Where have you gone, Mr. Incredible? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you—your brains, brawn, and sonorous vox so indispensible in crisis, your close-set eyes and protracted jaw so reminiscent of a certain Massachusetts senator. A superhero firmly in the Captain America mold, the I-man once rescued kittens from the very trees he felled to block the escape routes of machine-gunning baddies. But then he plucked a suicide jumper from the sky and found himself served with a wrongful-non-death suit—the first in a rash of gratuitous litigation by dissatisfied civilians, eventually driving Mr. Incredible and his beleaguered associate fantastics into the Superhero Protection Program. Fifteen years later, he’s some schmo in a cubicle named Bob Parr, a downsized drone with a supersized waistline shuffling insurance claim forms, hunched and disgruntled in a fluorescent-lit office hell.
Bigger, longer, and louder a product than we’ve come to expect from the Pixar computer animation studio, The Incredibles is a hectic pastiche, folding in the studious spoofery of Mystery Men, the family solidarity espoused by the Spy Kids franchise, and the overarching theme of the X-Men films: a troubled assimilation into a suspicious society that’s decidedly below-Parr. Bob’s wife, Helen, formerly Elastigirl (the moniker is one of several homages to the DC Comics trove), applies her bubblegum flexibility to full-time momdom, raising force-field magician Violet and speed demon Dash to conceal their genetic birthrights from the world at large, where the official line reads all too clear: “It’s time for them to join us or go away.” In their cultivated suburban anonymity, the Parrs do both—until Bob accepts a secret mission from an enigmatic hottie who invites him out to her volcanic island to discuss disabling the Omnidroid, a renegade piece of destructive machinery.
The Omnidroid could be the sociopathic prototype of the 50-foot title character in Brad Bird’s first feature, The Iron Giant (1999), a lovely Cold War parable wherein the director displayed a similar meticulous affection for bygone mid-century artifacts: The Incredibles pores over yellowed clippings and crackling, sepia-toned newsreel footage of Mr. Incredible’s exploits. Bird originally intended the new film to be, like Iron Giant, an old-school cel animation, which might have envisioned the material better—everything here, from foliage to human skin, appears crafted from the same chunk of cold, gleaming titanium.
The Incredibles brims with sly comic-book connoisseurship, as when Mr. Incredible’s prolix nemesis Syndrome complains, “You’ve got me monologuing!” or when it presents a swift montage on the occupational hazards of caped crusading (the flapping fabric can snag on a missile, get sucked into a plane engine, etc.). Unfortunately, the delicious snatches of reflexive wit function as mere intermissions between the distended action sequences and Michael Bay–style megatonnage, which have earned Pixar its first ever PG rating. At the preview screening, a little boy burst into tears a few ammo rounds into an early auto chase, and the five-year-old to my left spent most of two hours cowering in her dad’s lap. Pixar has never tiptoed around the young ‘uns’ fears and anxieties (see the nighttime terrors of Monsters, Inc. or the family-slaughter overture of Finding Nemo), but The Incredibles announces the studio’s arrival in the vast yet overcrowded Hollywood lot of eardrum-bashing, metal-crunching action sludge. Given that its next film is called Cars, it seems it’s opted for long-term parking.