Wednesday, January 6, 2010

#400: The Incredibles (2004)

Director: Brad Bird
Cast: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Spencer Fox, Sarah Vowell & Jason Lee

After a string of lawsuits against the superheroes of the world, they’ve been forced to remain in their secret identities. Among them, the former Mr. Incredible works in an insurance agency to support his wife (the former Elastigirl) and his three kids, two of which have already shown signs of superpowers while the third is still an infant. An unexpected message is found in his home offering him a job in which his powers are required. The chance to perform at his best once again is too tempting, but he soon discovers that he is in fact working for who used to be his biggest fan who is now bent on killing all superheroes, especially Mr. Incredible himself.

What makes The Incredibles especially stand out is beyond the exterior of a great action/comedy animation is its use of themes inspired directly from Ayn Rand. The moment this connection is made, the viewer will never quite see the movie the same way again. But first, let me give a brief summary of Ayn Rand.

Rand was a Russian-born American writer and the founder of objectivism. This philosophy puts emphasis on the individual, demanding that one strives to be the best, and talent should always be promoted. She also rejected altruism, believing that it supports those who have no reason to be supported. Spreading her philosophy through her two greatest novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, she became one of the most controversial characters in American literature.

The Incredibles takes all of the greatness from Atlas Shrugged and takes only the good stuff from objectivism. Throughout the film, various characters make the statement that if everyone is special, then nobody is. With superheroes representing talented people, we see that some people are special, and their work should be appreciated, not brought down to mediocrity. However, the film rejects Rand’s disdain for altruism and family ideals (of which there is no sign in the characters of Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead). Family is one of the most important themes in the film, and of course altruism is a must for any good guy in a superhero flick. Also, in true Randian flare, a great visual reference is made when Mr. Incredible is holding up a gigantic spherical robot on his shoulders, paying tribute to the classic image of Atlas holding the world on his shoulders, which was the cover of Atlas Shrugged.

But I simply can’t end with my praise for the Randian themes. The film has got both flesh and blood, so now let’s talk about what we see outwardly. The characters are each so colorful, and the voice acting is second to none. The action is thrilling; nobody will get through this movie without wanting to run as fast as Dash, who finds himself so fast that he can run across water. And the action is enhanced greatly by the jazzy score by Michael Giacchino, whose music references back to the classic James Bond scores. Other references to 60’s action films are made throughout, such as the googie architecture (see the trivia section below), and most especially the montage of interviews with some of the main heroes just before they were forced underground.

This is one of Pixar’s best thanks to its highly original animation style, its energetic soundtrack, and its – ahem – incredible story. The film is undoubtedly the most action-packed of all Pixar films, and it’s a great watch, no matter how many times you watch. I’m hoping this first step into the top 400 is a sign that the horrible choices Empire had made are coming to an end…!

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):

  • Syndrome's zero-point energy beam is based on an actual physics concept, the zero-point field, demonstrated in 1948 via the Casimir Effect and essential to Stephen Hawking's theory that black holes eventually evaporate. Harnessing the zero-point field would be quite a feat, as it would yield a truly infinite source of energy.
  • The unusual architecture in the film was based on a distinctive style of 1950s space-age futurism known as Googie, most often seen in coffee shops and bowling alleys of the era. Tiki architecture, another 1950s pop style and often considered a form of Googie, is also exemplified in many of the island sets.
  • In the whole movie, you can see 35 explosions, 189 buttons being pressed, and approximately 640 gunshots.
  • Edna, the costume lady, is based on Edith Head, who worked as a studio costume designer on hundreds of movies over more than fifty years.
  • Samuel L. Jackson was cast as the voice of Frozone because Brad Bird wanted the character to have the coolest voice.
  • The name of the island that Mr. Incredible is summoned to, Nomanisan Island, is a reference to the well-known book title: "No Man is an Island", written by Thomas Merton, in turn a reference to John Donne's Meditation XVII, 'The Bell': "No man is an island, entire of itself..."

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