For the past two decades, Pixar has been a crucial part of the animation movie landscape. They have consistently produced classic after classic gaining numerous accollades and ensuring the legacy of their work and of their prowess in the field of animation. Today they stand as a household name and a staple of quality storytelling and technical excellence, making movies that can be enjoyed by all ages. While not all of their feature films are what you would call outstanding, it is undeniable that they have developed some of the greatest animations in history.
As such, when trying to find out which one is regarded as the best movie among Pixar's roster of productions, many different opinions will arise. Everyone has a Pixar movie that they love and consider to be the best from the animation company.
Well today, I would like to talk with you about my personal choice, The Incredibles. It is not an unpopular choice, by any means. Directed by Brad Bird in 2004, The Incredibles is one of Pixar´s most acclaimed productions. A somewhat more mature movie than Pixar´s previous animations, The Incredibles uses the backdrop of the superhero genre (now much more in the public conscience than it was in 2004) to tell a story that explores the trends and tropes of that genre and at points deconstructs them, all the while presenting an exciting and engaging narrative with fully realised and interesting characters.
Genre and Premise
One could say that The Incredibles does what Pixar does so successfully in many of its movies, which is taking a familiar concept and putting a spin on it. Before 2004, Pixar had done it with toys and bugs and monsters and fish but in The Incredibles, Brad Bird makes the jump to human characters, and that is something that already sets The Incredibles apart. The characters are instantly more relatable because they deal with human problems. Moreover, the movie takes another step towards being relatable by making the Incredibles a nuclear family. Given the movie's target audience, which are essentially families, doing this brings the characters closer to the viewers and they can relate to each member of the family in a different way, at least I did.
The premise for the story is that superheroes, once respected and admired members of society that fought bad guys to bring them to justice, have been outlawed. Now, 15 years later, a family of superheroes, comprised by the parents Bob and Helen, and their children, Violet, Dash and Jack-Jack are forced into action when Bob becomes wrapped up in a plot to destroy all superheroes, devised by a villain named Syndrome.
Getting into all of the things I love about this movie and this story, I would like to tackle the technical side of the production first, mainly because I think no matter what you think about the story or the characters, it must be said that this film looks amazing. It is technically flawless. Not that Pixar ever produced lackluster looking animations, but seeing how Pixar had previously animated human characters (notably in Toy Story), the characters in this could have looked very weird indeed. Thankfully, not only do the Incredibles as characters look imaculately animated, they are also not designed as generic human characters. They are drawn in quite unique ways and then transferred to a 3D model, which gives them, and the movie, greater personalities.
Additionally, the animators do spectacular work emulating real human emotions during the movie's most tense scenes. They feel like real life performers, and while that could also be said for Pixar's other works, it must be pointed out that the characters in this movie are dealing with complex, adult problems that result in complex emotions that need to be animated very meticulously in order to transmit the right idea to the audience. Scenes like the argument between Helen and Bob in the first act, or the scene with Helen on the plane are somewhat unorthodox for Pixar, but they are delivered beautifully by the stellar animations of the characters and their facial expressions. Because of that, these scenes are able to rise above Pixar's normal level of work, in my opinion.
Finally, I must also add that the environments look marvellous. The Incredibles makes excellent use of its settings in order to add colour wherever and whenever it can, and always with a purpose. From the more stylised beautiful sunset in the prologue, to the bleak, depressive pallete in the first act, to the vibrant exciting colours of the island, everything is gorgeous to look at.
Story Structure and Inspirations
Now, moving onto the story itself, I find that The Incredibles has one of the most perfect structures in Pixar's movie roster. You can clearly look at the movie and single out a prologue, a first, second and third acts, and an epilogue without difficulty, and not one of these segments drags or rushes. In addition, the arcs for the individual characters are handled with the same meticulous care by Brad Bird and the writing team, by giving each member of the family a full development throughout the movie, with sound motivations, struggles, moments of triumph and growth. Doing this for four characters (plus a villain), all with very different ages and unique problems can be difficult in a superhero action family movie, and yet the Incredibles is able to do so in a very seamless way.
On top of that, the movie is able to, like I said before, draw upon familiar concepts, or at least, ideas that were previously used in other comic books, series or movies to its own advantage, in a way that doesn't feel like it's stealing ideas. For example, the Incredibles' powers are clearly based on the Fantastic Four, both being superhero families, but that's where the similarities stop, because the Incredibles are a nuclear family, while the Fantastic Four are not, moreover their struggles are very different, and the allocation of the powers to each member of the team is done with different purposes in mind (and in my opinion, the Incredibles allocates its powers more fittingly than the Fantastic Four).
Another example of this is the thought of outlawing superheroes in a superhero story, which is an idea that The Incredibles draws very clearly from Watchmen, but again, it uses that "stolen" backdrop to explore new territories in social commentary and in the development of the characters, as the problem in the Incredibles seems to be less about the right to take the law in one's own hands (as it was in Watchmen), but more with forcing extraordinary people (Supers) to conform with society's norms and act as if they're like everyone else, which is something that every member of the Incredibles family struggles with, in one way or another. To summarize, The Incredibles brings something fresh to the familiar, and in doing so, grabs the audience's attention by going in directions they are not expecting.
Moreover, the movie's whole style does not really relate with the superhero genre itself, but more with old spy and adventure movies. The score is mostly jazz based and reminiscent of the primordial days of James Bond, complete with Syndrome having his lair in an island with a volcano.
