DVD - Image A+ Sound A+ Extras A+
BD - Image A Sound A Extras A+
written and directed by Brad Bird
by Walter Chaw The first hint that there's something at work in The Incredibles far beyond the pale is the casting of Sarah Vowell as the voice of wilting Violet, the wallflower older sister in the Incredibles' nuclear family. Vowell herself is a brilliant satirist, a gifted writer, and in her heart o' hearts, a bona fide autobiographical anthropologist. She mines the tragedies of her life for insight into the thinness of the onionskin separating our ability to function with the iron undertow of self-doubt and disappointment that comprises all of our paralyzed yesterdays. The Incredibles does a lot of things well--a lot of the same things, as it happens, that Sarah Vowell does well. Through two Toy Story films and last year's fantastically topical Finding Nemo, Pixar has provided the new gold standard in children's entertainment, and it has consistently done so by injecting an amazing amount of insight and depth into the foundation of its bells and whistles.
Newsreel footage opening the film depicts an age of superheroes that coincides with the United States just post-WWII, when the country, fresh from saving the world, was filthy with heroes and ready to buy big cars. But reality intrudes: depression and fatigue and litigious weenies drive the "supers" underground into government-sponsored witness protection programs, where Bob Parr--a.k.a. Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson)--is now an insurance adjuster forced to tell little old ladies that insurance companies are more interested in protecting their shareholders than they are their clients. The Incredibles takes aim at this country's appalling insurance crisis, but it takes closer aim at the way that an institutionalized policy of force-feeding self-esteem to our kids (no child left behind, indeed) leads to self-loathing, the eradication of gifted and talented programs, and the insanity of celebrating mediocrity. (A sickness that reaches its apogee/nadir in a President who's fond of reminding folks of his "C" average in school.) The oft-repeated mantra of The Incredibles is "If everyone is super, no one is"--and if there's a more important message for a nation of kids who regularly test highest in confidence yet lowest in everything else (the only demographic testing higher in self-confidence than high school kids belongs to convicted felons), I'm not sure what it might be.
Bob is married to Helen, a.k.a. Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), and they have two children, Violet and little Dash (Spencer Fox). In superhero terms, Dash is Flash to Helen's Mr. Fantastic, while Bob's best pal Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) is essentially Iceman in this slightly-askew take on the Marvel/DC universes, which rumbles along as both homage and subversion. That being said, The Incredibles is its own entity, imaginative and full of vitality and, like writer-director Brad Bird's other feature-length animated film The Iron Giant, as wonderful a diversion for older kids as it is a fascinating exercise for adults. Mr. Incredible and Frozone try to recapture old glories by listening to the police band and sneaking out to do good, leading to Mr. Incredible's recruitment by sultry Mirage (Elizabeth Peña) to act as a test subject for a series of militaristic robots. Eventually, a supervillain called Syndrome (Jason Lee) with ties to Mr. Incredible's past resurfaces, leading to a moment of crisis in which the Incredible family has to decide whether or not to embrace their gifts (notably unique, delightfully complementary) in conflict with the edicts of the unwashed mass of simpering "normals."
The Incredibles is an extraordinarily brave film. Suggesting that not all men are created equal is something like attacking the fabric of the American dream--going farther and suggesting that technology and its mass consumption is neither substitute nor salve to the howl of unfulfillable dreaming is close to Commie-talk. What Bird has made, in fact, is an extremely wide-reaching and populist entertainment that speaks frankly about the shape and the texture of the cancer of self-esteem metastasizing at the heart of these increasingly puzzling United States. The Incredibles is the most devastatingly honest indictment of the roots of American arrogance and self-delusion in decades, possibly ever in a "kid's" movie; how deaf and dumb most of the film's adult audience will be to the subversive elements could emerge as the great irony of the piece. When Mr. Incredible wonders angrily why there's a graduation ceremony celebrating the commencement from third to fourth grade, I could feel entire schools of castratingly-democratic thought trembling. If the grown-ups don't get it, but the kids just might, and every great movement begins with one glorious bound...over tall buildings or otherwise.
