by Steve Habrat
The family who argues together saves the world together in director Brad Bird’s 2004 superhero adventure The Incredibles. One of the most action packed Pixar offerings, The Incredibles is a zippy homage to comic books while also pulling back the curtain on the suburban family and allowing us to see what makes every member of the All-American family tick. While The Incredibles, which was also written by Bird, borrows heavily from the critically acclaimed comic book Watchmen, Bird and the Pixar team tweak the storyline is multiple places, watering Watchmen’s extremely complex storyline down, and allowing the focus to be much more intimate. The results are dazzling with snappy jokes, gripping action, and one perfectly timed joke after another. The Incredibles is also a much more adult film, running two hours with multiple suggestive moments and really earning its PG rating. This is far from the warm and cuddly offerings that Pixar is famous for, especially when we glance back at the films that came before The Incredibles. This is the film that really showed the world the emotional punches that Pixar could throw at audiences all while keeping them wildly entertained and mesmerized.
The Incredibles ushers us into Metroville, where multiple superheroes fly through the sky and save the innocent civilians from destructive foes looking to level the city. We meet Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible (Voiced by Craig T. Nelson), his wife Helen Parr/Elastigirl (Voiced by Holly Hunter), and his best buddy Lucius Best/Frozone (Voiced by Samuel L. Jackson), all who team up together to rid the city of scum. After the government grows weary of all the collateral damage caused by the “Supers”, they put into place the “Supers Relocation Program”, which forces “Supers” to retire their crime fighting ways and fit in with the rest of society. Bob and Helen soon retreat to the suburbs and Bob takes a job at an insurance agency while Helen raises their three children, Dash (Voiced by Spencer Fox), Violet (Voiced by Sarah Vowell), and the toddler Jack-Jack. Bob, who longs to relive his superhero days, is bored with white-collar conformity and grows more and more frustrated with each passing day. After loosing his temper at his job and getting fired, Bob finds himself approached by the mysterious Mirage (Voiced by Elizabeth Pena), who asks Bob to stop a deadly rogue robot on a remote island. Mirage promises Bob that if he can successfully destroy the robot, he will receive a reward. Bob defeats the robot and he soon begins getting other missions from Mirage, all while leaving Helen in the dark about his new job. Bob soon learns that these missions are being controlled by Syndrome (Voiced by Jason Lee), a super-villain who masterminds countless destructive weapons and has a plan that will wipe the retired superheroes off the planet.
At just under two hours, The Incredibles is given room to really develop its characters to the fullest extent possible, paving the way for weighty superhero films that followed in its wake (the next year would see Batman Begins hit theaters, which would set the bar even higher for the superhero genre). We get to see the day-to-day of each Parr family member, seeing what secrets they hide and how they deal with having extraordinary powers while living ordinary lives. Bob has to take mental torment from his boss, each little mental shove just bringing Bob closer to tossing him around like a ragdoll. Violet is an outcast at her high school, hiding behind thick black bangs and practically fainting at the sight of her crush. When he notices her, she activates her power to turn invisible. The troublemaking whippersnapper Dash enjoys placing tacks on his teacher’s chair, using his lightning fast speed to keep the teacher scratching his bald head over how Dash is pulling the prank off. Helen, who acts as the housewife glue of the family, wears a happy face as she spoons meatloaf and green beans onto her family’s dinner plates. Meanwhile, Bob rounds up Lucius for “bowling night”, which really consists of the duo sitting in a car listening to a police scanner and chatting about the good old days. Lucius, now married, tries to keep his wife happy by not ruining special meals, even while a robot pummels downtown Metroville. Each hero is given their conformist demons and they grapple with how to tackle those demons, realizing that they really do need each other to work these issues out.
The supporting characters of The Incredibles are just as fun and hilarious as the first string. Bird thinks up a really nifty villain in Syndrome, who as a boy was Mr. Incredible’s biggest fan. Syndrome, whose real name is Buddy Pine, was always eager to help Mr. Incredible out even when Mr. Incredible would tell him to stay out of the way. Being wounded by his idol makes him all the more interesting and sinister when he is dishing out his payback to Mr. Incredible. Mirage is a character that is a bit underused but I did enjoy the way she would vacillate back and forth from evil to hero. I really enjoyed being kept in the dark over which side she would be aligned with next. The scene-stealer here is Edna Mode (Voiced by Brad Bird), an oriental fashion designer who comes up with the costumes worn by the “Supers”. A chic pint sized motor mouth, Edna is hysterical when explaining why she dislikes capes and recoiling from Mr. Incredible’s dated superhero get up. She really shines when she unveils a new line of outfits for the entire Parr clan. She also seems like she could be a villain in future Incredibles installments, seeming to get quite a bit of joy out of Bob and Helen’s rocky marriage.
