(PG) 4 starsEd Johnson-Ott

The Incredibles is the latest computer animated feature from Pixar, the company that brought us the two Toy Story movies, A Bug's Life, Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo, so one can reasonably expect the film to be enormously entertaining. Prepare yourself, though, because this is enormously entertaining in a different way than its predecessors. The visuals, while even more technically sophisticated than in Nemo, are lean and clean - retro-futuristic, sort of - with vivid colors playing off white. The tone and rhythms are different as well. Not to mention the script.

It seems that Pixar, a company whose every film has been wildly successful, decided they should shake things up. When Monsters Inc. hit big in 2001, they realized they had a winning formula and that bothered them. "You could smell it," Andrew Stanton, director of Finding Nemo, told Entertainment Weekly. "We could see exactly how we could make the same picture again and again from now on. And the fact that we could even smell it meant we should be concentrating on how we make sure that doesn't happen."

Don't you just love how they think?

So Pixar hooked up with Brad Bird, the man who, after eight years with The Simpsons, created the wondrous animated feature The Iron Giant. Oh, how I tried to convince all of you to go see that movie. Oh, how most of you ignored me. Thankfully, it appears the film found its audience in the land of DVDs.

But I digress.

The Incredibles is rated PG, a first for Pixar, and parents should be cautious with younger children. While the goings-on are generally zippy, there are some grim moments, some menacing sequences and some deaths. At the screening I attended, a 6-year-old in the next row up took one of his parents' arms and said, "Daddy, I'm scared." Of course, after being reassured, he was cheering a few minutes later. Why not pre-screen the movie. Whether or not you decide that your young one is ready for the movie, you'll have a great time.

The story is set in a world where the government has ordered all super-heroes to retire. Too many lawsuits, you see, from all of those property-damaging battles with super-villains. As a result, Mr. Incredible, aka Bob Parr (voiced by the great Craig T. Nelson, who played a hip father in Poltergeist and a dunderhead dad in Coach), and his wife Elastigirl, aka Helen Parr (Holly Hunter), have spent the last 15 years living a low-key life. Bob struggles with his expanding girth and his dull job as a claims adjuster. Sometimes in the evening, he visits his old friend Frozone, aka Lucius Best (Samuel L. Jackson), to mourn their fates.

Helen struggles with their three children: withdrawn teen Violet (Sarah Vowell from NPR), who can become invisible and create force fields; rambunctious young Dash (Spencer Fox), who runs faster than lightning; and baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile and Maeve Andrews), whose powers have yet to emerge.

Bob's itch for action is about to get relief - the mysterious Mirage (Elizabeth Pena) gets him to travel to Nomanisan Island (ahem) where he gets involved in some top secret business. Little does he know that a return trip to the isle will prove to be a trap, set by Syndrome (Jason Lee), a would-be super villain using machines to make up for his lack of super powers. As a kid, Syndrome dreamed of becoming Mr. Incredible's sidekick, only to be casually dismissed by his hero. Now there will be hell to pay, and you can bet the whole family will get involved.

As with The Iron Giant, The Incredibles can be enjoyed at face value, or looked at from other angles. As an examination of what it takes to keep a family together, perhaps, with Papa Incredible tackling problems headfirst while Mama Incredible stretches to take care of multiple tasks, including a son that runs wild and a daughter who fades away and puts up a wall between herself and the outside world.

Back to face value, where the film looks and sounds great. While Pixar continues to grow in the technical end, they never forget to give us characters we can relate to and solid storytelling. Sure, the picture drags a bit during the repressed family segments, but that was probably necessary to make the groups release into action feel so sweet.

The voice cast is exceptional (Brad Bird steps in to play superhero outfit designer Edna and the two old men at the end are voiced by legendary Disney animators Ollie Johnston and the late Frank Thomas), as is the Michael Giacchino score. And please note the lack of pop culture references in the film. As opposed to other recent animated fare, The Incredibles is aimed at timelessness, and odds are they pulled it off.


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