The Incredibles is the greatest animated film of all time. No beating around the bush; it’s the best. The most exciting, the most visually amazing (especially at the time), the most emotionally satisfying, the most everything. At least, it’s my favorite, and I can’t think of an animated film I’d rather watch if I had the choice. Making it even better, it’s now on Blu-ray in a fantastic (although somewhat derivative) four-disc set.
Superhero movies have become all about the angst of being a superhero. Being a superhero kind of sucks. It’s hard, it’s dark, it’s not so fun. Brad Bird took that idea and turned it on its head in 2004’s classic animated film, The Incredibles, by showing the angst of not being a superhero, when you are, in fact, pretty darn super. The story of the superheroes-in-hiding Parr family still gives plenty of “Pow,” “Slam,” and “Whappo,” but teams it with an insightful suburban family crisis about a man who feels he’s not making the most of his life, when making the most of his life would involve saving the whole damn world.
Fifteen years after “Supers” were outlawed in a blizzard of lawsuits, the former Mr. Incredible, Bob Parr (voiced by Craig T. Nelson), is dying inside. How do you work for Insuracare as a claims denier when you used to drive around in a cool Incredimobile, stop trains with your super strength, and battle the likes of Bomb Voyage? You withdraw from your wife, Ellen (Holly Hunter), the former Elastigirl, and search out excitement with your pal, Lucius (Samuel L. Jackson), the former Frozone -- that’s how. But trying to save people on the sly just isn’t getting it done, and he’s having a hard time adjusting to suburban life and raising his three (super in their own right) kids: Dash (Spencer Fox), Violet (Sarah Vowel), and baby Jack-Jack. As a neighbor kid says when asked by Bob what he’s waiting for outside their house, "I don’t know, something amazing, I guess.” Bob drolly responds with, “Me too, kid.”
Writer/director Bird sets up the frustration of the entire family held back from being all they really can be. The Parrs are like any family, but when the Bob gets mad, he can pick up a car. When the siblings fight, they can toss out force fields. As Bob seeks action, he is set up by Mirage (Elizabeth Pena) to unwittingly help her boss, Syndrome (Jason Lee), create a robot that threatens to overpower any force. This turns everything into more of a standard superhero movie, but with the undercurrents of family relationships. It works brilliantly.
One drawback of the angsty superhero movie is that they can turn a film both slow and dark. There is no such problem with The Incredibles. The visuals leap of the screen, the colors are bright, and even the most emotionally fraught moments move briskly along. The movie never slows down, never hits a wrong note, and never gets boring or talky. Even watching Bob alone, thinking his wife and kids are dead and gasping in pain, is a powerful moment, but not a moment that needs to bring the whole film to a stop.
Not only is The Incredibles exciting, it’s damn funny, too. The obvious comic moments, such as Bird voicing “E,” the Supers own suit designer, are hilarious. It seems ridiculous that a discussion of a costumed superhero’s suit would take so long and be so thoroughly enjoyable. While “E” is probably the funniest thing in the movie, there is a lot of causal humor throughout. The scene where Helen is using her elastic powers to find Bob in Syndrome’s island lair is just a wonder of comic action. Even here, Bird doesn’t let the family dynamic down, with Bob and Helen fighting about which exit to take in order to get downtown and save the world. It’s not lame, like that Robin Williams RV movie. It’s actually funny, and blends seamlessly with the action and the emotion.
That’s not even mentioning the wonderful music by Michael Giacchino, the voice work, the character design, the wowzer end credits, the hilarious babysitter, and hundreds of other small and large moments that make The Incredibles such a pleasure to watch. When the family puts on their masks at the end of the flick to take on The Underminer, I wished with every fiber of my being that this movie would not end.
The Blu-ray set of The Incredibles is, not to put too fine a point on it, super. Not only do you get a great movie in glorious HD, but there is also a DVD copy and a portable copy. That’s some good eatin’. If, you know, the discs were some type of food. In addition to the many formats, there are tons of extras, some copied from previous DVD editions, but a few that are brand new.
The main benefit of this version over previous versions is the “incredible” picture and sound quality. This is a movie that deserves the clearest, sharpest, boldest picture possible, and that’s what the Blu-ray delivers. It’s hard to say too much about how great this movie looks and how much greater it looks in HD.
The other major new item in this set is a 20-minute discussion called “The Incredibles Revisited.” All of the major technical people, including Director Brad Bird and producer John Walker, gathered to discuss the movie especially for the Blu-ray. It is an interesting discussion that has the benefit of time and perspective. They recount some info about the project that you won’t hear in the myriad of other extras and commentaries, and it’s always good to hear people’s thoughts five or six years later.
The other new items aren’t as interesting as the roundtable, and most are fairly short. There is a five-minute featurette on what story artists do, which has almost no direct relationship to the movie, although they do use storyboards from the movie as illustration. It’s more a “if you’re interested in getting into animated movies, here’s a job for you” recruiting short. There is also a two-minute extra on the super-cool closing credits that they should have spent more time on, and a brief throwaway piece about how Syndrome’s lair is turned into a vacation destination. Finally, in what can only be described as “padding,” they show some pencil drawings that illustrate how they blew off steam during the production of the movie.
In addition to the new material, there is a whole slew of extras that have been carried over from the previous DVD edition. This includes two fantastic commentary tracks. The one with Bird and Walker is, literally, as good as it gets in terms of film commentaries. The second is a collection of artists who are indistinguishable from each other, but are great for really getting into how things work. You can’t blame them for not recording a Blu-ray-specific commentary since the one’s they have are so great to begin with.
There are two shorts, Jack-Jack Attack and Boundin’, both with commentaries. The Jack-Jack Attack commentary is new with the Blu-ray and includes some picture-in-picture stuff that is pretty clever. Jack-Jack Attack is one of my favorite shorts of all time for the reason mentioned in the commentary: it actually ties into the movie. Rather than taking the characters and doing something new with them, they show a scene that fits in perfectly with some things in the movie, but all took place off screen. I can’t remember seeing that before, and it’s just great. Boundin’, which I’ve never really loved, is still pretty freakin’ cute.
The Incredibles Blu-ray has the same 35 minutes of deleted scenes from the earlier release, but now they are in HD. As is usual with animated deleted scenes, they are more storyboards than anything, but you do get a lengthy alternate opening that would have taken the movie in a completely different direction. Brad Bird provides comments about all the scenes.
The Blu-ray also recycles about 90 minutes of “making-of” and behind-the-scenes material, but it’s all good stuff. This isn't limited to the standard “here’s how (or why) we did this” kinds of things, but includes 10 full minutes on oddball writer Sarah Vowell, who voiced Violet, and a Saturday morning-style cartoon staring Mr. Incredible and Frozone, with a commentary by Mr. Incredible and Frozone themselves! Also, it’s very cool to have all the DVD easter eggs in one place, although I have to admit the sock-puppet version of the movie was more stupid than funny.
The set is rounded out with the usual art galleries, trailers, fake interviews with the animated characters, and a few other odds and ends, including a voucher for an upcoming Pixar movie. If you have the DVD set, it’s probably worth it to upgrade for the much crisper picture and a few new knick-knacks. And if you are thinking of making the plunge into Blu-ray, The Incredibles will make a great start for your collection. It’s one of the best things out there.