The trailer proclaims, ”From the creators of ‘Toy Story.”’ And it’s true, ”The Incredibles” hails from Pixar, the Northern California computer-animation shop that also turned out (in partnership with Disney) the hugely successful ”Monsters, Inc.” and ”Finding Nemo.”
But writer-director Brad Bird had nothing to do with Pixar’s earlier movies. He’s a newbie, an outsider – or at least he was when he came to Pixar to start ”Incredibles” four years ago, a typical gestation time at the studio. His trump calling card: He’d directed and cowritten ”The Iron Giant,” a critically lauded, largely hand-drawn 1999 ‘toon that Warner Bros. dumped on the market to a miserable $23.2 million domestic gross. ”They were closing down their [feature] animation division as we were making it,” says Bird. ”We didn’t have any champions. Had I been more experienced, I would have seen that early.”
In the aftermath, Bird relocated to Pixar, taking ”Incredibles” with him – an idea he’d initially pitched at Warner, home of the Batman and Superman franchises. The premise: a superhero clan that’s lost its mojo. Hounded by lawsuits, Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson, best known from TV’s ”Coach”) and his wife, Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), retreat to an incognito suburban existence as Bob and Helen Parr – at least until an archenemy named Syndrome (Lee) pulls them and their three kids back into action. ”Brad was really interested in that tension between the two worlds,” says Hunter. ”And the dynamics of a family where, if there’s a fight, it goes into Greek dimensions very quickly.”
Pixar welcomed Bird aboard wholeheartedly, despite his inexperience with full-on CG animation. According to producer John Walker, who also worked on ”Giant,” ”They put us in bubble wrap so we wouldn’t hurt ourselves. They surrounded us with a lot of very, very experienced people.” Bird proceeded to drive Pixar’s resident technical wizards batty by coming up with scenes full of things extremely difficult to do well in CG: billowing supersuits, convincingly weighty muscles, and – toughest of all – hair that could blow in the wind or undulate underwater. ”I felt like the computers had their own agenda,” says Bird. ”To make things look small, plastic, clean, and weightless.”
WHAT’S AT STAKE Whether DreamWorks’ mighty ”Shrek 2” is beatable in Oscar’s Best Animated Feature race (maybe) or toppable at the box office (almost certainly not).