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The Incredibles - Some Fantastic review


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Most of you know about the online sci-fi journal I write for. I heard from my editor (God, I love saying that! ^_^) a few days ago. He's getting the next issue together and asked me for my review of The Incredibles. I finished it up and attached it, but I figured I'd post it here to see what y'all think. I'd normally post it at myO, but it's been strangely dead lately. Here's the review:


This review is slightly older and less timely than I would have liked, but there are times when you don?t have super speed, or the ability to slow down time, and there are moments when you wish you could just fly really fast opposite the rotation of the Earth to make sure you?re able to do something you didn?t have time to do earlier.

Superman can do it. We can?t. It?s unfortunate we can?t be superheroes, but when you consider it critically, being a superhero may be a pretty horrible thing. At least, it may not be as glamorous as we think it would be. Super strength, the power of flight, or radiation breath all sound incredibly cool, but if a superhero?s life is anything like what we see in Pixar?s recent movie, The Incredibles, we may start re-thinking that desire.

That?s one of the beauties of a Pixar film. They can take something that seems so fantastic and outrageous and transform it into a concept that is totally believable and grounded in a matter-of-factly ?This is how their universe works? reality. Whether their characters are a child?s playthings, neurotic insects, neurotic monsters, or absent-minded fish, all of them have a sincerity in their dialogue and reactions; because of that, Pixar films have been consistently better than any films from the competition. The Incredibles continues that tradition, and Pixar again proves they are the ?top dogs? when it comes to this genre of entertainment.

In a genre that?s become increasingly bloated because certain companies believe it to be hip lately to insert as many pop culture references as possible into a 2-hour flick, I tend to view The Incredibles as Pixar?s rebuttal to that trend. The film takes the genre back to its roots, where an emphasis on character development was key, and whatever pop culture was going to appear throughout the film was largely based on either the characters themselves or the environment around those characters.

In Toy Story, for example, there were hokey references to childhood games like Battleship, quirky allusions to Picasso, and even the occasional intercinema allusion, like Rex?s ?I don?t think I could take that kind of a rejection,? clearly a nod to Crispin Glover?s George McFly in Back to the Future.

Toy Story 2 followed a similar principle. Sharp-eyed audiences will spot a Super Nintendo in one of the opening scenes (and most will recognize the Star Wars parody). When Buzz & CO. trek into Al?s Toy Barn, there are constant jabs at the entire Barbie franchise. Buzz himself is shocked by how the Buzz Lightyear action figures behave fresh out of their box.

These witticisms work because those references and allusions make sense within the context of those films, because they are organic to the films. It?s perfectly reasonable to see Battleship, or have a character behave like a wallflower from another film, or to have a handful of characters playing a popular video game system?elements of a culture that is undoubtedly more child-like than adult?because the context of those films is child-like.

And that is largely why movies like Shrek, while entertaining, are in fact detrimental to the genre, because rather than have jokes about a lame fairytale contrivance, we?re bombarded with Eddie Murphy singing a Willie Nelson tune, the medieval equivalent of fast-food drive-through, dated movie parodies of lackluster and lame Tom Cruise action/spy thrillers from the mid-90s, Pork Illustrated, a handful of medieval variations of mainstream and recognizable chains today, and many other distracting, forced and wholly unnecessary pop culture-isms. It?s annoying, to be honest. Programming a ?Sir Justin? poster in a bedroom is neither witty nor endearing; it?s just horridly dating the film.

In some ways, I think the annoyance is a specificity issue. Those pop culture-isms in Shrek 2 are not timeless, and the jokes will become dated very quickly because of it. In twenty or thirty years from now, nobody will care who Justin Timberlake was, so that joke will be completely lost.

I don?t see this happening with The Incredibles and the majority of Pixar?s film library, because many of the jokes in their films don?t rely so heavily on external popular culture. In fact, much of the humor in Pixar films is derived from that matter-of-factly ?This is how their universe works? approach, and The Incredibles is no different.

The film opens with a series of mockumentary-style interviews as Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, and Frozone (voiced by Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, and Samuel L. Jackson, respectively) give some insights into the quirks and tribulations of being a superhero. They offer their thoughts on having a secret identity, and apparently, the necessity of having one isn?t due to any safety concerns.

Mr. Incredible just can?t believe anyone would want to be super all the time. Elastigirl couldn?t go food-shopping as a superhero. Frozone isn?t concerned with secret identities. He just plays it cool with the ladies, because he associates knowing a female superhero?s secret identity as the first step in a relationship, rather than a working relationship. He?s a ?playa,? so he can?t be in a relationship like that.

At times, Mr. Incredible feels like the maid, because the world ?always manages to get back in jeopardy again.? He just cleaned that mess up, and sure enough, something else just went wrong. When asked if she would ever consider ?settling down,? Elastigirl will hear none of it; she explains that she?s up there with the ?big boys? now, and it?s apparent from her response that leaving the men to save the world would conflict with her soft-Feminist ideals of female empowerment in the workplace.

Within those first ten minutes, the film already establishes two things:

One, the main characters are portrayed as both superheroes and ?normal? people who have normal anxieties and fears. This is the matter-of-factly tone that makes Pixar films so delightful and intelligent. The Incredibles isn?t amazed or wowed by the reality in which Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, and Frozone work, and neither are they. It?s simply what they do.

Two, the individual responses set-up the later irony after numerous lawsuits and public attacks force many superheroes into hiding.

