Sunday, December 05, 2004

The Incredibles

I just came back from this movie and my mind is in a whirl. There's not much I can add in terms of adulation of the basics of the film to what the Bunche-man has already written in his review, so go read that first. However, for a biased commentary of my own take on what really got me about the movie, read on.

Most of you know that I am both a comic geek and a retro/mod/googie devotee. In The Incredibles both of my fetishes were fully fulfilled not only by the basic super-hero plot of the film, but the atmospheric set design and music that went with it. Featuring cars, houses and interiors that hark back to the 1960s and combining them with modern touches (such as computers) and music that sounds like it was pulled out of an especially saucy James Bond or Avengers episode, every note is perfect, taking the audience to an odd in-between retro-futuristic reality. There were literally times I could not concentrate on what the characters were saying because I was exclaming "look at that two-tone car interior!" or whining "why can't I have a mod couch and chairs like that?"

The flip side of this is that the characters themselves could actually have come from a 1960s movie. A typical nuclear family complete with working dad, stay-at-home mom, pouty teenage girl yearning for a boy's attention, spunky younger brother and cutesy baby actually seems less modern in ways than the Dick Van Dyke show. In fact, Elastigirl in her secret identity role strongly reminded me of Mary Tyler Moore in that show (I kept waiting for her to say to her husband, "oh, Bob!"). The only saving grace was perhaps that Elastigirl (voiced by the consistently awesome Holly Hunter) did show some initiative and kick butt now and then. That said, if Pixar and Disney were aiming to draw in the middle-American audience with charcters that were safe and familiar, they succeeded. Alas, it leaves us freaks and liberals a little disappointed that they couldn't be a bit different and more interesting. But, as I stated, the pacing and set design are so wonderful, this flaw is well covered over. And it is the one flaw that I could find, really. The writers chose to make the characters a bit simple and cartoony in order to be able to maintain a lightning-fast and easy to grasp plot. Perhaps if there is a sequel we'll get to witness more interesting developments (although not likely).

Back to some good parts that Bunche did not mention, and again this time in terms of design: hair, fabric, flames and most particularly plants are the best I've seen in CGI so far, period. When the Incredibles would up on the jungle island, the rendition of appropriate tropical plants and their movement completely knocked me out. Speaking as someone who has been to both Costa Rica and Hawai'i, I actually felt as though I were back in the jungle. I'd heard that advances had been made in technology for making movement of individual items more realistic, and I was not disappointed. At the same time, while the movement and molding were realistic enough to be breathtaking, they still fit with the shiny cartoonishness of the characters and other parts of the design. The only slightly disappointing element at times was the movement of the ocean, but that was brief. Otherwise I was so delighted by the effects that I leaned over several times and whispered to M "I already can't wait for the DVD to come out so I can see the 'making of' extras!"

Finally, I cannot let this review end without emphasizing more strongly than others have that Edna Mode is THE best character in the movie. More than just stealing her scenes, she is the most interesting, lively being in the whole film, and not just a brilliant catalyst for the other's nature, but a heroic force of nature/will in her own right. I would pay good money to see Brad Bird make a sequel or short following up on Edna's career and perhaps sending her out to do a bit of super-heroic or spy work, herself.

Now, at the end, some last random thoughts:

Is it me, or is it just a little creepy that writer and NPR storyteller Sarah Vowell provided the of the pre-teen Violet without having to change her own register at all? Vowell is a talented writer and voice actor, and perhaps her voice, much like Kristin Chenowith's, is better suited to playing children and/or cartoon characters than actual dramatic roles. Maybe I'm mean or small minded, but the childlike soprano is a little disturbing coming from a grown woman.

Again, it is just me, or did Bob Parr's boss, voiced by the inimitable Wallace Shawn, look like a diminutive, swarthier version of William H. Macy? What's up with that?

The demon baby bit? Funny stuff.

Elizabeth Peña as Mirage? Mee-rrrow! Did anyone else want to find out what happened to this character later, and what her story was?

That's it for now. In summary: go see The Incredibles now. You won't be sorry, but you will if you miss it on the big screen.

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