by Bill Chambers Cleansing the palate of the somewhat junk special features on their Finding Nemo DVD, Pixar's 2-Disc Collector's Edition of The Incredibles is a bottomless treasure trove of edifying and/or entertaining supplementary material capped by a direct-to-digital, 2.39:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of crystalline beauty, nay, perfection.* There's sincerely no point in critiquing the image, though if I may single out one aspect of this presentation: It sports possibly the finest shadow detail I've ever encountered in my many years of reviewing DVDs. (The proof is in chapter 20, Helen's breathtakingly clear nighttime infiltration of Syndrome's island compound.) The attendant Dolby Digital 5.1 EX mix is obviously terrific, having recently earned its creators an Academy Award; worth isolated acclaim is the convincing sidewall imaging that greets every appearance of the velocipods. Meanwhile, the climactic face-off against an attack-robot once again finds a Brad Bird movie coaxing supremely low frequencies from the subwoofer. It should tell you something that at home, the bass on The Incredibles almost dwarfs that of Bird's notoriously rumbly The Iron Giant.
The first of two feature-length yak-tracks pairs Bird with producer John Walker, and like Bird's yakker on The Iron Giant, a stultifying number of props are paid to crewmembers for their contributions to a given tableau. ("Listen, I could spend the entire commentary praising people," he apologizes at roughly the halfway point.) Still, several interesting factoids pepper the conversation--that technology enabled Bird to simulate long lenses, for example. Supervising animators Tony Fucile, Steve Hunter, and Alan Barillaro (a.k.a. the Three Caballeros) informally host the other yakker, an eclectic session that identifies each of the dozen participants by name only once. Despite this, it's not the white noise that group commentaries tend to be, and many an interjection illuminates the pitfalls of 3-D animation. (A deceptively simple tear in the fabric of Bob's suit made everyone wish they were working in 2-D.) Trailers for Cars, Chicken Little, and Cinderella precede the main menu and join previews for Disney's current Hayao Miyazaki promotion, Lilo & Stitch 2, The Incredibles video game, and Disney World's "Twilight Zone Tower of Terror" ride under the heading "Sneak Peeks," while the THX Optimizer and a text-based index round out the platter. Note that in addition to its wealth of bonus content, Disc 2 contains a handful of Easter Eggs (icons to access these materialize when you leave the menu screens idle). Finally, the folks at Pixar have seen fit to transcribe the various commentaries onto subtitle tracks--a charitable gesture long in coming for the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities.
INTRODUCTION (1 min.)
Brad Bird gives a primer on the Rick Butler-produced extras.
DELETED SCENES (34 mins.)
Arguably the heart and soul of the second platter, this is less a look at discarded ideas than it is a window into paths not taken--call it It's An Incredible Life. Bird and story supervisor Mark Andrews provide individual video-based intros and parting thoughts for the six scenes (sequences, really), which are represented by comic book-y, unexpectedly evocative b&w animatics overdubbed by in-house vocal talent. Though the first, a 15-minute alternate opening, was ultimately scrapped because it hastily vanquished Syndrome, important to note that it also so impeccably distils the core ironies of The Incredibles as to be a bit of a wad-shooter. (Original villain Xerek is sadly not elaborated upon, the anomalous shortcoming of this section.) Bird admits he was sorry to see go a couple of disturbing moments, including Syndrome using Bob as a battering ram to destroy his own house. Arguably just as interesting is an elided passage that smuggles a heretofore-unseen character--Helen's pilot from the old days, Snug--into the narrative for the sole purpose of having someone to kill off during the missile lock. What Bird discovered is that Snug's death didn't resonate because he exited within minutes of his entrance, and devoting more screentime to his development was unfeasible. It's this kind of attention to viewer psychology that has the potential to start a bigger revolution in Hollywood than CGI. Hell, this is worth a viewing alone for the occasional pithy, Robert McKee-esque nugget from Bird. To wit? "Dream sequences are the first pain reliever you reach for." Click on the Easter Egg to uncover an additional deleted scene.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Making of The Incredibles (27 mins.)
This overview of the production helps establish that The Incredibles was Pixar's most ambitious endeavour to date, complete with statistics: Finding Nemo, for instance, utilized 22 different "sets," as compared to The Incredibles' 130. Heated debates between Pixar staffers and between Bird and producer John Walker are aired like dirty laundry, probably because they were never about ego. We're also reacquainted with the fact that Bird imported much of his team from The Iron Giant, who had to shake their ingrained 2-D habits--although staffers would ironically resort to consulting Disney's hand-drawn The Jungle Book for lessons in giving objects mass.
More Making of The Incredibles
Story (7 mins.)
