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December 09, 2004

The Incredibles - Brad Bird

Posted by Richard D. North

The Incredibles
Directed by Brad Bird for Disney
certificate U, 2004

If you hoped that here was a cartoon you could enjoy with your children or grandchildren, you might want to work out a way of dropping them off at the cinema instead. The Incredibles has been praised to the skies as being smart and sly, as well as action-packed. But it fails to a surprising degree. It isn't as good - as dark - as Beauty and the Beast (amongst cartoons) or as 101 Dalmations or the Babe movies amongst other cross-over offerings. It's not really even as good as the recent bugs, mouse or toy cartoons and it's nowhere near as gutsy as the Batman movies (never mind the heavenly Who Framed Roger Rabbit).

Why so gloomy? Partly it's unfulfilled promise. The Incredibles has a family of super-heroes which has to go into hiding in a spoof of witness programmes. The litigious society has done for them: the state keeps getting sued by the innocent bystanders who get caught up in their rescues. Besides, who needs heroes? Once in hiding, the father - an incredible hulk - inveighs against a world in which to be exceptional is to court condemnation rather than praise. He gets very hacked off that very ordinary children are being praised to the skies. Indeed, he might have taken a leaf out of the book of our own fairytale figure, the Prince of Wales. This is all good stuff and nicely edgy.

But the movie hasn't the strength of its convictions. It slides in plenty of American Moments - those little slugs of affirmation which we had hoped it would subvert. The mother, Elastigirl, decently voiced by Holly Hunter, is a paragon of multi-tasking, and though she is randily turned-on when her husband rediscovers his special powers and puts them to good work, she is painted elsewhere as a quietly, strongly virtuous anchor for her family. I had hoped The Incredibles would spare us the Prairie Madonna syndrome. The children, Violet and Dash, at first unsure of their powers, are suitably brattish (if not imaginatively so), and that's almost a comfort. But they come right, of course, and not least when their self-esteem has been pumped up by mum.

The cliches pile in. Frozone is a cool dude of a black guy (voiced by Samuel L Jackson): a standard Puff Daddy figure of a Brother who can conjure crackling ice (beautifully done) on demand. How galling to be the modern black actor: you're either going to be a ghetto Bro or a muscly intellectual. Ordinary flawed human beings seldom come out of Africa, according to Hollywood.

Perhaps the worst feature of The Incredibles is the least remarkable. It has the failing of all Hollywood films: it hates the corporation. In hiding, Mr Incredible has a humdrum job as an insurance assessor. And rather in the manner of Brad Pitt's assessor figure in Fight Club, he is successful in the degree to which he can save his firm from its hungry customers seeking pay-outs. His boss is the classic grey-faced, hard-hearted managerial figure, and Mr Incredible's return to hero-status begins when he at last throws this classic of the movies through several of his own office walls. All in the manner of American Beauty, and hundreds of others.

By the end, you've been whizzed through some fabulous action sequences and seen one or two really nice devices (dramatic and mechanical). But the thing grinds on for far too long and hands out its sweeties - one for the adults, one for the teens, one for the teenies - too manipulatively. And the characters are not - finally - very involving. The best, probably, was a richly unpleasant fashion designer, Edna Mode, half Cruella DeVille and half Anna Wintour. One warmed to her. And to Syndrome, a brat super hero who only wants to be Robin to Mr Incredible, is spurned and turns into a Bond villain of a figure. Based, one guesses, on Philip Seymour Hoffman (in his Punch-Drunk Love, 2002, mode) there's some decent strength in his unattractiveness. He's nicely undone by his cape: it's a good running gag that these are neither use nor ornament to a super-hero.

Richard D. North's Rich is Beautiful: A Very Personal Defence of Mass Affluence will be published by the Social Affairs Unit in 2005.

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What a contrast this website offers - a review of the Turner Prize followed by one of The Incredibles. What will the Social Affairs Unit be reviewing next - Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pingu The Penguin.

To be serious, I do actually rather like this contrast

Posted by: Georgie at December 10, 2004 12:35 PM

... except now The Incredibles is the high-culture artefact compared to the "prestigious art prize".

Posted by: Jimmy McQueen at December 10, 2004 06:09 PM

How wonderful it is! Today, I had seen the film - "The Incredibles" this afternoon, My father also had seen this film in this evening. This cartoon movie is powered by Disney-Pixar.
In this film, I love the people's sensation, scene, bugbears. The scene is so sublime.
With the great imagination.

Posted by: Creford at March 12, 2005 01:01 AM
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