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‘The Incredibles’ another Pixar classic

A family of superheroes is forced out of retirement to save the world. By John Hartl

Pixar, the animation studio that created “Toy Story” and “Finding Nemo” and seems immune to failure, hits another one out of the park with “The Incredibles” — a hilarious, slightly scary and endlessly inventive feature-length cartoon about a family composed of superheroes.

Dad, or Mr. Incredible (voice by Craig T. Nelson), has great strength and agility. Mom, aka Elastigirl (an instantly recognizable Holly Hunter), can stretch and bend her limbs into all kinds of life-saving forms, including a parachute. Their kids are Dash (Jack Spencer), who moves at super speed, and Violet (Sarah Vowell), who creates force fields and can make herself invisible. The only relatively normal member of the family is a chattering baby.

In the grand tradition of superheroes who are required to hide their abilities (Superman, Spiderman, Batman, etc.) and pretend to be normal, The Incredibles have been forced to put their superhero costumes in the closet. Indeed, they’re in so much trouble, thanks to a series of lawsuits, that they’ve become part of the government’s Superhero Relocation Program.

Naturally they can’t keep their true identities hidden forever in the suburbs. Indeed, their coming-out party is what drives the plot. That, and a villain named Buddy (Jason Lee), who was once a devoted fan of Mr. Incredible but now holds a grudge against him.

As Kathy Bates proved in “Misery,” one should always be careful about any admirer who identifies himself as a “No. 1 fan” — which is how Buddy defines himself. Dismissed by Mr. Incredible when he was a teenager, the brooding Buddy comes back to haunt and harass him. This, of course, means war, the kind that allows each member of the family to demonstrate his/her own specialty.

The writer-director, Brad Bird, also contributes the voice of  Edna Mode, a thoroughly eccentric creator of the family’s costumes, who was inspired by Edith Head and suggests a wacky variation on James Bond’s preparation team. Indeed, the film’s second half suggests a gadget-happy Bond movie, set on an island that has its own volcano.

Bird is best-known for directing an excellent feature cartoon, “The Iron Giant,” that was made for Warner Bros. and bombed at the box office five years ago. He developed “The Incredibles” at Warners, then took it to Pixar, where the project has been given the Pixar polish: computer-generated animation that gives the non-human characters an almost human quality.

The political slant of “The Incredibles” is as hard to read as the politics of “Team America: World Police,” but it’s also unavoidable. The lawsuits that drive the Incredibles underground are blamed on trial lawyers. The script includes swipes at schools that insist that all kids are special, which means that none truly are. It also mocks a villain who is obsessed with weapons of mass destruction and uses fear to gain power. 

According to a New York Times interview, Bird “professes frustration with both major political parties.” It shows, but not in a way that is likely to date the movie. Indeed, it might just make it timeless.