The Incredibles Review

It's been a few years - roughly six and a half - since The Incredibles hit cinemas and became another of Pixar's massive hits. That seems like enough distance for a reassessment, particularly since the Pixar brand has only grown stronger in the interim despite settling into a formulaic groove. For once that template built around peril and conflict actually belongs in the film, given that its premise involves superheroes and a villain bent on transforming the world as he sees fit. Even in The Incredibles the third act remains its weakest element, particularly on subsequent viewings, but it still plays less as pandering than an inevitable wrap-up to what had occurred previously. The action scenes, aided greatly by Michael Giacchino's score, retain enough verve to make the film one of the better entries in that genre from the last decade. That it also rates near the top of animated features in the same time period deserves further praise.

Much of why The Incredibles remains so enjoyable is that it functions on quite a few different levels at once. It succeeds with full-blown action elements and looks colorful and cool in the process. There's also a great deal of humor in the film but without it being easy sidekick nonsense. Though she's a supporting character I think the costume designer Edna's entire time on screen qualifies here. Her presence is necessary and she's used just the right amount. There are also more incidental funny bits, like the moments between the little kid neighbor and Bob Parr and also when we see Parr trying to regain his past glories despite fifteen years having passed. The movie treats this time away as if Parr, a.k.a. Mr. Incredible, had been a star high school or college athlete who endeavored to again pick up his former sport of choice. That he was actually a superhero proves instructional. It's a furthering of the idea, brought up again and again in the movie, that mediocrity shouldn't be celebrated and exceptional qualities should likewise be encouraged rather than suppressed.

Credit writer/director Brad Bird with establishing this theme of extraordinary ability deserving to be cultivated. He returned to similar ideas in his follow-up feature Ratatouille, where a rat blessed with great cooking skills must navigate a tricky culinary landscape before finding his niche. The ostensible villain in that movie, restaurant critic Anton Ego, subverts many of the accepted ideas about what makes an antagonist while displaying a keen insight into the importance of artistry. Ratatouille has nice ideas but it's presented with a troubling sense of smugness that exacerbates what are basically unlikeable main characters. The Incredibles is the more focused work. It shows a man in crisis, someone dealing with enormous pressures despite his highly unusual gifts. His attempts to reconcile these gifts with a banal existence come across as more sad than super, and the new opportunity he's presented with to show off his capabilities is as much steeped in selfishness and frustration as it is the desire to help his family.

The Incredibles has a good hour or so of blissfully loose character development to begin the film, establishing the plot gradually and in a tangential manner. I love this part, I really do. It begins almost Watchmen-like and expands through attempts at conformity and those domestic concerns. Brad Bird seems to pretty clearly be asserting that we are in fact not completely equal, that some of us are stronger, faster, smarter and more talented than others. Not only is there nothing wrong with this, such traits should be embraced and allowed to flourish. Suppressing them is more harmful to society than claiming we all have the same capabilities. It's not a terribly complicated message but it's one that seemed to have needed advocating, particularly at the time the film was made when average and regular joe qualities were being heavily endorsed and intelligence was portrayed as somehow ripe for distrust.

The other thing to take away from The Incredibles is that it's amazingly fun. This is admittedly about as subjective a reaction as you'll find but that's still no reason to discount it. Movies ideally should be fun. Not all of them, of course, but certainly some should be and the ones that are help their case by avoiding extreme manipulation, dumbed-down plotting, and unnecessary elements like cute, precious, or funny dead weight. I don't think The Incredibles uses any pieces that aren't there for a reason, and it winningly presents pretty much all of them as fully fleshed-out, breathing characters or necessary aspects of the narrative. The villain Syndrome grates a little for me but it almost seems like he'd have to in order to fulfill the objectives of the story. The major themes are guided by his antagonism. These are twofold. One, the superheroes, and in turn those with special gifts, are indeed superior in their own way and diluting those strengths for the masses is really subtraction via addition. Secondly, and the more Disney-friendly, is the importance of family and of meeting challenges together. It's with these wide, sweeping intentions that the film is able to leave its strongest mark. We're ultimately dealing with popular entertainment and The Incredibles proves that it's indeed possible to simultaneously please large swaths of audiences even if they require deeply varying pleasures.

The Discs

This review is covering the North American 4-Disc Combo Pack release of The Incredibles from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. It's presented on a pair of Blu-ray discs, one DVD and a Digital Copy disc. The BDs are not region-coded. Various coming attractions play automatically upon inserting the feature discs.