Opening with an excerpt from Bird's video diary as he struggles to churn out pages, this longest in a sub-section of mini-documentaries offers insight into the alchemy of Pixar's story department, which has invited as much speculation and misinformation as Mike Leigh's screenwriting process. Focus soon narrows to the "100-Mile Dash," the lush animatic for which is manipulated with such absurd ease by Andrew Jimenez (one of the holdovers from The Iron Giant) that you'll feel tempted to try it at home.
Character Design (5 mins.)
"The reason to do animation is caricature," says Bird at the start of this second featurette; the man ought to put out a book of koans. Teddy Newton, that mild-mannered madman familiar to owners of The Iron Giant Special Edition, may help aspiring Chuck Joneses crack their writer's block in revealing that he reverse-engineers his characters by starting with a gag. To be comprehensive, I was relieved to hear Bob described as having a face modelled on a Roman helmet: couldn't place it, all this time.
E Volution (3 mins.)
Audience fave Edna Mode commands the spotlight in this retracing of her evolution--and the philosophy behind it--from a Cruella De Vil type to the definitive, diminutive incarnation.
Building Humans (6 mins.)
Maybe it's a matter of semantics, but animators like Bill Wise were concerned with believability over realism. Oddly, greater attention is paid to character design in here than in the topic's dedicated featurette, with the struggle to get Violet's hair right, for instance, or the problem of skin without texture appearing too translucent (something that befell the makers of Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas), discussed at length.
Building Extras (2 mins.)
"Universal Man," a flexible digital mannequin, proved a blessing and a curse as Bird became so taken with a few of the background players that he wanted to give them close-ups--potentially exposing their clone status in the bargain. This might explain an offhand observation within the animators' commentary on Disc 1 that Edna Mode's bodyguard bears a suspicious resemblance to Frozone.
Sound (3 mins.)
Filling in for Pixar's regular sound guru Gary Rydstrom, the equally-brilliant Randy Thom (a veteran of Robert Zemeckis pictures) won a well-deserved Oscar for his work on The Incredibles. Thom arguably falls more closely in line with the film's old-school manifesto, preferring as he does to maintain an invisible presence behind the wheel. His mixes are awesome, but they have you cheering the movie as opposed to your speaker system.
Music (5 mins.)
A few moments spent casually in the company of the musicians and engineers endeavouring to realize Michael Giacchino's brass-heavy score--which, in the spirit of nostalgia, was recorded in analog. Giacchino's complaint that modern spy music goes too heavy on the techno seems a not-so-veiled dig at contemporary Bond composer David Arnold.
Lighting (3 mins.)
With just over two minutes to do so, Janet Lucroy lays to rest any doubt that her title of "director of photography" on The Incredibles is wholly justified.
Tools (3 mins.)
Too mindful of alienating Luddites by virtue of its brevity, this glimpse into the unexplored world of software programmers working with/at Pixar to assist animators in conquering the challenge du jour ends before it begins, marking it as a superfluous tease.
Incredi-blunders (2 mins.)
Yeah, 'toon bloopers are stale and idiotic, but at least these are rendering mishaps (set to a vulgar laugh-track) instead of mock outtakes.
Vowellet - An Essay by Sarah Vowell (9 mins.)
The thorny wit of America's preeminent Lincoln fetishist is in full bloom as Sarah Vowell gives 'the "MTV Cribs" tour' of her "superheroic lair," on whose walls hang, among other prized possessions, a map of the United States' autumnal wind patterns and a lock of "abolitionist guerrilla warrior" John Brown's hair. (A gift from her sister, who got a DVD player in return.) On the premise that "being a writer is very visually interesting," Vowell uses the piece as a platform to cross-promote her upcoming book Assassination Vacation, an account of her trip across America to visit the various sites of presidential assassinations. Any excuse to hear Vowell talk is a good one, but this is truly an inspired use of the resources at The Incredibles' disposal.
A six-part gallery categorizing predictably gorgeous conceptual art according to "story," "character design," "set design," "color scripts," "lighting," and "collages."
Character Interviews (6 mins.)
Bob, Helen, Frozone, and Edna submit to tedious junket interviews with George Pennuchio (KABC-TV LA), Nancy O'Dell (Access Hollywood), Jerry Penacoli (Extra), and Patrick Stinson (E!), respectively. Careful, Pixar, this is the sort of lame stunt that DreamWorks would pull.
Two theatrical trailers and one teaser for The Incredibles finish out this sub-section.
The Adventures of Mr. Incredible & Pals (see sidebar) accompanies "NSA Files" for the 21 superheroes mentioned within the film.
