Pixar Animation Studios has made 11 feature-length films in 15 years (not counting the in-production 'Cars 2' and 'Monsters, Inc. 2', scheduled for next summer and fall 2012, respectively, and a non-sequel, 'Brave,' set for a summer 2012 release), each, to varying degrees, created with an admirable combination of aesthetic/critical and commercial appeal, each sufficiently multi-layered to invite, maybe even demand repeat viewings. Despite an emphasis on fantasy- or science fiction-related premises, only one, Brad Bird's ('Ratatouille,' 'The Iron Giant') 'The Incredibles,' deals directly with a subject near and dear to many (geek or otherwise), superpower ed heroes in a superhero universe not dissimilar to our own.
'The Incredibles' is set in a Silver Age-inspired world where super-powered superheroes, not just costumed vigilantes (e.g., Batman), are the norm. Riffing on Marvel Comics' 'The Fantastic Four,' 'The Incredibles' mixes and matches superpowers (the better to avoid copyright infringement), focusing primarily on Mr. Incredible/Bob Parr (voiced by Craig T. Nelson), a super-strong, near-invulnerable superhero unhappily turned insurance company clerk; Parr's wife and former superhero, Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), modeled after Mr. Fantastic (superpower wise), and their two children, Dashiell 'Dash' (Spencer Fox), a super-speedy preteen, and Violet (Sarah Vowell), a sulky teen with self-esteem issues (she can turn invisible and create force fields too).
In Bird's take on a superhero universe, the collateral damage superheroes takes for granted led to a public outcry, lawsuits, and changes in the law (an idea inspired by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' 'The Watchmen'). Suburban domesticity, however, hasn't been kind to the middle-aged Mr. Incredible, however. He's let himself go, growing out a gut, engaging in solipsistic self-pity, and, on occasion, casually breaking the law with his best friend/fellow superhero, Lucius Best / Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson), just to get a taste of his former life as a crime fighting superhero.
When a too-good-to-be-true offer gives Mr. Incredible the opportunity to put his superpowers to positive use, he jumps at it. As Admiral Ackbar would say (and did), "It's a trap!" Mr. Incredible's ends up a prisoner, immobilized, helpless at the hands of 'The Incredibles' supervillain, Buddy Pine/Syndrome (Jason Lee). Mr. Incredible's error in judgment kick-starts the family into action, leading to a joint Elastigirl-Dash-Violet rescue attempt on Syndrome's Bond-inspired, super-secret island base. Bird gives each character a chance to shine individually and, later, in 'The Incredibles' extended climax, equal or better than any superhero set piece, live-action or otherwise, made in the last decade.
In a film packed with some many memorable action scenes, each as inventive (or more inventive than the last, it's hard to choose just one, but, unfortunately, that's what we have to do here. In a 'Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi'-inspired scene, Bird cuts Dash loose, taking us, as moviegoers six years ago and since on a frantic, frenetic set piece through the island's dense jungle foliage as Dash and Violet are pursued by Syndrome 's disposable henchmen on foot and in flying machines. Dash's emotions shift and slide as he learns the extent and limits of his Flash-like superpowers, a credit (like so much else) to Bird's ability to mix action, emotion, and humor through 'The Incredibles' running time.
Here's Dash doing what he does best:
'The Incredibles' might have multiple, conflicting, maybe even controversial themes (i.e., anti-egalitarianism, individualism, communitarian), but at heart, it's a simple message, "The superhero family that fights supervillainy together, stays together," that stayed with moviegoers six years ago and since. It's a universe moviegoers, critics, and everyone in between has wanted to revisit. A sequel, however, isn't in Pixar's immediate future. Bird has repeatedly expressed reluctance at the idea of sequel (only if the story was there, not as a cash grab). Maybe that's for the best. After all, how can you follow up perfection? You can, but only if you can make the perfect sequel.