The film's original aspect ratio of 2.39:1 has been respected here in this marvelous new high definition transfer. It looks sharp as a tack and with vivid colors that appear essentially perfect. I didn't see a single thing to quibble over in this presentation. It's nigh-on perfect. That extra punch everyone likes to see from Blu-ray versus DVD is absolutely on view.

The audio comes through via an English DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track that should similarly knock respective socks off. There are a lot of quick and loud audio cues, plus the punchy score, to test out surround channels. It's booming and brilliant, as good as you could reasonably want. There's also an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, an English Dolby Digital 2.0 Descriptive Video Service option and French and Spanish dubs in Dolby Digital 5.1 EX. You can actually hear two additional Spanish dubs as well, one in "Español Mexicano" and the other in "Español Argentino" and both Dolby Digital 5.1 EX. The DVD contains English, French, and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, along with DD 2.0 tracks in English and with the English Descriptive Video Service. The reason for including the English DD 2.0 mix is explained as it being intended for maximizing the sound through a traditional television set. Subtitles on both discs are available in English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish. They are white in color on the Blu-ray but yellow on the DVD.

The BD with the main feature on it also contains a substantial new extra, called "The Incredibles Revisited: Filmmaker Roundtable" (22:08). Director Brad Bird leads a discussion with key members of his creative team as they reminisce about some of the highs and lows of the production. One gets a pretty good feel for both how arduous the making of The Incredibles must have been and how committed to a particular vision the creators were throughout the long journey from idea to finished film. This disc further has the two shorts found on the original DVD release, "Boundin'" (4:42) and "Jack-Jack Attack" (4:44). Director Bud Luckey provides optional commentary on "Boundin'" and there's an even more in-depth, picture-in-picture feature called "Jack-Jack Attack Exploded" (4:44) that serves as a commentary, with contribution from Brad Bird, story supervisor Mark Andrews, character designer Teddy Newton, and animator Bret Parker, who was also the voice of babysitter Kari. These are all in HD.

A pair of audio commentaries for the feature film also can be accessed from this disc. One has director Brad Bird alongside producer John Walker while the other is billed as an animator commentary and includes a baker's dozen of voices. These are carryovers from the original DVD release (the UK version of which was previously reviewed on this site by Michael Mackenzie). Those needing an either/or recommendation should definitely opt for the former, as it tackles a far wider array of topics than the more technical-minded animators track.

A second Blu-ray disc has even more supplements on it, though several are repeats from that previous standard definition version. Deleted scenes, or, more accurately, unused yet storyboarded ideas, are now in HD. There are five of these plus a rather long alternate opening sequence. "The New Nomanism: A Top Secret Redevelopment Plan" is a fun little travelogue showing how the island Syndrome used in the film to terrorize supers is now a much different vacation spot. It's also in HD, as are the newly created short bonuses "Paths to Pixar: Story Artists" (5:56), "Studio Stories: Gary's Birthday" (1:24), and "Ending with a Bang: Making the End Credits" (1:35). Of these, the entry in the continuing "Paths to Pixar" series is easily the best and most substantial.

Deemed classic DVD features, the rest of the supplements have been, pleasingly, brought back from the film's initial DVD releases. These include a making-of featurette (27:25) and more specialized looks at elements like the Story, Character Design, E-Volution, Building Humans, Building Extras, Set Design, Sound, Music, Lighting, and Tools that last over forty minutes all together. The top secret "Mr. Incredible and Pals" short (4:02), with optional commentary by Mr. Incredible and Frozone, also made it over from the standard definition version. It's joined by a collection of NSA files containing data on the various superheroes. The voice of Violet Parr gets the spotlight in "Vowellett - An Essay by Sarah Vowell" (9:22) and "Who is Bud Luckey?" (3:58) gives an introduction to the "Boundin" man who was also the voice of agent Rick Dicker in The Incredibles.

Yet more bonus material collected here are the various Easter Eggs that had to be hunted for on the DVD but now can be found out in the open this time. Add, too, some Publicity for the film consisting of Character Interviews, trailers and commercials. These, along with the other classic DVD features, are in standard definition. A copious Interactive Art Gallery and the original teaser trailer (1:55) for The Incredibles return things to HD.

The package's disc three is a dual-layered DVD that includes only the film, "Boundin'" (4:43), and "Jack-Jack Attack" (4:45).

Disc four is, as mentioned above, a digital copy of the movie.

Final Thoughts

Without hesitation, Pixar's most successfully ambitious and cohesive work and it's now been given a definitive high definition release.

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Category Blu-Ray Review

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