A cardboard sleeve slips over the swing-tray keepcase, tucked inside of which is a foldout DVD guide. Originally published: March 7, 2005.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers Disney brings The Incredibles to Blu-ray in the kind of package we've come to expect from Pixar's next-gen titles: upgraded A/V and a handful of new goodies complement the previously-available supplementary material, which is ported over in full. Spread out over two BDs, with third and fourth discs DVDs containing the retail version and a Digital Copy of the film, respectively, the added-value fun begins with "Jack-Jack Attack Exploded," a video-enhanced commentary for the titular short featuring the voices of writer-director Brad Bird, story supervisor Mark Andrews, character designer Teddy Newton, and animator Bret Parker, who also lent her pipes to Kari the babysitter. The participants recall a fear of "imitatable" [sic] behaviour dictating the direction of the story, and in PiP windows we get a montage of Newton's hilarious "reject" ideas for having Jack-Jack drink bleach, stick a fork in an electric socket, and play with a hairdryer in the bathtub. Kindred spirit, this Teddy. "The Incredibles Revisited" (22 mins., HD) is the de rigueur roundtable lookback on the film, reuniting Bird and Newton with producer John Walker, supervising animator Tony Fucile, story artist Mark Andrews, production designer Lou Romano, and supervising technical director Rick Sayre. Their reflection isn't quite as rose-tinted as their contemporary vantage in the recycled extras--the discussion begins with an account of a disastrous meeting with a Disney executive who was outraged to be wasting Pixar's resources on a live-action concept, and includes thinly-veiled criticisms of Bird's managerial style. Sadly, the subject of a sequel never crops up; I can't be the only one who fears that Bird's upcoming Mission: Impossible IV will quench his desire to make it.
Rounding out the "Feature" platter are startup previews for Cars 2 and The Lion King's Blu-ray debut; Jack-Jack Attack and the great Boundin', both bumped up to 1080p and gorgeous 5.1 DTS-HD lossless audio; and of course The Incredibles itself, looking predictably astonishing--finally, all those meticulously-rendered fabrics are given their due--if also conspicuously sharp. Violet's hair is restored to a midnight blue next to impossible to reproduce in NTSC, and mesmerizes. Note that while my receiver flagged The Incredibles for 6.1 playback, according to the fine folks at Blu-ray.com the disc actually contains a 5.1 ES mix, meaning the signal going to the rear-centre channel is matrixed as opposed to discrete. Nevertheless, the DVD's DD 5.1 EX option comes a distant second to this DTS-HD MA track, with its feistier centre channel, warmer, more resonant reproduction of Michael Giacchino's score, and breathtakingly transparent sidewall imaging (see: Dash vs. the flying saucers).
The "Bonus Material" BD begins with "Paths to Pixar: Story Artists" (6 mins., HD), another of those Errol Morris-flavoured segments that interviews a variety of key personnel (such as Andrews, Newton, and Valerie LaPointe) before a stark white backdrop. An overview of the story artist's job segues into memories of early employment, during which it's revealed that a surprising number of Pixar staffers started out as grocery-store employees. Nothing earth-shattering, but inspiring as usual. "Studio Stories: Gary's Birthday" (1 min., HD) crudely animates an amusing anecdote narrated by Bird and Walker about how the name "Gary" became symbolic of everyone who worked at Pixar. "Ending with a Bang: Making the End Credits" (2 mins., HD) traces the mod design of The Incredibles' closing titles back to Romano's colour scripts, which outlined the movie entirely in geometric shapes of colour. Lastly, "The New Nomanisan: A Top Secret Redevelopment Plan" (3 mins., HD) is a mock interactive brochure for Syndrome's private island, newly transformed into a vacation resort with the aid of the Vanquished Villains Redevelopment Fund. (Jason Lee, I think, narrates.) The deleted scenes--though not their video intros--are now in Hi-Def, as is The Incredibles' own teaser trailer, although the remaining "Classic Content" returns in SD. One-time Easter eggs are generously, albeit spoilsportishly, distinguished by a bold-faced sub-menu, and I found I'd never seen many of them before. Worth watching? "Incredibles Socks" (4 mins.)--and that's all I'll say about it. Originally published: April 5, 2011.
*As Bird and Walker cite the shift in aspect ratios early on in the film, I wonder how--or if--the simultaneously-released fullscreen version plans to address this.