2004 Pixar: The Incredible Mind of Brad Bird
The Incredibles is directed by Brad Bird and stars the voices of Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Spencer Fox, Jason Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, and Elizabeth Pena. The film won two Oscars for Best Animated Feature and Best Sound Editing.
In 1999, Brad Bird kicked off his directorial career with The Iron Giant, a movie that tanked so hard at the box office, it would seem like the miracle of the century for Bird to be entrusted with a film by Pixar, a studio who at the time was coming out with animated classic after animated classic. But strictly mentioning The Iron Giant's box office numbers isn't telling the whole story; The Iron Giant has gone on to be regarded as an animated classic, right alongside several of Pixar's earliest films, and Bird had conceived an idea of a family of superheroes back in 1993, back when he was attempting to break into the film industry. At first, Bird intended for this idea to be nothing more than a comedic superhero movie, but at the time, Bird had been struggling with things going on in his personal life, and according to Bird, some of those struggles trickled into his superhero idea.
Thus, we have our foundation for what would eventually turn into The Incredibles: the first Pixar film to not center on non-human characters like toys, bugs, or fish. Brad Bird retained much of his staff from The Iron Giant and found working with computer animation quite challenging. The animation crew was faced with considerably the most difficult thing to animate with computer animation: human beings. New technology needed to be created in order to successfully animate the kind of human anatomy needed for this kind of film: realistic skin and hair, clothing, and any other basic body movements you could think up (something as simple as lifting your arms up and down). All of these complications had Disney wanting a live-action version, but John Lasseter insisted on staying the animation route.
I do like to mention all of these production notes because sometimes, we get so wowed by what we see on screen that we may not give as much thought to how many hours of work went on behind the scenes. Some of our favorite childhood films have stories about how production was an absolute hell, which should enhance our appreciation for our favorite films, because it's our little way of saying to everyone who worked on our favorite childhood films, "Your hard work resulted in one of my fondest childhood memories, and for that, I am forever thankful." In the case of The Incredibles, I fondly remember seeing it for the first time ever back in 2004 in a theater with my whole family. Upon walking out, I remember stating how I wished I had superpowers, because I was so enthralled with everything I had just witnessed on screen, wishing that I could be one of The Incredibles.
I've seen the film a couple more times since then, and upon watching the film yet again, just so that I could have it fresh in my mind for Incredibles 2, I was amazed at how much in the film seemed intended for adults. Before I elaborate on that, here's what we've got with the story: Superheroes, otherwise known as just "Supers", work to fight crime and keep cities safe. One of these Supers, Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson), also known as Mr. Incredible, enjoys his crime-fighting lifestyle, using his super strength to catch criminals. However, public opinion eventually turns against superheroes, as superhero activities result in many cases of collateral damage, such as Mr. Incredible rescuing and injuring a man who was attempting suicide. The government initiates a program that forces Supers to abandon all future superhero activities, in exchange for them living quiet, peaceful lives like average citizens.
Fifteen years later, Bob Parr has married Helen Parr (Holly Huntger), who is formerly known as the body-strecthing Super, Elastigirl. The two have three children: Violet, Dash, and Jack-Jack. Violet is an insecure teenager who is capable of turning invisible and creating force fields. Dash is a reckless young boy who possesses super speed. Jack-Jack is a baby who appears to have no powers. Bob works a white-collar job at an insurance agency, and though he loves his family, he detests the mundanity of his job and his suburban lifestyle. Bob goes out some nights with his friend Lucius Best (Samuel L. Jackson), formerly the ice-powered Super known as Frozone, as the two attempt relive their "glory days." Bob eventually gets fired from his job, but shortly afterwards, he receives a message from a mysterious woman named Mirage, who gives Bob the chance to take on a mission in which he will be sent to a remote island and fight a robot called the Omnidroid. The mission gives Bob the chance to become Mr. Incredible again, and though the action helps Bob improve his relationship with his family, he soon finds out there is a greater evil at work, one that forces his whole family to embrace their superhero identities.
- The power that The Incredibles has in terms of being equally appealing to both children and adults is nothing short of impressive. But like I just said, there is much more going on in the film that would grab the interest of the adults in the crowd. Bob Parr's job serves as a microcosm for the monotony of the American workforce; his entire workplace is designed to look like a dreary, colorless place that might as well have a banner that reads, "Where Dreams Go To Die." The villains have no hesitation towards using deadly force against the Parr children, who in return, have no problem with killing any of the villains, such as Dash outrunning several attackers and making them crash their flying vehicles, the attackers' deaths being a foregone conclusion. The portrayal of the villains in The Incredibles is like a satire of those undeniably harmless villains we may remember watching during Saturday morning cartoons. In addition, The Incredibles is a satire of the entire superhero genre, breaking down our conventional understandings of the genre and posing scenarios we may not have ever imagined, like superheroes getting married and having children as well as the possibility of superheroes becoming illegal. And while all of this is going on underneath the surface, there's plenty of high-octane fun to keep the kids entertained.
- Speaking of fun, that's another thing that The Incredibles is so good at: being fun. Every member of the Parr family and Frozone get a chance to show off their powers and have a shining moment. The movie always maintains its sense of fun, while also throwing in appropriate bits of humor whenever the situation calls for it. Brad Bird would go on to show in some of his later films, such as Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol that he is quite the talent with directing action that looks clean, flashy, and memorable.
- Brad Bird wanted to make sure this film was great, and because of how much time and effort you can tell was put into this film, major flaws are nowhere to be found. Everything from animation to story to action is handled with the utmost care, which should have been definitive proof to the world that The Iron Giant was no one-hit wonder and Brad Bird is no box office fluke. I'm guessing Pixar just flat-out ignored The Iron Giant's box office results when taking Bird's superhero family idea into consideration, understanding that Bird had the animation chops, and all he really needed was a more organized and focused marketing campaign.
So in 2004, a family of superheroes would have seemed like a very out of left field idea for Pixar, who before The Incredibles, won the world over by applying heart, wit, and creativity in some unusual places: the toys in a young boy's bedroom, a colony of ants, and a motley crew of fish. But heart, wit, and creativity are the backbone of Pixar, and all three of these things are on full display in The Incredibles, a movie that, while not revolutionary in the way that Toy Story was, is full of incredible brains and incredible fun, capturing that magical quality of being as rewarding to children as it is to adults. I say the movie leans more favorably to adults, but in typical Pixar fashion, they find a way to make it work well for both sides. I and many others will never tire of quoting several of the film's terrific individual scenes (Frozone's "Where's My Super Suit?" scene is easily one of the greatest scenes in Pixar history), scenes that all work together to create a masterful whole that delivers one of the greatest waves of ebullience you'll ever experience in an animated film. I know this will sound incredibly lame, but I have to say it anyway: The Incredibles is an incredible film, from incredible start to incredible finish. You did an incredible job, Brad Bird.
Recommend? Heck yeah, if by some miracle you haven't seen it already.
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