Admit it. Ever since the first time you saw Adam West on “Batman,” you’ve been dying to know: boxers or briefs? If Spiderman got stoned and opted for a night out with Mary Jane instead of fighting crime in Manhattan, what would he prefer: burritos or fast-food Chinese?
Director Brad Bird teams up with the wizards at Pixar Studios, who brought soap opera toy drama, friendly bedtime monsters and underwater epics to the big screen, and scores with “The Incredibles,” which gives a behind-closed-doors look at animated superheroes who struggle to balance their freakish powers with suburban life. Bob (Craig T. Nelson) and Helen Parr (Holly Hunter) – who fight crime as “Mr. Incredible” and “Elastigirl” – are forced to go into hiding, concealing their powers amidst anti-hero legislation and lawsuits. Fifteen years later, Bob, a tax adjuster with a Napoleonic boss, spends his days fighting boredom at the office and an expanding waistline. He sits listening to the police scanner with his friend “Frozone” (Samuel L. Jackson), itching to get back on the scene. For their children, Dash and teenage Violet, life grows more difficult as they must regulate their respective powers of lightning speed and invisibility during adolescence. So how do the Parrs stay super?
Enter the mysterious, seductive (think Jessica from Roger Rabbit) Mirage, who hires the sidelined Mr. Incredible for deadly freelance work. Deeply concerned about his whereabouts and fidelity, Helen grabs the kids on her own mission to rescue Dad.
With no lack of clever humor and fantastic, jaw-dropping animation, the film explores the superhero as social outcast metaphor clearly depicted in X-Men. Each of the characters, good or bad, wrestles with identity, expressing a desire to be different. It is only after the superheroes discover their own limitations and flaws do they begin to accept themselves. The Parrs discover the true source of inner power – each other. A united family can face any threat, whether they are harmful outer ones or conflicts within the self. Helen teaches the most important lesson: “Protect your identity, kids. It’s your most valuable possession.”
That said, “The Incredibles” does not offer consistent joke-after-joke laughs, as in “Finding Nemo” or “Monsters, Inc.” Pixar’s use of humans instead of fishies or purple-haired beasts paints a more serious, yet honest picture in their next installment of “How We Should Live” lessons. The animators had a tough time nailing all the emotions of guilt, love, regret and affection on cartoons, but incredibly, they manage to do it. Facial expressions and complete personalities come across with perfect believability.
My four-year-old cousin has seen it twice, and begs me to play the online trailers. So has my friend, who’s graduating from animation school next year. It’s perfect for all ages. What are you waiting for?