And while we're on the topic of Syndrome, I find his character and the drive behind his plan to be one of the most unique for a Disney animated movie, and once it's laid out entirely in front of the audience, it's actually very intricate, layered, devious and interesting. Having been denied the possibility to work with Mr. Incredible as a child, Syndrome chooses instead to become a supervillain who wants to wipe out the Supers and become the world's only superhero through his inventions. He then plans to sell his inventions so that everyone has the chance to be as powerful as him. He wants to be the only, the last and the ultimate superhero, because he is the superhero that wants to make superheroes obsolete, all so that the world recognizes him for the exceptional person that he is, even without superpowers. That's wonderfully original and twisted in my opinion, and Syndrome stands as one of my favourite supervillains because of it.
The Incredibles as characters are all very likeable though complex and flawed as well. Every member of the family goes on a personal journey of growth throughout the movie and they all come out having learned something, in one way or another.
Bob, the father, takes center stage during the first half of the movie, as his story is the catalyst for the entire plot of the movie. He starts this movie fantasizing about starting a family someday, but after the prologue, we find him going through the familiar mid-life crisis, reminiscing about the good old days. While this story is not unprecedented by any means, it does come with the interesting angle that Bob does indeed have superpowers, giving him a logical reason to want to use those abilities. On top of that, because all he really wants to do with those powers is help people, we can all relate to Bob and see him as a nice guy who is going through a rough patch in life and not adapting to it in the best way. Bob resents the world for forcing him to be someone he's not, and that impacts his life at work and at home as he isn't able to engage with what's going on around him. Even though there is a clear degree of selfishness in Bob's actions and thoughts, they are all very human in nature, which makes his character and his struggles that much more real. By the end Bob learns to value his family more than his past, and while there seems to be a glimmer of hope that he might be able to be a superhero again, he no longer sees that as his priority.
Bob's story is in many ways paralelled by his son's. Dash feels just as alienated as Bob for being forced to repress those abilities that make him special. He feels as if society is shaming him for being different. As he tells his mother Helen in the car: "You always say 'Do your best', but you don't really mean it. Why can't I do the best that I can do?", and Helen can only reply by saying that that's how society wants people like them to act. Dash's case is even more understandable than Bob's, because the audience can clearly see how a constructive release of Dash's abilities would be positive for him. It's society that is in the wrong here, more so than Dash. Nevertheless, by the end of the movie, even though the Superhero Relocation Act is still in force, Dash is allowed to go out for sports (as he always wanted to), so long as he does not flaunt his powers. Dash learns to be happy with this compromise, not only because he has his whole family to support him at races, but also because he is able to see the full potential of his abilities when he fights bad guys. The lesson for his character is learning to adapt to the restrictions of the world, even those that aren't wholly fair, but without rejecting his true identity.
Helen, or Elastigirl, goes on a character journey that mirrors her husband's. Having successfully adapted to living a family life, Helen tries her best to keep the family together and happy. Her role as a proctector is played up not only in her caring attitude, but quite literally in her powers as well, as she can stretch to grab thing that are far away, or even to protect others from harm (as she does in the plane sequence). Throughout the movie, her main goal is to help her husband Bob engage in his role as husband and father, and while she has an understanding demeanour in regards to this, this trait is combined with a determined, pro-active and no-nonsense personality which suits the character so well that many consider her to be the best character in the movie (and I wouldn't disagree). By the end, Helen also somewhat gets what she wants, but she does so by becoming less constrictive in regards to her and her family's superhero identity.
Violet, the teenager in the family, faces a personal struggle that comes in contrast with that of her brother. She grew up in a world that told her to be like everyone else, but she knew she was different all the same. Now in school, she desperatly wants to fit in and be "normal" like her peers but feels she can't due to being a super. Fittingly, her superpower of invisibility and creation of force fields emulates this feeling of isolation that Violet experiences. She, unlike the rest of the family, arrives at the end of the movie feeling better about being different and comfortable with her own identity. This positive growth for her is confirmed by society itself, represented in the form of the boy she likes who comments on her new look saying "Different is great".
Social Commentary and Messages
The society as a whole goes on a journey of its own throughout the movie and Brad Bird uses that framework to deliver some commentary on our own society in turn. While the lesson of compromise is delivered by the growth of the Incredibles as characters, there is also a lesson for the society that represses those who are exceptional in order to force them to be like everyone else. As Bob puts it "They keep inventing new ways to celebrate mediocrity, but if someone is genuinely exceptional they...". The point here seems to be that feeling good about who we are should not come at the expense of thriving to be better. In a way, Bob talks against himself in this line, as he too rejected Buddy as a child and did not recognize how exceptional Buddy proved himself to be, even without superpowers, forcing him to be like all other non-superpowered people. This was probably intentional on Brad Bird's part and a way of transmitting the same message through how it impacts both heroes and villains, which is quite interesting in my opinion.
All in all, I find The Incredibles to be a spectacular movie in the field of animation and also a rare gem in the superhero genre. The film is able to connect really well with its target audience through fun, interesting and relatable characters, all the while being an exciting and beautiful action adventure, delivering funny moments that play off the usual tropes of the superhero genre and delivering thoughtful social commentary that is pertinent for families to take home. I did not touch on every important thing about this movie, nor on relevant characters like Jack-Jack, Frozone, Edna Mode, Mirage or Rick Dicker but suffice it to say that I really believe that nothing in this movie is superfluous or unengaging. And whether it's funny, exciting or reflective, the movie works on every level. For me, it's Pixar at it's best and it's a film I'll watch over and over again for the rest of my life.
So those were my thoughts on the Incredibles, what do you think about the movie and what is your favourite Pixar of all time? Leave your thoughts down below and as always, thank your for reading.
Robert Sacchi on February 01, 2020:
I like the way you explained "The Incredibles" nuances. How did you like "The Incredibles 2"?