The Incredibles – An Under-rated Superhero Film

the_incredibles
Source: Wikimedia.org

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

Advertisements

2016 Oscars: Best Animated Shorts

 

I was fortunate enough to get to watch all five of these nominees at once at a local movie theater that was running a special feature. Naturally, the theater is kind of artsy, often featuring critically acclaimed indie films and other award winners. This kind of place attracts a certain audience, *cough* hipsters *cough*, which impacts the viewing experience, favoring the weird and quirky. Now, I only mention all of this because the audience had a really weird vibe watching all of these and laughed in some really dark places. Animated shorts shouldn’t be so grim. Remember Pixar’s chess guy before Toy Story? That’s what I want.

 

bear_story_short_film
Source: Wikipedia

Bear StoryThis Chilean animated short was beautifully made. The detail work and style choice of following most of the story through the Bear’s mechanical diorama was very clever. It is rich in allegory and is certainly heartfelt in a meaningful way. During their Oscar acceptance speech, the creators alluded to the story as an allegory for political prisoners being detained by oppressive regimes, which I didn’t fully get, but it still did a nice job relaying the story with sound and creative animation. Blorg! and Academy Pick: Best Animated Short Film

 

 

 

 

prologue_short_film_poster
Source: Wikipedia

Prologue:
Uh, what??? Why can’t animated films be happy? I feel like they are supposed to. And this is the opposite. It is bad. Horrible. Don’t watch it. The first 40 seconds are nice because the sketch style opening on the flowers against the white background was very nice. But the rest of it was just disturbing and gross. A bunch of naked dudes stabbed each other in the junk in front of a little kid. It was just awful. I don’t understand why people think that’s a good idea. Gross and disturbing. Don’t watch it. Ew.

 

 

 

sanjay27s_super_team_poster
Source: Wikipedia

Sanjay’s Super Team: The only nominee that is actually uplifting. But it’s a Pixar product so don’t be surprised. A cute story about a boy whose imagination blends his favorite superhero TV show with his father’s Hindu prayer in a way that brings the two together. Of course you should watch it. It was also one of only two nominees that I actually liked. My runner-up pick.

 

 

 

 

 

we_can27t_live_without_cosmos_film_poster
Source: Wikipedia

We Can’t Live Without the Cosmos: I almost liked this one. This wordless Russian short film is the story of two astronauts (either brothers or childhood friends that may or may not love one another) going through training. The bond between the two is well-developed and both the happy and sad moments really do tell a complete story. The ending just didn’t really make sense. I was not sure how to interpret it, and I couldn’t tell if it was supposed to be a happy or sad ending. It was good, but not worthy of winning.

 

 

 

 

world_of_tomorrow_28film29_poster
Source: Wikipedia

World of Tomorrow:
Also horrible. It’s on Netflix, so go ahead. Watch it. I saw all of these short films in a theater at once, so it was relatively easy to compare them all. This one had all of the artsy hipsters in the theater laughing, which kind of upset me. I don’t think it’s supposed to be funny. A shocking and, at times, disturbing presentation of the future, this short film relied upon expository dialogue and a weird stick-figure based, twitchy animation style. It had some interesting commentary on cloning, but the weirdness of the main narrator and blasé comments about death, destruction, and the cruelty of the events described made for an aggressively pessimistic film. I did not like it and was disturbed by the use of a child to portray so much of this morbid ambivalence.

For more Blorgin’ on the Oscars, click here!

 

Taking The Good Dinosaur with the Bad

Dear Blorgons, welcome to my first true post! Now that the site has the basic formatting set up, it’s time to fill in some content. First thing on the docket is: The Good Dinosaur (2015).

Before watching The Good Dinosaur, I had heard some of the rumors about production difficulties and delays, but I was still pretty optimistic. This is the same studio that has released a string of stellar animated movies, each one pushing the bounds of storytelling and creativity in movie animation. Pixar, the critical wunderkind and eternal house of ideas, has delivered three iconic Toy Story movies, Bug’s Life, Up, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc, The Incredibles, and Wall-E, not to mention their most recent entry into their great pantheon: Inside Out. I came in with some trepidations, but with the bar so high, there is only so much I was going to temper my expectations.

