Director: Brad Bird

How often do you see an animated Disney movie that takes midlife crises, marital dysfunction, fears of inadequacy, and childhood angst, and lumps them all together into a big thrill ride of a movie? That's what sets The Incredibles apart from the rest. The sixth Disney/Pixar venture is quite different from what you've seen in the past. Ever seen a Pixar movie rated anything higher than G? No? Then take a gander at the big PG rating on The Incredibles. While similar to its Pixar brethren (there's lots of adventure, humor, and imagination), it's also strikingly distinct. Originally conceived as a conventional cel-animated feature for the now-defunct animation department of Warner Brothers, it turns not only ventures away from the standard Disney/Pixar fare, but turns the entire superhero genre on its ear.

THE INCREDIBLES (2004)The incredibly strong Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) is a superhero straight out of the 1940s serials. He fights crime, he saves those who need saving, all that goody-goody hero stuff. You'd think people would be happy getting saved, but that isn't the case. After Mr. Incredible saves someone attempting suicide, said rescued person files a lawsuit because he didn't want to be saved in the first place, and ended up with whiplash because of it. Turns out there's a huge number of ungrateful people, as people start filing frivolous lawsuits right and left over similar minor injuries and "wrongful saving." In exchange for immunity from the overwhelming court cases, the superheroes are forced to give up heroics and permanently settle into their secret identities. Under the government's Superhero Relocation Program, Mr. Incredible and his new bride ElastiGirl (Holly Hunter), who can stretch any part of her body to any length, begin life as anonymous civilians.

Fifteen years later, Mr. Incredible and ElastiGirl are now Bob and Helen Parr, residing in the suburbs with their three children. Helen is a stay-at-home mom, which, in her case, is a fulltime job in and of itself. Teenage Violet (Sarah Vowell) wishes to be one of the crowd and blend in with her peers, but is embarrassed that her superpowers would cause her to stand out. Oddly enough, the power she fears will cause her to stand out is the ability to turn herself completely invisible, as well as being able to create impenetrable force fields. Violet often finds herself butting heads with younger brother Dashiell (Spencer Fox), called simply "Dash" for short. He's hyperactive, cocky, and his wont to show off often gets him in trouble at school. Dash's hyperactivity is complimented by his lightning-fast speed, which allow him to effortlessly run on almost any surface, even water. Forced to keep their powers a secret, both Violet and Dash give their parents hell over it while vocalizing their jealously toward their infant brother Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile and Maeve Andrews), who they feel is the only "normal" member of the family thanks to his apparent lack of powers.

Meanwhile, Bob is stuck in a crappy job as an insurance claims adjuster for Insuracare, where he can hardly squeeze his oversized frame into a tiny cubicle. While Bob is a nice guy that tries to help people in any way he can (usually in the form of making Insuracare's customers aware of policy loopholes), his kindness often gets him a lecture from his greedy boss, Mr. Huph (Wallace Shawn). Bored with his mundane life and longing for the good ol' days, Bob often sneaks out with his close friend Lucious Best (Samuel L. Jackson), a fellow relocated superhero formerly known as the ice-manipulating "Frozone." Claiming they're part of a bowling league, they instead don disguises and do a little low-profile heroism. After one particular boys' night out, Helen discovers what they've been doing, which prompts a nasty argument between her and Bob that a hidden Violet and Dash are privy to. Back at work, one particularly stern lecture prevents Bob from stopping a mugger outside, and he doesn't take that too well. If you want to earn a spot on the unemployment line, just do what Bob did: flip out and throw your boss through a bunch of walls. You'll be getting a pink slip so fast, your head will spin faster than Linda Blair's in The Exorcist.

Following his firing, Bob's old life begins to beckon in the form of the enigmatic Mirage (Elizabeth Peña), who entices him with the chance to return to his "Mr. Incredible" role. Once again donning his now ill-fitting costume (he's gotten really out of shape in his 15-year retirement), Mirage lures him to the Pacific Islands, where he is pitted against a massive robot called "OmniDroid." He handily defeats OmniDroid, and is soon thereafter hired by Mirage and her rather shady boss to fight various robots on their island. He hides his excursions as repeated business trips for Insuracare, but he's getting in shape and making plenty of money, so Helen doesn't ask questions... until she intercepts a telephone conversation between Bob and Mirage. At first believing that Bob is cheating on her, it isn't until she discovers he had a new costume made that she realizes he's not only been fired by Insuracare, but he's gone back to performing feats of daring-do. She goes to fashion designer/supersuit creator Edna Mode (Brad Bird) and asks what's up, and is quickly informed by Edna that not only did she make Bob a brand new suit, but she also made suits for the other four Parrs as well. Turns out the suits all have homing devices in them, and Helen uses said homing device to track down Bob. She packs up the suits, and with Violet and Dash stowing along, Helen borrows an airplane from an old friend and must reprise her "ElastiGirl" persona in order to bail her husband out.

