Review: The Incredibles (2004)

I haven’t yet reached my mid-life crisis, but when I do I’d be okay with my crisis consisting of whether or not I should save people from burning buildings!

Written By: Brad Bird
Directed By: Brad Bird

Brad Bird had achieved a certain level of acclaim following The Iron Giant. He hadn’t achieved mainstream notability, but within the ranks of animation fans he became a feature director to look out for. My memory may be failing me, but I recall there being a lot of buzz when Mr. Bird signed on with Pixar. It had all the makings of a great pairing, a promising director and a studio with a track record for developing young directors. I also recall when I first heard the project Mr. Bird wanted to take on for his first film at Pixar. The idea of The Incredibles was appealing, but at the same time I worried that it could turn out too cartoonish. Don’t get me wrong, something from Pixar directed by Brad Bird that was along the lines of The Tick would have been great. But, I was afraid that it would end up more along the lines of The World’s Greatest SuperFriends. I know, I know, my fears were completely unfounded and pretty darn crazy, but at that time in my life I was prone to such wild and delusional paranoia.

I didn’t check out The Incredibles when it was in the theater, for some reason I waited until it came out on DVD and a lot of buzz had built up around it. Everyone I knew who loved Pixar and loved Brad Bird inevitably loved The Incredibles. I was a bit dismayed when I watched The Incredibles and didn’t share those feelings. Why did all of my friends, and even some of my enemies, love this film and I only liked it? I’ve watched The Incredibles many times since then and my feelings have stayed pretty true to what they originally were. This time I went into The Incredibles expecting the same fun ride but I was specifically looking for the elements that held the film back from “Bill loves it” status.

This time I was immediately struck by two patches in The Incredibles where the momentum of the film stalled. I was completely caught up and enamored with the film Brad Bird was giving to me. I was enjoying the ride and didn’t want to get off, but the film came to an abrupt halt when I didn’t want it to. The first moment was when Mr. Incredible first gets to the island, and it’s only a small frame of about two minutes, but the story stalled. The music died off, the characters stopped having meaningful interactions and the tidal wave of momentum that the film had built up died abruptly. After that The Incredibles built up steam again, it moved along briskly and I was back in the flow of things. Then, Elastigirl, Dash, and Violet arrived on the island. For some reason Brad Bird again chose to have a moment in a cave where after Elastigirl has left her children he lets the film sputter and stall. Yet again the film easily built its momentum back up, but it really hurt the flow of immersion that I was experiencing with The Incredibles. They aren’t major moments and they don’t last long, but I still notice those breaks in momentum and that is what holds me back from loving The Incredibles like everyone else.

Even with the instances of momentum failure, The Incredibles is a great film. I really like every aspect of the narrative, the characters, the action, the score, everything. That’s why those momentum breaks pain me, without them I know I would have loved The Incredibles and not just really liked it. The Incredibles is a tremendous superhero tale, it really gets the fun and action of superhero storytelling. More than that, The Incredibles understands the drama and emotion that is present in the best superhero tales. When Mr. Incredible is choking Mirage, the heartbreak and anger he feels is palpable, so palpable that its scary. When Violet first realizes the extent of her powers, it’s an awesome moment, the type of awesome moment that keeps me coming back to superhero comics time after time.

It may seem like I’m not giving the finer points of The Incredibles a fair shake, but the problem is that the areas where The Incredibles excels I think are obvious. The fun jumps off the screen, the understanding of superheroes is easy to see, the action is outstanding, and more. I prefer Brad Bird’s freshman effort, The Iron Giant, by quite a wide margin to The Incredibles. But, The Incredibles is a great film from a director who continues to make movies I am jazzed to see. Whether it’s his implementation of a 50s art style, his adult humor, or his ability to attack me with believable pathos, I commend the talents of Brad Bird as a director and a storyteller. I may not love The Incredibles like most people do, but I know a fine movie when I see one, and The Incredibles is a fine movie indeed.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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7 responses to “Review: The Incredibles (2004)

  1. I’m somewhat bewildered by your review. Momentum break? It’s more like… down time? And all action movies have that. However, with The Incredibles it’s different because they’re trying to balance family drama with it. I do feel you on the first bit of downtime. It takes a while for the film to get acclimated to Bob’s new “job”. Come on, just get through it already! After the arrival on the Island for the first time, the film kind of stops and slowly pushes itself through until the scene of mom and kids arriving on the island. The downtime at that point doesn’t irk me – it’s needed after such a anxiety inducing scene (“THERE’S KIDS HERE!”). It’s ebb and flow of story development and for the most part, it works. I like the narrative of The Incredibles. Some times I feel like it’s the most fluid of the Pixar films. However, I get a little impatient towards the end. It takes a while to wrap up and the final action sequences aren’t as thrilling as the ones that came before. Something to look at on the future viewings is how this film in particular illustrates Bird’s Randian libertarian political perspective. Quite interesting for a studio that seems pretty politically unbiased.

  2. I’m not referring to the action or anything like that when I say momentum break, I was speaking strictly of narrative momentum. The movie was going along at a nice clip, action and story wise, but in those two moments for some reason everything stops. They aren’t played as moments to slow down and reflect either, just abrupt stops.

  3. I’m with you. I’ve always really liked this film, but it’s never one I loved and I don’t know why because there is so much here that I think is fantastic but I’ve never been able to bring myself to say I love this film.

  4. I didn’t feel any momentum breaks while watching the movie, not the second time anyways. I recall not being the film’s biggest fan the first time (liked it, didn’t love it), but I re-watched it maybe a year ago or so and it really hit me that time. Wonderful character arcs and I think the film has the best villain Pixar ever created.

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  7. James – Same here, the more I think about the film the more I want to say, “It’s great, but it’s not among the all-time greats or my all-time faves.”

    Edgar – Syndrome is pretty great, I’ll give you that.

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