1465779980406342833
I have never seen anything like these landscapes. They were definitely the highlight of the movie, and perhaps even the driving force behind production, at the expense of creative storytelling. Source: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/Photofest

The opening of the film was strong. In the first thirty seconds, we see the basic premise of the movie laid out for us: what if the meteor that killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago just missed Earth? And what if a few million years later, the dinosaurs were the sentient creatures capable of speech, agriculture, and emotion? The main characters are introduced, as two brontosaurus frontiersmen watch their eggs hatch and the protagonist, Arlo, and his two siblings are born. Arlo’s struggles as the runt of his litter growing up in an agricultural setting make the story simultaneously relatable and intriguing. He runs from his problems, much to the chagrin of his parents and siblings, all of whom take to the frontier life pretty easily, making the small and weak Arlo feel left out.

What is most notable about the beginning of the film, which is by far the strongest part, is the care and detail that went into developing the premise and the animation itself. Watching the dinosaurs plant their seeds and maintain a farm with their tails, long necks, and lack of hands showed that the creators had really imagined their world completely, making the plight of a family farm less about being a dinosaur and more about hard work and struggling to make ends meet.

good dinosaur firefly
One of the more magical moments of the movie, when Arlo’s father takes him out of the farm to see that there is beauty in the world if he has the courage to face it. Source: disney.tumblr.com

Another strength throughout the entirety of the movie was the animation. Beautiful landscapes seemed to push the limits of computer animation, providing extremely life-like water movements, plant life, and other natural features. The detail was evident in large, panning mountain shots on Arlo’s adventure. Swirling water, angry storm clouds with lightning, fields of fireflies, and wind blowing in the grass were captivating. The simplistic cartoonified dinosaurs seemed almost out of place in comparison. Perhaps the animators worried that a dinosaur as lifelike as its surroundings would be too scary for children, but I almost wonder if the elegant scenery was too much, creating a style break within their own scenes – though, admittedly, that is a fairly minor complaint.

Unfortunately, much of the innovation stops there. The remaining hour and fifteen minutes of the movie had some touching and well-done portions, but most of those were overshadowed by distractingly bizarre moments and a strikingly high number of scenes that felt like they had been lifted out of previous movies.

For the first time I can remember, Pixar did not seem to deliver a story from scratch, but seemed to have taken a hodgepodge of “tried and true” story elements and lumped them together.

The most notable parallels were with the Lion King. *Spoiler* The emotional loss of Arlo’s father, swept away by a rampaging flood right after tossing his son to safety, was very similar to Mufasa’s iconic death scene. Arlo blames himself and ends up swept away on a path of self-discovery with his pet human, Spot. The Lion King parallels continue throughout the movie, as Arlo encounters three Archaeopteryx/raptors who are direct copies of the hyenas from the Lion King. It felt like even their lines were the same. They even had a “look to the stars” scene where Arlo hallucinates that his dead father is giving him guidance. This is after he’s fallen into a bramble patch – just like Simba.

good dinosaur lion king
The ciiiiiiiircle of life! Given new meaning to recycle old plot points in the Good DinosaurSource: disneypixar.tumblr.com

The remaining plot elements were either stolen from Finding Nemo, Ice Age, or were so bizarre that I’m surprised they made a final cut. From Finding Nemo, the young runt is trying to find their way home, the T-Rex that gave Arlo was basically Gil from the fishtank, and even the pterodactyls were similar to the gulls in their desire to eat the main character’s friend. The reversal of speaking animals (in this case, dinosaurs) with grunting humans seemed like a copy from the Ice Age, whose original premise involves returning a pet human to its grunting prehistoric tribe.

But the worst part is that all that was left to make the story unique were its weird quirks that just didn’t quite work. The strange acid trip scene from fermented fruit, the unexplained neurotic triceratops, and the pterodactyls cult-like obsession with the storm. There may have been potential there, but the jokes either fell flat or were too outlandish to really resonate with the audience. I had a whole bunch of other questions that were never answered: where were all of the other dinosaurs? Why do there seem to be only ten dinosaurs in the entire world? And why do dinosaurs not eat each other? Do they only eat mammals? Why are humans acting like dogs? Couldn’t they be grunting and presume that communication with the dinosaur wasn’t working without Spot howling to the moon and panting?

Overall rating: this movie had real promise and some truly magical moments, but there were too many borrowed plot points and cheap tricks for this movie to get a coveted Blorg! Blog endorsement. This movie is worth a one-time view, as long as you temper your expectations and focus on the landscapes. With likable protagonists and an intriguing premise, it’s not a bad movie, but it doesn’t live up to the usual Pixar level of excellence. The primary rewatch value is for young kids who don’t mind formulaic stories and won’t notice the weaker points in the plot.

Rating: 6/10