You will be surprised to know that The Incredibles never feels like almost two hours. The film flies by and before you know it, you are right smack dab in the middle of a thunderous final showdown between one of Syndrome’s horrifying creations and the Parr clan. The action will keep the kids glued to the screen, even more so than some of the other Pixar films. While the film does get a bit heavy when it deals with the inner workings of a rocky marriage, the kids won’t really notice and instead by enamored with all the nifty gadgets and laughing over Edna. For fans of comic books and superhero films, The Incredibles is essential viewing and in my opinion ranks as one of the better superhero films to emerge from Hollywood. It is just as interested with the people under the cowls and what they carry around in their heavy hearts. Easily in my top three Pixar films of all time, The Incredibles is a touching film about the beauty of family and friends, all while being a relentlessly entertaining superhero thrill ride packed with gut-busting humor and wit. Let’s hope the Parr clan returns to save the world again.
The Incredibles is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
If I had to pick Pixar’s least accessible film, I would have to go with Brad Bird’s 2007 offering Ratatouille. Featuring some of their finest voice work, particularly from funnyguy Patton Oswalt as the rodent chef, clean animation, and a dreamy score, Ratatouille is one of Pixar’s artiest creations in their line of work. While it may not appeal as much to the kiddies, Ratatouille is crafted more for the adult viewer, featuring more adult humor rather than easy gags that will keep a ten year old howling at the screen. Personally, I find Ratatouille one of Pixar’s funniest films, yet the subtext, with it’s anybody-can-do-anything-if-you-set-your-mind-to-it message, is a little too simple minded, especially since Pixar is capable of infusing their films with some major real world weight. I did find the way the film skewers uptight critics, the ones who are so rooted to their opinion and refusing to alter that opinion extremely well executed. It seemed a bit personal too, since this is the film that was the follow-up to Cars, the first Pixar film that failed to run off with the imagination of some critics.
Ratatouille introduces us to Remy (Voiced by Oswalt), a rat who loves to cook and is blessed with a sharp sniffer that gets him the job of detecting rat poison in the food that the rest of his rat colony gathers. The colony is lead by Remy’s stern father Django (Voiced by Brain Dennehy) and his goofy brother Emilie (Voiced by Peter Sohn), both who voice disgust over Remy’s trust of humans. After having to make a hasty evacuation from their rural dwelling, Remy gets separated from the rest of the pack and ends up in downtown Paris, right at the doorstep of the famed fine dining restaurant Gusteau’s. Remy, who happens to a huge fan of the late Auguste Gusteau (Voiced by Brad Garrett), the chef behind the famous restaurant, fully believes in Gusteau’s message “anyone can cook.” After ending up in Gusteau’s kitchen, Remy crosses paths with newly hired garbage boy Alfredo Linguini (Voiced by Lou Romano), an uptight klutz who can’t cook to save his skin. While exploring the kitchen, Remy notices Linguini accidentally mess up a pot of soup, which he quickly tries to fix but is caught by Linguini. A bowl of the soup is served and the customer begins raving about how delicious the soup is. The rest of Gusteau’s staff believe that Linguini is responsible for the soup but Linguini knows that it was actually Remy that fixed it. Linguini soon grabs the attention of the cranky head chef Skinner (Voiced by Ian Holm) and an even crankier food critic Anton Ego (Voiced by Peter O’Toole), both eager to reveal him a fraud.
What makes Ratatouille such a delicious treat is the budding friendship between Linguini and Remy, both who realize that they ultimately need each other to succeed. Linguini needs Remy because he can’t loose another job and Remy needs Linguini to pursue his dream of becoming a chef. The film also develops a love story between Linguini and another member of Gusteau’s staff Colette (Voiced by Janeane Garofalo), who is forced into keeping an eye on the jumpy Linguini. The love story is fitting since the film is taking place in the city of love. The film also has Remy finding his father and brother, small little detours in the story that stress to Remy that he shouldn’t be so trusting of the humans. The film knows that Emile and Django are slightly bland characters so Bird smartly doesn’t focus on them too much. The film really gets moving when Remy discovers a way to control Linguini (pulling strands of his hair) so that they can continue to fool Skinner and Ego into thinking that Linguini is really cooking and not being controlled by a rat. This is where the film embraces some heavy physical comedy that will really appeal to the tots.
Ratatouille is a film that isn’t content with having one major villain but two antagonists to drive Linguini and Remy to the brink of madness. Skinner is a pint-sized terror as he tries to discover how Linguini is able to cook so well, especially since he is such a bumbling goofball. He is hilarious in his attempts to barge in to rooms to catch Linguni talking to Remy and he tries to get him drunk in the hopes that Linguini will spill the beans about his little helper. Skinner is also trying to capitalize on Gusteau’s name with a line of wretched frozen meals that he is eager to get into supermarket freezers. The skeletal Ego is also a pretentious nightmare as he spews his dislike for Gusteau’s motto and his restaurant, finding the food beneath his refined palette. He sits in his coffin shaped den typing away one negative review after another while sending shivers down his butler’s spine. Ego, who practically gags at the mention of Gusteau’s, gets a witty exchange late in the film with Linguini. Ego growls that if he doesn’t love the food he puts in his mouth, he “does not swallow.”
