Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Incredibles


I am becoming thoroughly sick of my involvement with Bodice Ripper at Camp Sisterwood. Vera Charles, who's playing the lead and I keep looking at each other aghast during the rehearsal process as the ladies of the commune simply cannot seem to come to terms with the demimonde world of Victorian London. Our chorines seem to have modeled their hairstyles on Gerald McRaney so I imported some absolutely lovely wigs from my Maine's Manes line of hairpieces to give them all lovely flowing locks. The howls that went up when I tried to get them to put them on could be heard all the way to Solvang. The shrieks were even louder when I produced the bustiers and garter belts.

After another failed rehearsal of the aerial ballet, (most of the ladies are a little on the portly side and a number of our stagehand fliers have had to bow out from back injury), Vera and I had a little meeting and are preparing to hand in our resignations from the project based on creative differences. We've had a good time together getting reacquainted, however, and would like to move on together for our next project. I've heard rumors of an exciting new musical film version of The Lord of the Flies and Vera is very keen on a stage adaptation of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. I see some possibilities in combining the two into a musical in which a boatload of Regency bucks and maidens are shipwrecked on a tropical isle and devolve into savagery.

We did have a free moment to head off to the local multiplex where we attended a matinee of the new animated film, The Incredibles from Pixar Studios, makers of Toy StoryMonsters Inc. and other modern classics. It is the brainchild of writer/director Brad Bird who had an artistic success, but commercial flop with the animated feature, The Iron Giant some years back. The good folk at Pixar, fortunately, recognized his talent and let him develop this project in their unique CGI animation style, rather than as the traditional hand cel drawn cartoon he had originally envisioned.

The Incredibles tells the story of Mr. Incredible (voice by Craig T. Nelson), a handsome blond superhero in a fantasy megalopolis who has superhuman strength and is able to foil bank robberies and rescue treed kittens with equal aplomb and daring do. He is in love with Elasti-girl (voice by Holly Hunter), a plucky young lady seemingly constructed of a combination of India rubber and Silly putty. One day, in doing a good deed, Mr. Incredible is sued by a man he saves for wrongful life. This leads to a spate of lawsuits across the land against all caped crusaders and they are soon driven out of business and into a government protection program where they are given new, anonymous identities and ordinary lives.

Mr. Incredible and Elasti-girl, now married, end up in a dreary suburbia with their three children, adolescent daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell), who literally becomes invisible to get away from her problems, son Dash (Spencer Fox), who has superhuman speed, and infant Jack Jack who has yet to reveal his superpowers. Trapped in a horrible cubicle job in an insurance firm, Mr. Incredible is lured back into crime fighting by the mysterious Mirage (Elizabeth Pena) where he runs into an old nemesis, Syndrome (Jason Lee) who has a James Bondesque secret lair and plans for domination. It's up to Mr. Incredible and his family to save the day.

This is a film that could have gone very wrong very easily, but Brad Bird's smart and savvy script carries the day. He pokes fun at the conventions of comic books and the films made for them with fun references and send ups of all sorts, giving kids a chance to enjoy the surface layer and parents to snicker at the subtext. Not only does he parody the whole genre, he also takes on James Bond and all of his clones with multiple shots and sequences straight out of that series, usually with a twist. What drives the film, however, is not the eye-popping action sequences, but the human moments and character interactions. Mr. Incredible's attempting to cope with the dreary routines of office life; the domestic dramas of the dinner table and, best of all, visits to Edna Mode (voice by director Bird), costume designer to the superhero world who takes it upon herself to outfit the family in an updated look. Edna, part Edith Head, part Elsa Klensch and part Yoko Ono, is an original comic creation and the audacity of placing such a character in this type of film and getting away with it, makes you recognize just how good Bird is as both director and storyteller.

The voice casting is spot on with both Nelson and Hunter giving super performances, which carry over into the nuances of facial expression and body language of their characters. CGI animation has improved by leaps and bounds in recent years. Pixar's first feature effort, Toy Story had difficulties portraying a recognizable human, but the new techniques of computer rendering of skeleton and musculature and then placing digital skin over these underpinnings, are solving this and creating a much more realized world, with much more fully developed characters, not the flat creatures of earlier.

The film isn't perfect. The second half drags somewhat and could have used a bit of judicious editing. It's quite long, at 121 minutes, for an animated film, and some of the later sequences feel a bit forced to pad out a running time. I would have preferred a film ten minutes shorter which left me wanting more. Jason Lee's character can be a bit annoying and I wanted Edna to show up for the resolution in some way and was a tad disappointed when she didn't.

All in all, however, this is a true family film. It will be enjoyed by all ages (although it may be a bit long and intense for those younger than six or seven, depending on their level of maturity and sensitivity). By all means, take the kids to a matinee.

Superhero wedding. Bomb Voyage. Little old lady corporate defrauding. Steak cutting. Boy on tricycle. Jet piloting. Force field creation. Curtain of lava. Indestructible battle robots. Flying recreational vehicle.

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