The Incredibles was a first for Pixar in multiple ways. It was their first PG rated movie, when all their previous movies were rated G. It was the first Pixar movie starring human characters. Most of their previous movies featured humans, but the closest thing to a major human character was Andy in the first Toy Story. And it was the first Toy Story movie directed by someone from outside the company.
Director Brad Bird developed the movie as a tribute of sorts to 1960’s comics and spy films that he enjoyed as a kid. Bird started out as an animator, working on Disney movies like Fox and the Hound and The Black Cauldron (uncredited in both), as well as a couple animated movies for other companies. He pitched the film to Pixar after his directorial debut, The Iron Giant, received very positive reception but failed to make a profit during its initial release. He pitched the idea to John Lasseter himself, the two of them being old friends from college. He wanted it to be a funny superhero movie, but The Iron Giant’s failure in the box office filtered darker elements into the movie’s storytelling. Although they had reservations, Pixar accepted the pitch and Disney agreed to distribute the movie.
At the time, the separation between Pixar and Disney was growing wider, but we’ll get into that another time.
The concept for The Incredibles began in 1993, when Bird sketched the Incredibles superhero family during a time when he was trying to break into film. He imagined it as a throwback to 1960’s superhero comics and spy thrillers, initially planning it as a 2D cel animation. After Pixar accepted his pitch, they signed him on to a multi-film contract in 2000. Bird was written and directed solely by Bird, another departure for Pixar that often used a team of writers and often used co-directors. Amazingly enough, he also voiced Edna, a fashion businesswoman who develops new uniforms for the Incredibles during the movie.
The Incredibles was animated much differently than previous Pixar movies. In the past, Pixar movies were created almost entirely by CG, with only storyboards to go by. The Incredibles however contained story elements that would be very difficult to animate with CGI back then. For one, humans are widely considered to be the most difficult thing to execute in animation. That’s still fairly true today. Pixar animators filmed themselves walking to help better grasp human motion. They needed new technology to properly animate detailed human anatomy, clothing, and realistic skin and hair. And they extensively used interactive storyboards and touches of 2d animation as references, which the in-house Pixar animators found much more useful than they expected.
Bird brought along with him a good chunk of his animation team from The Iron Giant, who all specialized in 2D animation. They all needed to learn how to animate in 3D, including Brad Bird himself. Bird found working in CG freeing in a sense, calling the camera’s ability to easily switch angles in a 3D environment “marvelously adaptable”. Although he also found working on the software difficult, using the words “sophisticated and not particularly friendly”. He also wrote the film not understanding the complications that came with CG animation. Despite that, Pixar decided to go with it anyway, ending up with what was by far their most visually complex movie to date.
The ambitious script left Pixar with four times the environments of any previous Pixar movie and a longer runtime (almost 2 hours, when most Pixar movies up to that point were slightly longer than 1 hour). Supervising technical director Rick Sayre said that the hardest thing about the film is that there was no hardest thing. Among their challenges included fire, water, air, smoke, steam and explosions, all of which were still fairly new to CGI animation (although advancements in Finding Nemo at least helped with the water). There were plenty of special effects shots, many of which used as visual gags, like Mr. Incredible smashing a car window by shutting the door too hard.
Human skin was made far more realistic thanks to a new technology called “subsurface scattering”. It allowed light to partially move through objects to add visual depth. One sequence near the end of the movie, involving the baby Jack-Jack, was especially difficult when they needed to show on-screen transformations. Bird self-admitted by the end of production that he “had the knees of [the studio] trembling under the weight”, but called the film a testament to Pixar’s talent. “Basically, I came into a wonderful studio, frightened a lot of people with how many presents I wanted for Christmas, and then got almost everything I asked for.”
The Incredibles is also the first of several Pixar movies to be scored by Michael Giacchino. Bird wanted a specific sound to match the film’s visual design. He wanted the soundtrack to sound 60’s-ish. They recorded the soundtrack on analog tapes when most movies were going digital at the time. Through doing this, they realized that the deep bass sounds worked much better on the analog equipment than digital recordings. The soundtrack itself would go on to win multiple awards, including the Annie Award, several Film Critics Society awards, and was nominated for the Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media award at the Grammys.