Mr. Incredible?s disbelief that anyone would want to be a superhero 24/7 is immediately contradicted, as he finds himself longing for the ?glory days? after years of working as cubicle gopher Bob Parr in an insurance firm, in a mundane, kitschy suburb straight out of the 50s.

Elastigirl?s?rather, Helen Parr?s soft-Feminism slowly but surely mellows as she falls in love with Mr. Incredible and they begin raising a family of superchildren.

Frozone, now known only as Lucius Best, also begins married life, quite the radical change from his ?playa? days.

Largely, it is these changes that propel the film forward. Bob and Lucius lie to their wives about Wednesday night poker games so they can sit in Bob?s car and listen to police scanners. When they hear about a building on fire downtown, they speed off into the night to rescue those trapped by the blaze, donning ski masks to disguise themselves, as their former superheroic counterparts are not supposed to exist anymore.

Incidentally, this scene presents an interesting duality and raises a fascinating question. After Bob and Lucius inadvertently bust through the wall into an adjoining jewelry store, still fully clad in the black jumpsuits and ski masks, the police officers on the scene reasonably believe they are there to steal. We see this and wonder what the differences between superheroes and supervillains are, and if there are any differences. Surely, there are distinct differences between motivations and ideologies, but even motivations can be misunderstood.

The only reason the police believe Bob and Lucius are robbing the jewelry store is due to the way Bob and Lucius are dressed. Had they worn Mr. Incredible and Frozone, the police would be thanking them for saving those people, very likely absolving them of any wrong-doing, and treating the broken wall as nothing to be worried about. If they were Mr. Incredible and Frozone, their motivations would never, ever have been called into question. They would be heroes.

But that doesn?t happen, because the perceptions of the police officers are based only on what they can see at that point in time, and what they could only see at that point in time were two men dressed in ski masks who had just broken into a jewelry shop.

What does this say about the nature of superheroes and supervillains? Are the differences based solely on what style of costume one wears? Is one defined by what they wear, or is one defined by one?s character? These are a few of the questions that the film focuses on.

If a superhero or supervillain can be defined solely by what they wear, then the Parrs truly are normal. But they are far from normal. With the transplant into suburbia, the Parrs are required to ?fit in.? Helen has to constantly keep their son, Dash, in-check, because he knows what he is and wants to use his powers. Granted, he uses his powers to torment certain teachers at school, but this is only because there is no avenue for a positive use of his super speed. Dash?s appearance requires him to be normal. He looks like any other child in his class and yet he is exceedingly different, just like his entire family. Their suburbia life is in fact not a solution to the problem of their superheroics; it is only another costume they must wear.

The problem with those new costumes is that, like we see in the jewelry store scene, one cannot be defined by the costume they wear, because with the superficiality of the costume?which is in essence a removable skin?it is easily replaced. Bob Parr goes from Mr. Incredible to a petty thief because of his costume.

This superficial perception applies to the villains of the film, as well. If it were not for Syndrome?s violent philosophies and selfish ideologies, the public would view him as a superhero, because he wears the cape and tights commonly associated with superheroes. He appears in broad daylight, meaning the public can easily perceive him as having nothing to hide, even though they?ve never seen him before until the end of the film.

Throughout the film, there is that constant interplay between appearance and reality, and it?s what makes The Incredibles a fantastic piece of cinema. It may look like high-gloss children?s entertainment, but you begin to think about certain elements of it and realize it?s much deeper than the Shreks of the industry.

The Incredibles works because we care about each and every one of the characters, even the villains, because each and every one of the characters is fully developed. There?s character development to the extent that in the Special Features, we get to hear sound clips of twenty other superheroes not given screen-time, and they are just as human as the main cast. They all have personality quirks, fears, concerns, and even some border on sociopathic. Some are a psychologist?s worst nightmare, and that matter-of-factly realism is what makes The Incredibles believable.

This is a film that has an extraordinary amount of depth to it, much like Pixar?s previous works. It?s a film that stands up to any type of critical examination and comes out even stronger afterwards. Rarely do we expect what looks like a children?s flick to raise issues about social perceptions and focus on the social perception. Shrek flirted with the perception topic, but lame popular culture seemed more important. The Incredibles is worth seeing.

This wasn?t so much a review as an analysis, but that seems testament to how strong this film is. When a review can?t avoid getting into the deeper social philosophies present in a work, you know that work must be very special. And The Incredibles is a very special piece of filmmaking.
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[SIZE=1]Interesting, most interesting.

And a fantastic review it is Alex, though coming from you that's not some much a compliment as it is an affirmation of your usual journalistic and analytical quality. Now while I could dissect the entire post, quoting it bit by bit and saying how I agree with everything you've said and am very impressed how you've managed to delve though the movie and expose all it's subtle points I'm not going to do that. The main reason for this is there's very little point in doing it, as all it really will do is significantly lengthen my post without actually adding anything to it, the second reason is that I don't have the time or energy to do so.

As I have told you before, I'm not very good at looking beneath the surface of films to see the subtle similarities, criticisms and other messages there in. Thanks to your post I have been able to see many of those subtle comparisons and points in [B]The Incredibles[/B] which I missed the first time around, and of course you've put it all so much more eloquently than I could have. If you'd be willing, I'd hope you post more of your reviews or analyses to use your own word, in the future. [/SIZE]
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