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Animated Action from Pixar's 'Incredibles'

Film critic David Edelstein reviews the new Pixar animated film The Incredibles. Voiced by Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter, among others, the comic film tracks a family of superheroes who must abandon a quiet life in the suburbs to fight evil.


Other segments from the episode on October 5, 2004

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 5, 2004: Interview with Steve Schneider; Interview with Chuck Jones; Review of the film "The Incredibles."


DATE November 5, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

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Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
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Review: Pixar's computer-animated film "The Incredibles"

"The Incredibles" is the latest computer-animated comedy from Pixar Studios
and the last to be distributed by Walt Disney. It was written and directed by
Brad Bird, whose 1999 film "The Iron Giant" was a huge hit with critics but a
box office disappointment. Film critic David Edelstein says "The
Incredibles," featuring the voices of Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter and Sarah
Vowell, is likely to reverse his fortunes.


If you've sat through a lot of recent big-budget Hollywood fantasy pictures,
you'll have noticed the lack of what philosophers call ontological
authenticity, which more or less means `It don't feel real.' The new batch of
"Star Wars" pictures, "The Mummy" movies, that visual Lollapalooza "Sky
Captain and the World of Tomorrow"--you just know you're watching computer
animation, billions of ones and zeros trying to pass themselves off as matter.
And now from Pixar and writer/director Brad Bird comes the crossover point,
"The Incredibles," a 100 percent artificial movie that's made with such wit,
such cinematic savvy, such a brilliant instinct for the way real bodies, not
to mention patently unreal superhero bodies, move through space, that it has
more ontological authenticity than a lot of films featuring people who
actually exist.

Right from the start it's realistic. Bird shows his animated superheroes
being interviewed by an unseen documentarian with a handheld camera, and they
go in and out of focus as they get excited and the cameraman tries to keep
them in the frame. This is another trend in modern fantasy, bringing our pop
culture legends down to earth by having them discourse mundanely about their
mythic jobs. So even though these are 3-D computer-animated dolls with
obvious synthetic skin, they move, react and talk like real people. And
nothing inspires suspension of disbelief more than recognizable human

Our hero is Bob Parr, aka Mr. Incredible, a balloon-jawed, red-leotarded guy
with a swollen torso on bowed little legs, voiced by Craig T. Nelson. He says
in that interview he's at the top of his game, and he proves it by taking out
a series of supervillains. His only serious obstacle, a rival superhero,
Elastigirl, voiced by Holly Hunter, a human rubber band whose limbs can
stretch for yards. They trade insults while they fight, then hurry off to get
married to each other.

The conceit of "The Incredibles" is that the superheroes come under fire for
causing instead of preventing chaos, so they're relocated and forced to blend
in like people in witness protection programs. Fifteen years later, Mr.
Incredible is incredibly fat at working in insurance. He sees his incognito
pal Lucius, aka, Frozone, voiced by Samuel L. Jackson, and they relive the
glory days, occasionally rescuing a few people surreptitiously.

But his biggest challenge is his superkids, a boy, Dash, who can do just that
at supersonic speeds, and a morbid girl, Violet, with a force field to die for
and a curtain of black hair that, according to my press notes, was very hard
to animate. Public radio listeners will recognize as Violet the voice of
Sarah Vowell of "This American Life." The pressure is on to keep the kids
from revealing how exceptional they are, until Mr. Incredible gets sucked back
into the game by a slinky femme fatale called Mirage and the family finally
gets to use its superpowers in tandem.

Now there's nothing profound here. It's pop culture parody, maybe a cut above
a sitcom. But it's so funny, so gorgeous, even so moving when the superhero
family finally gets to break out and do what it was designed to do together.
If you saw "The Iron Giant," you know that director Bird has an amazing eye.
He clearly worships at the altar of Steven Spielberg, and his virtuosity is in
the same league. The dimensionality, the retro-futurist architecture, the
James Bond pastiche score--everything works like gangbusters. Bird even gives
voice to the most hilarious character, Edna Mode, a German-Japanese superhero
outfit designer who looks like a cross between Linda Hunt and Yoko Ono and
whose illustrated riff on the impracticality of superhero capes will have you
choking for the next five minutes.

Quibbles? Well, the superkinetic climax is rousing but conventional and is
liable to scare the heck out of little kids. And the movie's message feels a
tad out of date. `Don't suppress your children's uniqueness so they'll fit
in,' it says. `Let them be exceptional.' Well, that might have been
progressive in the conformist '50s, but nowadays parents are more inclined to
exploit their children's gifts.

I should say that my taste in animation runs to movies like "Spirited Away"
and "The Triplets of Belleville" and even the squash-and-stretch universe of
Bugs Bunny and "SpongeBob SquarePants," cartoons that are totally unfettered
by the laws of time and space, that flout ontological reality. For all its
wizardry, "The Incredibles" isn't my favorite animated movie in years, but it
might be my favorite superhero movies.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for the online magazine Slate.


BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.

The swing-era pianist Joe Bushkin died Wednesday at the age of 87. We'll
close with a song he co-wrote, "Oh! Look at Me Now," recorded by Bobby

(Soundbite of "Oh! Look at Me Now")

Mr. BOBBY DARIN: (Singing) I'm not the guy who cared about love, and I'm not
the guy who cared about fortunes and such. I never cared much. But look at
me now. And I never knew technique of kissin'. I never knew the thrill I
could get from your touch. Never knew much. Oh, look at me now. I'm a new
man, better than Casanova at his...
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