by Ed Symkus

The first animated feature not to be called a cartoon was Toy Story, which also happened to be the first computer-generated offering that was born out of the Disney-Pixar match-up. It wasn't a cartoon, it wasn't stop action, it wasn't a live film. It was something entirely new, genre-wise. And it was, in the line of so much other Disney product, a kids' film that adults could appreciate.

That's the norm in animation these days. Make something for the kids, but be sure the parents are entertained, too. With The Incredibles, the newest, and likely the last film to come from Disney-Pixar (the partners are in the midst of a money-related split), the ratio of what's for kids and what's for adults has changed quite a bit.

There isn't a kid around who won't be captivated by the look and sound and general wildness of the story, and it's most likely appropriate for any audience member, age 7 and up (a couple of intense creature scenes could upset younger viewers). But this is without a doubt an adult movie.

The world's superheroes are being sued by people who don't want to be saved or are injured during rescues, so all superheroes are retired and brought into the superhero relocation program, but then things go wrong. The script's issues include getting older; living out your dreams, then having them shattered; balancing family with work; keeping up a healthy family relationship; dealing with pent-up frustration, and lots more.

Yet wrapped around all of that is the shining result of a group of brilliant artists and technicians. The writing, directing, animating, acting is the best seen so far in a film like this. It's also hilarious and action-packed, filled to the brim with exquisite visuals, and featuring a vile villain and a multi-leveled, complex plot.

In the carefree early parts, the biggest problem our main hero, Mr. Incredible (voice of Spokane native Craig T. Nelson), has to deal with is deciding whether to go after a gun-toting criminal or help a little old lady whose cat is up a tree. But add to that the appearances of a bad guy, cleverly named Bomb Voyage, and a pesky wannabe superhero who calls himself Incrediboy. Suffice it to say, there's no rest for Mr. Incredible.

Then the retirement ruling comes down from the government, and suddenly it's 15 years later, with Mr. Incredible (powers: strength and stamina) now just plain Bob, toiling away at an insurance claims desk job, married to the former Elastigirl (power: she can streeeetch), now just plain Helen. They still have their powers; they just can't use them. Two of their three kids also have powers -- Dash has speed, while Violet (voiced by This American Life's Sarah Vowell) has invisibility.

"Go save the world one policy at a time," says feisty Helen (Holly Hunter) to bored Bob, even though she knows he's still living in the past, craving to get back into the old Mr. Incredible suit. And she has to keep warning the kids not to use their powers -- because this family is supposed to be normal.

Comic interludes are everywhere, many of them revolving around big lug Bob's size and strength. As the story develops, Bob gets a mysterious phone call and eventually becomes enmeshed in a secret project (secret even from Helen) that does allow him to take that suit out of the closet. Then a lot of the humor delivery is turned over to diminutive, shiny-haired Edna, fashion designer extraordinaire with an uncertain accent, who specializes in durable, useful superhero suits. "They're indestructible and can breathe like Egyptian cotton," she boasts.

It's in the film's second half that the action really picks up. There are sight gags galore, but there are also more encounters with villains, including a really scary and very destructive robot called Omnidroid. The locale switches from the bland city of Metroville to a jungle island that would make any James Bond nemesis feel right at home (partly because of all the Bondian music).

And despite the almost constant sense of menace involving evil secrets and insidious plans near the end, the reminder of the importance of family never goes away, nor does the comedy. Even when Bob seems to have his strength under control, there's plenty more fun to be had with Helen accidentally letting her elastipowers slip.

It's a film filled with as much emotion as action. Check out the look on Dash's face when he first realizes the extent of his powers during a land-air-water chase that leaves the flying scooter scene in Return of the Jedi in the dust. Samuel L. Jackson provides the voice for Frozone (power: mastery of ice). And in the ever-changing computer generation department, ice, fire and water have never looked more, well, incredible.

Publication date: 11/04/04

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