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Pixar does it again...this time with superheroes
On the surface, The Incredibles is a superhero movie, but in truth, it's a movie about superheroes. It's a small difference, but an important one. Sure, there are big superhero battles, villains and the usual comic-book trappings, but those are just part of the story. The more important aspects are the family interaction, the struggles of being different and being true to one's self. That may sound like an afterschool special, but in the hands of the Pixar storytellers, they are the hallmarks of a film classic.
The plot follows the life of Bob Parr ("Coach"'s Craig T. Nelson), an insurance company worker, who at one point was Mr. Incredible, a super-strong defender of innocent people. Then a few lawsuits started a crackdown on superheroes, forcing him into seclusion, so he married a fellow hero, Helen, a.k.a. Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), and settled into suburban life. Now, he's going through a super-midlife crisis, missing his days as someone special; someone who made a difference. While his wife has adjusted to being a mom swimmingly, Bob is bored and frustrated, much like his kids, Dash and Violet, who don't understand why they have to keep their own powers secret.
With his friend Lucius (Samuel L. Jackson), who was once the icy hero Frozone, Bob tries to keep his skill sharp, listening to the police scanner and responding first. His actions draw the attention of a shadowy operative who has an offer Bob can't refuse, or rather wouldn't want to. He's also drawn the attention of someone from his past who isn't on friendly terms. Bob might be in over his head, and his family are the only ones that can help him. The final hour of the film is almost non-stop action, with some truly incredible and well-choreographed set pieces that are thrilling and exciting.
While the hero work is the big picture, the film is made up of smaller, more intimate moments that make the bigger action scenes mean something. Key among them are the family strife between Bob and Helen over Helen's desire for stability and Bob's wishes for adventure and the idea that Dash and Violet aren't allowed to be special for fear of them standing out. These aren't ideas unique to superheroes, but are universal to people the world over. Because of these family moments, the audience actually cares about whether Bob and his family can overcome their adversaries. It's amazing how often the idea of personality is forgotten when it comes to heroes.
This outstanding balance of action and emotion should come as no surprise to anyone who watched director Brad Bird's previous hit, The Iron Giant. Bird knows how to play the two sides of a story off each other to create a story that both enthralls and evokes feelings. Here he's done it in a way that's less introspective than The Iron Giant, but just as meaningful. When Helen protects her children one moment and yells at them the next, she's more real than the characters humans portray in most films. That's what's so impressive about films like this from Pixar. The technology is, of course, the focus, with new heights in animation reached, but the story remains just as important in the end.
Interestingly, this is the first Pixar film rated anything harder than G. It's the action that earned the rating, but it's the fact that the characters are all humans that probably caused the MPAA to make The Incredibles a PG film. Instead of toys, bugs or fish, these are people in danger, and that never sits well with parents and the other babysitting concern-mongers. Somehow they never noticed that the rest of the films have human emotion at their core.
The Incredibles comes packaged in a single-width keepcase with a snap-in tray, wrapped in a shiny holographic slipcover. A nice eight-page insert is included that has a map of the DVD set, descriptions of some of the special features and the chapter stops. The disc has a simple, yet beautiful animated main menu with options including an introduction, plat movie, commentaries, scene selections, sneak peeks, set up and an index that lists what's available on both discs in a simpler form than the menus. The scene selection menus include animated previews and titles for each scene, while the set up menu has options for English, Spanish and French soundtracks; English, Spanish and French subtitles (including on the bonus materials) and the THX Optimizer, used to tune your monitor for the best possible viewing experience. All of the menus are animated in the style of the film's end credits, making for a very attractive presentation.
Find a better reproduced animated film (or perhaps any kind of film) than The Incredibles, and you have done something truly special. The 2.39:1 anamorphic widescreen video presentation on this DVD is simply as good as any I have seen. Taken directly from the digital source to the digital disc, there isn't a bit of concern when it comes to this transfer. Colors are excellent, shadows are brilliant and the clarity and detail is nearly unmatched. While it seems like the Pixar crew finds a new toy to play with each time they create a film, this time they made several technological leaps, which come across perfectly, including new water effects, ice and human facial features. They also stretched their legs trying out several "film stocks," including old news reel footage, '70s Super8 and lenticular screens. Each shines as a beautiful example of Pixar creativity. There's nothing visual I could point to on this DVD as a problem.
Aurally, the disc is just as good, with a 5.1 EX soundtrack that's loaded with surround effects, bass and directional effects. When Bird says you should watch The Incredibles with the sound cranked up, he's not kidding. Immersing yourself in the sound design of this film makes the experience much, much better. This disc gets the mix down perfectly, with levels and clarity at optimal quality. The Bond-inspired music is full and lush, giving the group's adventures the right "secret agent" feel, while the sound effects follow the action on-screen to give every action a deeper, more intense power.
The DVD includes the THX Optimizer utility, so anyone can tune their monitor to get the perfect look and sound. Considering how good a job the producers have done with this disc, it's not too much to ask that people watch it the right way.
The first disc kicks off with an introduction by Bird, in which he sings the praises of the THX Optimizer utility. As the proud papa of the film, it makes sense that he wants people to see The Incredibles the way he intended it to be seen.
Considering the amount of extras and their top-notch quality, The Incredibles is the correct title for this set. The biggest extras are two feature-length commentaries on the first disc. The first features Bird and producer John Walker, which covers the overall experience of making the film. After working together for four years, they have a good rapport, and have plenty to talk about. As could be expected from a veteran of "The Simpsons," Bird has a great sense of humor, along with an absolutely manic personality. There's a lot of energy in this track, and more information than in most tracks. Catch Bird's rant about "the animation genre," and you get the whole idea about where this guy is coming from.