At nearly two hours, Ratatouille does run a bit long but it never ceases to tickle our imagination. The film gets far on such a simple premise and watching everything come full circle is delectable. The film is brimming with enough characters to hold the adult viewers attention for a good majority of the runtime. Halfway through Ratatouille, we get to meet the rest of Gusteau’s staff and they are all hilarious in their own individual way, even if the film then quickly forgets about them. The final rush to think of something to serve the impossible-to-please Ego will have you rolling on the floor in laughter, especially when you see who shows up to give Linguini and Remy a hand. You can’t shake the feeling that the portrayal if Ego is a jab at the critics who waved off Pixar’s previous offering Cars, a touch that I actually like even if I wasn’t the biggest fan of Cars myself. I was also impressed by how detailed the scenes of downtown Paris are, at times seeming almost real if glanced at from a distance. Overall, Ratatouille may send a simple, elementary message, which is somewhat disappointing, but it features enough “awe” moments and is spiced up with enough laughs to have you ordering up seconds and sending your compliments to the chef.
Ratatouille is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
When is the last time you saw an honest to goodness awesome action film that got your heart pounding and your palms sweating? Can’t truly recall one that actually did its job? For me, it was Inception, but director Brad Bird’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is the most recent to really get me chewing my nails down. Truth be told, most action films rely too heavily on CGI deception, layering giant battling robots duking it out in a familiar American metropolis, rubbery superheroes darting around skylines saving tumbling airplanes, cramming as much busy aerial action into a wide shot as humanly possible, or something to that overblown extent. Sure it’s thrilling to look at and we admire how pretty the picture looks, how real the effects are getting, etcetera, but we never actually sweat bullets over the conflict because we know our CGI superhero will save the day no matter what. They are larger than life, so our answer is eradicating the life and you have an unstoppable man made creation. Don’t get me wrong, I adore superhero films and I love to see what the computer wizards in Hollywood will digitally dream up next, but they are never as invigorating as Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Most action films, sadly, are not.
Here’s the mission, if you choose to except: Acrobatic IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Played, for a fourth time, by Tom Cruise) and his brainy band of sidekick agents find themselves being blamed for an explosion at the Kremlin. In the explosion, a terrorist named Hendricks (Played by Michael Nyqvist) makes off with launch codes for nuclear missiles. The slippery Hendricks is hellbent on igniting nuclear war throughout the world. Russia blames the United States for the explosion and in response, the president issues “Ghost Protocol”, wiping out the IMF and leaving Hunt and his team to take the heat. Hunt turns to the newly appointed field agent Benji (Played by a superbly hilarious Simion Pegg), the curvy and vengeance seeking Jane (Played by Paula Patton), and the mysterious Brandt (Played by Jeremy Renner) to help him track down Hendricks, prevent a nuclear holocaust, and clear their names. Hunt also finds himself the target of a persistent Russian security force agent named Sidirov (Played by Vladimir Mashkov). To reject taking on this mission would be an absolute mistake.
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol does have its fair share of eye candy effects moments. A massive sandstorm bears down on Hunt as he scales the massive Burj Khalifa in Dubi with nothing but high tech gloves that produce an adhesive, allowing him to stick to the side of the building. Wait until one of the gloves begins shorting out. That’s only the start of what is sure to be a classic sequence. Cars go somersaulting at Ethan, a massive explosion levels part of the Kremlin, and more. What turns up the adrenaline in this film is the fact that Cruise, who is one of the biggest and most recognizable stars on the planet, puts himself right in the center of the action. He takes more than a few tumbles in this film and at times, Bird’s camera seems to catch accurate spot-on reactions. At one point, I even turned to my friend that accompanied me and said, “Man, did you see his face? THAT looked pretty real and THAT was a look of pain on his face!” Cruise is the heart and soul of this franchise and, more importantly, keeping this film from veering off onto throwaway blockbuster territory. And yes, the film projects an epic scope but the action is tight and controlled, never appearing showy.
Credit should certainly go to director Brad Bird, who makes his first live action feature film. We knew he could make some heartwarming family friendly films (He is the man responsible for The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille), but the man works well with flesh and blood actors too. His cast has impeccable chemistry, gracefully playing off each other, delivering a whole slew of memorable one-liners, and actually working hand-in-hand in every situation they find themselves in. His camera floats along with Cruise as he inches along the Burj Khalifa, tossing his camera down the side of the building, giving us a sense of how high up Cruise actually is. He stages an intimate confession up close and personal and he lands jokes deviously, sometimes taking a second to for the laugh to squeak out of the viewers mouth. Wait until you see Benji and Hunt creeping around the Kremlin. There is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it joke that is adroitly landed. Bird holds tense moments extra long, making we the viewers feel the pressure that Hunt and his team are under. Bird certainly has a future in action.
Everything in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is top notch. Everything from the action, the chases, the acting, the CGI, the editing, the staging, the pacing, the feel, and the final showdown just connect and work together until the very last frame. The MVP here is without question Cruise, showing vast dedication to the project and risking life and limb for his art. The film packs the fireworks we all want from the Mission Impossible franchise but they never feel like they are there is a diversion from meager storytelling. The threat is truly there is this one is down to the wire. It’s a shame it wasn’t released during the summer movie season because it would have clobbered the competition, body slamming duds like Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Green Lantern, and Cowboys and Aliens. Once you’ve had action this real and fun, you’ll never want to go back to the kind simulated on a computer.