insisted on learning and including military flight jargon into the scene when she flies the jet to Syndrome’s island hideout. Everything she says in the scene is professional, military fly-talk. Angel 10, for example, means flying at 10,000 feet.
Best Animated Feature: Winner. Also, won the Oscar for Best Sound Editing. Brad Bird was nominated for Best Original Screenplay, which he lost to Charlie Kaufman for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. What’r’ya gonna do.
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