The second track, featuring 13 of the Pixar animators, is naturally much more technical. Because of this, and because there are so many more participants, the track is of a less personal nature, but it's still an entertaining track. Despite the level of detail and information provided by Bird and Walker in their track, this commentary has plenty of new info for fans of the film and even more for those interested specifically in animation. Because these are the people who worked hands-on on the film, they have a bit more insight into the nitty-gritty details of the film.
The first disc also features a handful of trailers, including Pixar's Cars and Disney's CGI Chicken Little.
Disc Two starts off with another intro from Bird, who talks about his love of bonus features. He'll obviously enjoy what was put together for this collection, including a selection of easter eggs.
"Jack-Jack Attack" is a new short cartoon featuring the youngest Incredible, Jack-Jack. This 'toon fills in a blank spot in the film, a segment that really shouldn't have been seen in the movie, and thankfully isn't. It is much better off as a supplement. The animation is just as good as the main film, relying maining on visual gags, since it is a short. There's an effect in here that is repeated from the movie, but is seen in more detail, and it looks tremendous. Oddly, it is presented in full-frame.
A massive collection (over 30 minutes) of deleted scenes is up next, presented in a much better format than most DVDs. Instead of just slapping together a pile of scenes to choose from, these scenes are introduced, dissected and explained by Bird and Mark Andrews, the film's story supervisor. These are mainly in the form of animated storyboards, with one scene in a rough 3D animation, and incredibly, these letterboxed sketches are better than most cartoons made today, displaying style and creativity, and some sweet computer effects. Bird and Andrews' comments make these scene much more interesting than they might have been, which would have still been pretty cool, as they contain complete plot points that were excised.
The Behind the Scenes section includes over an hour of...well...behind-the-scenes footage, broken up into two featurettes, "The Making of The Incredibles" and "More Making of The Incredibles." "The Making" is a general look at production, and the wacky world of Pixar. This stuff should be familiar to anyone who's seen a previous Pixar DVD, and serves as either a recruiting video for the animation studio or a way to make you very jealous of their staff. Interestingly, you see everything doesn't always go happy-go-lucky at Pixar, as arguments over costs versus creativity make Bird nuts. "More Making" goes more specific into the film's creation, looking in depth at the various departments that go into making an animated movie. Together, everything you might want to know about Pixar and this film, you can find out.
A couple of goofy featurettes follow, which are more about fun than sharing info about the movie. "Incredi-blunders!" is the now traditional reel of animation errors that Pixar compiles for their movies, this time themed like one of those old Dick Clark bloopers specials. Meanwhile, "Vowelette" is a video essay by Sarah Vowell, the voice of Violet. Unless you've been a fan of Vowell's radio work, you probably had the wrong image of who voiced this character. This featurette lets you know more about the voice behind the voice, including her love of Abraham Lincoln. This is a unique and interesting piece that is unlike anything you might expect from Pixar (which is certainly saying something.)
The evolution of the look of The Incredibles is studied in the Art Gallery, which is a neatly-designed archive of images that is easily navigated. Broken down into story, character design, set design, color scripts, lighting and collages, there's plenty of material to flip through for anyone interested in the art of animation.
The Publicity section of the DVD left me a bit cold, as it features a group of interviews between the characters in the film and Los Angeles entertainment reporters. Obviously staged for EPK use, they repeat themselves and rely on one main joke. The three trailers for the film that are included are much more interesting, including the teaser that first introduced Mr. Incredible.
Making up for the disappointment that is the Publicity area is Top Secret, which features a "vintage" Incredibles cartoon, featuring Mr. Incredible, Frozone and a kid-friendly rabbit named Mr. Skipperdo (which recalls the ridiculous robot Herbie from the old "Fantastic Four" cartoons.) Done in the "Clutch Cargo" animation style, which means the mouths are done with live-action film. It looks and sounds like it came right out of the '60s, which just shows how good this studio is. But even better is the audio commentary with Mr. Incredible and Frozone, in character, as they rip on how bad the show is. A big deal is made out of the Jack-Jack cartoon, but for a fan of old cartoons, this is just as good, if not better. 21 NSA-File profiles of the superheros in the Incredibles world, with plenty of info and an audio file from each, serve to flesh out the film's world even more.
Rouding out the extras in Boundin', the short film that played before The Incredibles. A musical tale of a carefree sheep whose life is messed up by a haircut, it was nominated for an Oscar. The key to the film is Bud Luckey, the animation expert who gives the voice and song to this short. As a Pixar short, it's partially made up of animation from other films, so you'll get extra viewings out of trying to spot the spare parts, and it's partially a testing ground, as technology like hair design is tried on a smaller scale. A commentary by Luckey fills in all the background info behind the short, while a featurette, "Who is Bud Luckey?" fills in the animator's background and looks at the short's creation.
The Bottom Line
In one of the behind-the-scenes featurettes, the Pixar creators talk about how people think you can just punch information into a computer and it will spit out a movie as good as Toy Story or A Bug's Life. As anyone who has followed American animated films could tell you, that's simply not true. It takes a special mix of talent and know-how to create magic the way Pixar does. Amazingly, their winning streak has stretched to six feature films now. The Incredibles shows how this studio knows how to mix technical genius, storytelling superiority and sheer brilliance in terms of moviemaking. Equally exciting, endearing, touching and enthralling, this film might be the most well-rounded movie Pixar has made since Toy Story 2. The DVD package created around the film touches every base of production and couldn't be more informative if they added an extra disc. Consider that there are three short features, plus two commentaries and a boat-load of supplements, and you have one of the best produced DVDs around. This is a slam-dunk pick for the DVD Talk Collector Series.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.