This is where the big bad kicks in. During his latest trip to the island, we learn that Mr. Incredible wasn't the first hero called to the island. It turns out the previously defeated OmniDroid was one in a line of killer robots built by Mirage's boss, Syndrome (Jason Lee). In his youth, Syndrome was Buddy Pine, Mr. Incredible's biggest fan. Buddy's admiration for Mr. Incredible knew no bounds, and he repeatedly tried to persuade his hero that he needed a sidekick, dubbing himself "Incrediboy." But after repeated rejection, young Buddy's bitterness and envy overwhelmed him, and he reinvented himself as a supervillain. In the fifteen years since he last crossed paths with Mr. Incredible, he fashioned dangerous weapons that can give normal people power equal to those of superheroes, and has dedicated himself to exterminating every known superhero. He captures Mr. Incredible after a battle with another OmniDroid and displays him as a trophy, torturing him before heartlessly shooting down Helen's plane as it enters the island's airspace. Helen, Violet, and Dash survive and arrive at the island, and soon stage a dramatic jailbreak. The Parr children make short work of Syndrome's henchmen, while Helen sneaks through the prison towards her husband. They're successful, but the four Incredibles must soon team with Frozone and contend with Syndrome's mega-OmniDroid, set to destroy their home of Metroville and all of its citizens.

Whoa, that was a lot of synopsis. Now for the actual review. The Incredibles is not only a fun movie for both kids and adults, but can call itself one of the greatest superhero movies ever made. While the movie is an obvious play on superhero conventions and clichés on the surface, inside is a funhouse mirror view of your typical everyday family. Bob is the hardworking father that loves his family, but can never seem to make time for them; Helen is the doting, loyal wife and mother often frustrated with Bob's workaholic demeanor; Violet is the normal teenage misfit, desperately longing to love and be loved, with a want to realize her place in the world; Dash is the stereotypical "little brother," often causing mischief and drawing attention to himself. Their powers are also very complimentary to those that possess them. Bob's strength and size are representative of his status as alpha male, Helen's ability to stretch signifies her having to overexert herself and go above and beyond the call of both matrimony and motherhood, Violet's invisibility and force fields symbolize her feelings of loneliness, and Dash's speed mirrors his exuberant personality.

Like his prior work on the criminally underrated The Iron Giant, writer/director Brad Bird gives us a movie that dares to be different. It subversively celebrates those that can excel, but are held back by those who can't. As Mr. Incredible laments during the movie, "They keep finding new ways to celebrate mediocrity." This is most evidenced in the character of Syndrome. He's just a regular person with no powers (outside of an alarmingly high IQ), luring superheroes to their deaths so he can take their glory for himself. The Incredibles even challenges the "everyone is special" slogan, going as far as to say that those forced to hide what makes them special for fear of offending someone makes nobody special at all. We see early in the movie that Dash wants to try out for his school's track team, but Helen refuses to let him, lest his super-speed be revealed. He protests, saying that his power is what makes him special. His mother retorts that everyone is special, prompting Dash to respond, "Which is another way of saying that nobody is."

Bird's script is tight and exciting, while simultaneously managing to be touching and sweet. The interaction amongst the Parr family is heartwarming, giving us a cinematic family that a viewer would understandably wish was his or her own. The voice work is also stellar, with each actor bringing something more to the character than what is in the script. Perhaps the biggest highlights of the cast, however, are Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Jason Lee, and Brad Bird himself. Hunter gives us a hilariously feisty family woman that truly cherishes her husband and children, a complete 180-degree turn from the indifferent mother without a clue she played in Thirteen. Vowell, a staple on public radio, doesn't really get a lot of screen time, but she makes her character quite sympathetic and memorable. I might be alone in this, but I just wanted to reach into the screen and give poor Violet a hug, because she could have used one. Lee as Syndrome was both fun and convincing, still sounding like a hurt little boy despite being an adult evil genius. And Brad Bird as Edna Mode... wow. Based on legendary Hollywood costume designer Edith Head, Edna is a fast-talking firecracker that, in one of the movie's funniest moments, explains that a superhero's cape can be as dangerous as Isadora Duncan's scarf. Despite being in only a handful of scenes, Edna joins Rex, Ham, and Mr. Potato Head from Toy Story on the list of my favorite Pixar supporting characters.

Along with showcasing the love the Parrs have for one another, the movie serves as a funny sendup of superhero culture. Many of the heroes and villains mentioned in passing by various characters have extremely stupid names, while ElastiGirl takes hers from a long-forgotten DC Comics character resurrected by John Byrne around the time of the movie's release. The powers of the characters even take obvious inspiration from their comic book counterparts, ranging from Bobby "Iceman" Drake of the X-Men to the Fantastic Four to The Flash ("Flash" and "Dash" can't just be a coincidence). They even crib the forced retirement of the superhero community from the classic graphic novel Watchmen. But comic heroes aren't the only things lampooned in The Incredibles; the movie takes a shot at James Bond as well. The island hideout? The crazy gadgets and schemes? The villain delivering a monologue that details his master plan to the captured hero? That's right out of every Bond movie ever. And folks, Edna Mode's ingenuity could put Q to shame. Even Michael Giacchio's enjoyable score takes a stab at the jazz-orchestra scores from '60s spy movies, similar to the ones composed by John Barry and Henry Mancini.

The whole of The Incredibles is fun from beginning to end, going from a light family comedy to Pixar's answer to the question, "What if Indiana Jones met James Bond and someone made a comic book out of it?" Once again, Pixar knocks one out of the park and makes a movie that puts them at the top of the CGI animation scene, and I can't ask for better. The Incredibles gets five stars, and it deserves them all.

Final Rating: *****