By now, the merits of The Incredibles as an animated movie are old news. Pixar’s 2004 film won two Academy Awards (Best Animated Feature Film and Sound Editing) and was nominated for a third (Original Screenplay); it earned a 97% on RottenTomatoes, who also named it the highest-rated movie of 2004. Brad Bird’s film was met with universal praise among top film critics like Roger Ebert and Peter Travers. The Incredibles even has a sequel in the works, showing that the appetite for its characters has not diminished in the 12 years since it was released. It ranks among the three Toy Story movies, Up, and Finding Nemo as the best Pixar movies ever, making it among the best of the best in the whole genre.
However, it is often overlooked in the other genre it falls into: the superhero film. The Incredibles has everything any other classic superhero film does: superpowers, secret identities, an origin story, a bad guy, and some emotional development arcs to give the characters some depth. Released a year before the first Fantastic Four film or Christopher Nolan had released a Batman movie, and a decade before Big Hero Six, The Incredibles appeared pretty early in the new wave of superhero films. The film featured genuine family dynamics, emphasizing the interpersonal relationships at the heart of a super-team in a way that had not been seen on the Silver Screen.
The Incredibles drew a lot of themes and concepts from the original Fantastic Four comics, with even many of the characters’ powers seeming eerily similar to those out of the World’s Greatest Magazine. Even more impressive is that it drew on these themes better than any of the subsequent three direct Fantastic Four films managed, and absolutely blew all three out of the water with regards to RottenTomatoes ratings. The three FF films have earned a 27%, a 37%, and a 9%, making some serious splats where even the sum of the three isn’t close to The Incredibles’ 97%. Character-wise, Elastigirl is a proximate for Mr. Fantastic, Mr. Incredible has super-strength like the Thing (though no orange rock skin), Violet had invisibility and force fields like Invisible Woman, and super speed vs. Human Torch isn’t really crazy different. But what’s impressive about these characters isn’t their superpowers, but how these powers fit their personalities. All under the alias of the Parr family (a delightful pun, btw), these supers are trying to blend into normal life, with some doing better than others. A good portion of the movie is spent seeing them do normal household tasks with superpowers, like the vacuuming and lifting of furniture, cutting through a dinner plate, running at super speed around the house, etc. These little things give a lot of depth to the characters and show how hard it can be to have untapped potential. Bob Parr (Mr. Incredible) is super strong, but he feels powerless to control his life. Helen (Elastigirl) is flexible and can juggle the needs of the three kids and seems to be the most well-adjusted. Violet just wants to be seen – her shyness and teenage awkwardness push her toward hiding, but she proves that she can be just as much of a force(-field) as everyone else. Dash is impatient, anxious, and generally hot-headed. These sorts of characterizations are very reminiscent of the FF and feel true to form with the superhero genre writ large. Oh, let’s also not forget that there’s a big time Mole Man reference at the end of the movie…
Even beyond all of that, however, the film’s signature accomplishment is actually in its ability to build a comprehensive world in such a short time, creating a believable backdrop of superhero skepticism that would serve to frame the story. The superheroes in The Incredibles received negative backlash for their heroics and ultimately were restricted by public opinion, a theme that has only just made it into Marvel films a whole 12 years after The Incredibles‘ release. The idea of a government program to reassign superheroes who had blown their aliases was really innovative and added a layer of credibility to the hero/public dynamic. But most importantly, the iconic Edna Mode, whose role as the costume designer for supers was hilarious and helpful in fleshing out a support industry for the superhero community. Even the classic “No capes” line showed the film’s ability to self-reflect and take superpowers seriously.
The Incredibles may be some good family fun, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it is a genuine superhero story that fits neatly into the broader genre – complete with questions of duty, morality, and how to balance great power and great responsibility. Soon we will have the clearest indication of all that The Incredibles is indeed a superhero film: a sequel. If you don’t believe me, go watch it. Rating: 10 of 10