The Incredibles released in November of 2004. Despite concerns that its performance would be underwhelming, it enjoyed the highest opening weekend numbers in Pixar history with $70 million. That wouldn’t be topped until Toy Story 3 in 2010. It was also the highest opening weekend for a non-sequel animated feature, and the best opening weekend for a non-franchise film in history … until James Cameron’s Avatar 5 years later. It was also number one in its second weekend, only dropping by 29%, and would ultimately earn $631 worldwide. It was the fourth highest earning movie of 2004, and the second highest animated movie (behind Shrek 2 at $919 million).
The critics loved the movie as well, giving it a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes and an average score of 8.3/10. As of January 2018, it remains the 20th highest rated animated movie of all-time on the website. It won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, making this the second year in a row that Pixar won the award. It also won the award for Best Sound Editing, making it Pixar’s first movie to win multiple awards. Additional Academy Award nominations included Best Original Screenplay and Best Sound Mixing. The Wall Street Journal called it 2004’s best movie. The Incredibles won other awards as well, but it’s time to talk about the movie itself.
The Incredibles often compared to The Fantastic Four, and for good reason. It’s about a family of superheroes. They even have comparable powers to an extent. Elastigirl (the mother) stretches her body the same way that Mr. Fantastic does. Although Mr. Incredible is handsome looking, he’s strong and durable like The Thing. Violet, their daughter, can turn invisible and create force fields, like Invisible Woman. Dash is the outlier with his super speed powers instead of having an equivalent to The Human Torch. Of course, there’s also the family friend, Frozone, with iceman-like powers. Oh, and Frozone is voiced by Samuel L. Jackson. That’s just awesome.
This movie is so much fun. It’s a great superhero movie with exciting action, characters using their powers in creative ways and a sense of history behind superheroes within the universe. Most of the jokes land, and there may be times when you’ll find yourself grinning even if there are no jokes. The villain, Syndrome, feels like a legitimate threat. He’s clearly delusional and all about the fame, but that’s part of what makes him a great villain. One theme this movie touches on is how the villains won’t hold back just because they’re fighting kids, something that Brad Bird found frustrating in the cartoons and comics he enjoyed as a kid.
Even though the movie is a lot of fun, there’s still some great drama behind the story. Mr. Incredible is forced to live a mediocre life for years. He starts the movie off as bored, distracted and unintentionally distant from the rest of his family. He craves the adventures of old. His children have their problems as well, like Violet being shy and unconfident, and Dash is wrestles with the fact that he can’t use his powers in public. And while Elastigirl seems to be fine with her situation, she doesn’t understand that everyone else in her family is clearly missing something. While their family isn’t quite in crisis, they’re not really a happy family either.
Through his adventure, Mr. Incredible learns to value his family, and he becomes much happier as a result. Through extreme circumstances, Violet finds confidence in herself and as a result, her force field powers grow immensely. And Dash finds a proper outlet to unleash his power. Even Elastigirl learns to let go a bit, and learns what the rest of her family needs. By the end of the movie they’re a much closer and happier family. Everything about their personal journeys feels organic.
If you like superhero movies, you’ll very likely enjoy this. Even though it’s not Fantastic Four, there’s a chance this is the closest thing we’ll ever get to a good Fantastic Four movie. It’s also a great drama, the 60’s spy elements are well done, and I’d say it’s arguably better for little kids than Finding Nemo despite its PG rating. It’s also worth noting that Pixar’s next movie is The Incredibles 2, to be released in June this year. I’m looking forward to it.
Next up is Cars, which I don’t necessarily dislike, but it’s probably my least favourite of the Pixar movies I’ve seen. After that it’s Ratatouille and WALL-E. This year is WALL-E’s 10th anniversary by the way.