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With: (voices) Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Jason Lee, Wallace Shawn, Spencer Fox, Sarah Vowell, Elizabeth Pena, Brad Bird
Written by: Brad Bird
Directed by: Brad Bird
MPAA Rating: PG for action violence
Running Time: 115
Date: 27/10/2004

The Incredibles (2004)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Super-Guise Me

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Of late, animated family films have begun to lose their luster. Unable to understand what appeals to today's children, studios pump them up with toilet jokes and pop culture references, machine-gunned at a conveyor belt pace (see Shark Tale).

Worse, the studios are blaming their failure on old-fashioned musical numbers and hand-drawn animation without bothering to notice the enduring success of films like Beauty and the Beast and Spirited Away.

Fortunately, certain animators still have a sense of pride. Brad Bird, who directed one of the best early "Simpsons" episodes (Krusty Gets Busted) as well as the extraordinary 1999 feature film The Iron Giant, returns with The Incredibles, a film so miraculous and so far above its competitors that the Academy Award for Animated Feature Film is no longer a contest.

Taking a cue from Alan Moore's masterful graphic novel Watchmen, The Incredibles conjures a universe in which frivolous lawsuits have hounded all superheroes into hiding, posing as normal, boring suburban families.

The one-time Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) and his wife, the one-time Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter) now play Bob Parr, insurance salesman and Helen Parr, housewife. Their kids, teenage Violet (voiced by Sarah Vowell) and her younger brother Dash (voiced by Spencer Fox), have inherited superpowers that they're not allowed to exercise. (The youngest, an infant, has yet to manifest any.)

Occasionally Bob gets together with his old crimefighting pal Frozone (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) to promote justice undercover.

Of course, something happens to pull this team out of retirement. A bad guy from the past (voiced by Jason Lee) is now bent on taking over the world.

What follows is a whirlwind mixture of epic adventure and shrewd commentary on middle age; Helen worries about her husband's fidelity, Bob ponders his meaningless existence and they each bicker at one another while driving.

At the same time, The Incredibles won't alienate the kiddies. Its themes are clear and potent enough for a true universal audience -- though, at nearly 120 minutes, it may run a bit too long for more delicate attention spans.

It goes without saying that, as the sixth feature film from Pixar Studios, The Incredibles looks and sounds stunning; certain sequences even top the amazing underwater sequences in Finding Nemo. But it really succeeds because of Bird's sensitive direction and spot-on voice casting.

Rather than casting the hottest-latest (as Shark Tale did), The Incredibles seeks the right cast for the job. Nelson's rock-solid voice has just a hint of irony and an even tinier hint of sadness, and Hunter follows up her powerhouse performance from last year's Thirteen as a haggard and indefatigable mom.

Comic book fans will notice that the heroes are only one degree away from being "The Fantastic Four," and hardcore comicos will notice quite a bit more. It's one thing to plug in references in a vain effort to be cool, but it's another thing entirely if real enthusiasm is there.

Most animators crank out dispensable product that kids can plug into for a short while, but Bird continues to make enduring films that families can truly enjoy.

DVD Details: Disney's new DVD more than lives up to its promise, positively sparkling on the small screen. It comes with lots of extras, including the lackluster short film Boundin' and plenty of making-of materials and audio commentary tracks, but the best bonus by far is the new short film Jack-Jack Attack, which fills in on what happened to the babysitter while the rest of the Parr family was off saving the world. Far from just a throwaway, this little film is a true gem, a hilarious, essential companion piece to the feature. If there's any justice, it will be nominated for a 2005 Oscar for animated short film.

Disney released a Blu-Ray set in 2011; it comes with the film on one disc (plus shorts Boundin' and Jack-Jack Attack), and two commentary tracks. A second Blu-Ray comes with tons of other extras, including interactive stuff. It also comes with a DVD and a digital copy.

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