Retrospective: The Incredibles (2004)

Pixar have such an amazing ability to create captivating movies for everyone and this is my favourite of the bunch because of its wonderful art style and characterisation of superheroes. It presents a wonderful depiction of the modern world, displaying the fear of success and difference as well as being a smart family movie filled with all the tensions of modern American. In many ways it contains so many different styles, both in story and thematically. Under lesser direction it would be disjointed and unclear, but Pixar achieves its complex ideas through art and style to convey a world with no introduction, bringing you into the story.

The world of The Incredibles is a wonderful combination of the Bond Films (in particular the early Sean Connery movies), the golden age of superheroes from the 50s and 60s, Indiana Jones, North By Northwest, Sin City and Watchmen to name a few influences. The film is introduced with a set of interviews among the main characters performed in the old fashioned style of a Pathe news reel, while they talk about life, challenges and hopes of being superheroes. This wonderful introduction is reinforced through the opening scene which has Mr Incredible going to a fancy do, while solving various problems but being dogged by Buddy (Incrediboy), the worst sort of fanboy any poor celebrity could wish to endure and who is responsible for almost all the issues that plague the characters for the rest of the movie. He is a wonderful antagonist who just wants to be like the superheroes he idolizes but has no ability except madness and an inventive brain.

Everything from the cars to the buildings, to the small things like pencils and computers look really well thought through. The world is like the utopian visions from the 60s of cities with a very heavy influence of Frank Lloyd Wright evident in the design of the houses. The cars are pure Americana (fins, chrome, long bonnets), while the superhero stuff is pure James Bond, while also showing strong influences from Art Deco and Art Nouveau. Throughout the movie there is a very modernist aesthetic most visible in the interiors of the houses, but it’s an old fashioned modernism planted in the mid-60s, perhaps a reflection that this was seen as the American ‘golden age’ in the same way early Edwardian Britain is seen in Britain and Belle Époque in France.

In many of the action sequences there is a strong Star Wars influence such as the speeder bike chase from Return of the Jedi making an appearance. The Incredibles contains a real mishmash of style as there is even a hat tip to video games and cyberpunk in some of the vehicles designs. But despite so many influences floating around, it’s not overwhelming as it integrates a great story of midlife crisis, depression and lack of fulfillment through a family story which makes it so much more typical and relatable.

Now why are Watchmen and Sin City powerful influences on this nice children’s movie? The first reason is both The Incredibles and Watchmen share the common idea of the banning of superheroes and dealing with the various repercussions associated, including the change from being cheered to vilified in a world that still needs them. Sin City is simple: it is evident in the way it integrates various different styles into a larger whole. For example, Sin City takes the cars from the late 1930s into the 1980s without them looking out of place.

The characters are wonderful throughout; from the wonderful family dynamic of the Parr family to the other more incidental characters such as Edna the designer for superheroes who reminds me of my German Aunt. Her ‘no capes’ rule is a great bit of storytelling to expand the movie and poke fun at superhero conventions. It’s quietly subversive of the whole idea of superheroes, playing with the ideas of superhero superiority, which is even made explicit in a monologue asking if so many people have superpowers then surely no one has them? Something to ponder.

One of the most satisfying parts of the movie is the way the character development pays off, which works really nicely and shows just how effective Pixar is at making movies, with everything coming together and integrated so beautifully.

Retrospective by Harry Riedl


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