The onrushing convergence of pop-cultural trends and technological progress has resulted in a lot of dubious achievements lately cell phones with built-in cameras, low-carb bread, The Swan but there's one place, at least, where phenomenal gains in mechanical sophistication have been applied in the service of profound artistic creativity with the power to change the entire movie medium. Yes, I'm talking about the world of Bob and Helen Parr and their kids Violet, Dash, and Jack-Jack the off-duty identities of the family of incognito superheroes at the center of the dazzlingly beautiful, funny, and meaningful (yes!) new Pixar production The Incredibles.
Forced out of business by a resentful, litigious citizenry who look upon outstanding accomplishment as a threat and standardized mediocrity as a defense (yea, as an American birthright), the Incredible clan is settled, as we meet them, into a retro-futuristic, Suburban Anywhere ranch house by the same federal superhero relocation program that has supplied the family with new identities as Averages. (With esteem inflation being what it is, of course, Average is the new Super; and everyone's super!) Having hung up his Mr. Incredible costume, Bob (voiced with gruff warmth by Craig T. Nelson, the invaluable lessons of TV's Coach behind him) now pushes papers at a cold, Brazil-like insurance company; sometimes he chews over the good old days with his fellow hero in hiding, Frozone (ice-cool Samuel L. Jackson). Helen (an alloy of love and steeliness in the voice of Holly Hunter) is now a restless housewife and mother, her days as the infinitely flexible Elastigirl behind her. Veiling her ability to become invisible or to create impenetrable force fields, petulant teenage Violet (a sweet-tart feature debut for radio personality Sarah Vowell) mopes behind her glossy curtain of long hair. And prohibited from discharging the superboy energy that makes him run faster than a speeding bullet, Dash (Spencer Fox) squanders regular-boy energy annoying his teacher and his sister. (Only baby Jack-Jack appears ''normal.'')
Eventually, the Parr elders are lured back into superherodom with Violet and Dash pitching in as full partners and into a ripping, high-stakes action-adventure the keepers of the James Bond franchise only wish they had thought of first. The foursome are united against a peevish nemesis, Syndrome (Jason Lee), whose evil is the result of Super-envy. ''You can't count on anyone especially your heroes!'' Syndrome whines, a guy who has attended too many fan conventions. The family's escapades in the field are indeed stupendous, an homage to the exploits of classic comic-book masters of the universe. But the true heroism in this spectacular movie as worthy of a Best Picture nomination as any made with fleshly stars shines brightest in that suburban house, where Bob, with his midlife bulge and his thinning hair, pines nostalgically for the old days, and Helen marches anxiously forward, bending to her family's needs. (This devotee of mid-century design and graphics must pause mid-review to admire the Parrs' housewares, their furniture, their interior decor worthy of a layout in Dwell.)
Having previously explored the bonds of loyalty in his outstanding 1999 animated feature The Iron Giant, as well as in work on that perennial TV masterpiece The Simpsons, writer-director Brad Bird wants most of all to tell these truths: that being super is a right and a responsibility. That mutual trust and respect are not sitcom punchlines. And that family survival necessitates risk-taking valor, too. And so, with not a talking toy or animal in sight, The Incredibles makes adult philosophical points; the movie tosses off state-of-the-culture zingers (''He's moving from 4th grade to 5th grade!'' an exasperated Bob clarifies when Helen chides him about missing Dash's ''graduation''); the plot detours into hilarious story-line extras (none more divine than the Diana Vreelandish pronouncements of superhero couturier Edna Mode, voiced by the director himself, with a show-stopping soliloquy on the hazards of wearing a cape); and younger viewers are entertained by the same popping Pixarian blend of movement and color that blessed Finding Nemo. The music by Michael Giacchino, who also composes scores for Alias and Lost, contributes a crucial element of bold, '60s-style adventure sound.
Amid such splendors groundbreaking technology harnessed above all in the service of a great story, a rich micro-universe of pixel-driven cartoon characters with more depth, complexity, and emotional maturity than those in most live-action dramas, perfectly pitched voice performers (including Wallace Shawn as Bob's Scrooge-like boss and Elizabeth Peña as Syndrome's sultry lieutenant) the command and ingenuity with which Pixar has, once again, raised the level of excellence to which animated movies (and, why stop there, all movies) can aspire is easy to take for granted. Which may be this movie's greatest feat. All we need to know is that the family headed by Mr. Incredible proves they really are, in tights and out, indeed incredible. And that The Incredibles really is too.More Sci-Fi Movies
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