|Incredibles, The (2-Disc Collector's Edition)|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 15 March 2005|
There’s much that’s incredible about “The Incredibles,” an energetic and fairly inspired CGI-animated tale of a family of superheroes that manages to gently satirize its chosen genre without mocking it. It’s not in the least incredible that the movie just won the Oscar for Best Animated Film of 2004 – while it had worthy competition, on the basis of both originality and technical skill, it’s clearly the rightful choice.
Director/writer Brad Bird introduces us to the world of “The Incredibles” with excerpts from a documentary that includes comments from Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson), Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter) and Frozone (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson), three of the many “supers” who protect their secret identities while saving the world. Of course, they have real lives, too – in their domestic alter egos as Bob and Helen Parr, Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl get married. Unfortunately for them and supers everywhere, the public eventually gets lawsuit-happy and the government forbids the heroes from exercising their powers, even for the public good.
15 years later (from the production design, we appear to be in the early ‘60s), Bob and Helen have three kids they love – shy to the point of invisibility (literally) Violet (voiced by Sarah Vowell), speedy Dash and baby Jack-Jack.
Unfortunately, they’re all stuck having to hide their true natures. Bob has a job at an insurance company that he hates, Helen uses her abilities around the house but warns Violet and Dash never to use their superpowers, and the kids feel trapped and misunderstood. In fact, Bob and Lucius, aka Frozone, sneak out when they’re supposed to be bowling for a little anonymous derring-do. Then Bob loses his job for being too kind-hearted and shortly thereafter is recruited by a mysterious woman (voiced by Elizabeth Pena) to save a remote research post from a marauding giant robot.
We can guess that events – and a really resentful villain who calls himself Syndrome (voiced by Jason Lee) – will cause the Parr family to band together, rediscover their true super-selves in order to save both the world and their bonds. It’s a delightful journey through a meticulously thought-out universe – Bird’s script was nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar and it’s easy to understand why.
“The Incredibles” also won an Academy Award for Sound Editing and was nominated for Best Sound, attributes that are duly showcased in the DVD edition. Chapter 1 may alarm the uninitiated at first, as the sound initially comes only through the center channel on the opening interview segments. Relax – the mono-audio is of a piece with the scratchy archival look of the footage. Two minutes in, when “The Incredibles” switches to “reality,” the soundtrack blazes forth from all channels. Effects are meticulous, from huge “Die Hard”-worthy blasts of gunfire to the specificity of a tree branch dropping in the left rear. A speeding car practically blasts off aurally as it races away and an explosion blows its way from mains to rears – all before Chapter 2.
In Chapter 6, a major fire in a building roars and crackles and crashes with varied effects in each speaker. Chapter 9 has an actual jump scare when a metal monster abruptly reveals itself. In Chapter 17, a missile assault on a small plane is so detailed that the sound effects include the atmosphere dispersing around the screaming weapons. Michael Giacchino’s witty score evokes the urgency of James Bond riffs without segueing into either copying or parody – it’s as though the music was written back in the ‘60s by a master of spy genre film music.
The video quality is likewise superb, beautiful reproduction of the remarkably dimensional CGI images and vivid colors. There is one slightly odd effect in Chapter 20, when Helen is flattening herself against a wall and seems to go literally 2D flat – this is intentional, but it’s the tiniest bit jarring in our otherwise seamless acceptance of the CGI landscape.
Disc One includes two commentary tracks. One is by filmmaker Bird and producer John Walker, who are amiable enough, but tend to largely reflect what we’re watching – “Here’s the scene where XYZ happens” – rather than go into great detail about how it came to be. The other commentary track, featuring (count ‘em!) 13 of the animation team, is more informative, as well as engagingly lively.
The second disc has tons of special features. The 34-minute “deleted scenes” section is not exactly what is usually found in a “deleted scene” DVD feature – instead of completed sequences, we get on-camera footage of Bird and story supervisor Mark Andrews discussing the sequences, which are illustrated with sometimes static, sometimes moving black-and-white storyboards. An Easter Egg in this section has a sequence that plays without commentary, showing Dash’s beleaguered elementary school teacher lecturing the class.
The “short” entitled “Jack-Jack Attack” actually seems a lot more like a real deleted scene, as it dovetails into a specific section of the storyline, showing Jack-Jack wearing out his totally unprepared babysitter, who gets relief from a surprising source.
There are two “making-of” sections, which show the animators discussing their craft, along with shots and sequences in various stages of completion. The “Vowellette: An Essay by Sarah Vowell” is a charming look at the actress and her passion for American history and the “Publicity” section contains some very funny interviews with the characters (voiced by the actors who play them in the film), including superhero costume designer Edna Mode, voiced by director Bird.
The “Top Secret!” section contains a “Mr. Incredible and Friends” cartoon, purportedly made in the ‘50s, which shows Mr. Incredible and Frozone in a crazy 2D adventure. The commentary for the toon features Nelson and Jackson in character as a chagrined Bob and an outraged Lucius. The “NSA Files” section features inventive and humorous biographies and brief audio interviews with a whole gallery of supers.
The Oscar-nominated short “Boundin’,” which accompanied “The Incredibles” in theatres, is a hilarious musical featuring a dancing lamb and a wise jackalope. “Who Is Bud Luckey?” charmingly focuses on “Boundin’s” creator, Bud Luckey.
One can carp a bit about “The Incredibles,” as the messages do get somewhat garbled before the movie is over – after all the exhortations about the virtues of being true to oneself and doing one’s best in the face of crushing conformity, there is a suggestion of don’t ask/don’t tell in the finale. Still, “The Incredibles” is a hugely winning blend of technical genius, narrative wizardry and family connection, a combination that’s hard to resist.