Review: The Incredibles

What's amazing about Pixar, and what uniquely identifies their brand, is not the stunning 3-dimensional computer generated animation, though certainly all their movies share that. Other studios can imitate that, and have.
No, what's unique about Pixar is that somehow, they consistently root their movies in stories that manage to be both funny and heart-warming, with appeal to people of all ages. They've bottled the innocent joy that used to be a property of Disney and pass it on to every next director. In the process, they've become the only Hollywood studio whose brand stands for something in consumer's minds, having stolen that honor, ironically, from their sister studios Disney and Miramax. Other studios have all but forsaken hand-drawn, 2-D animation in an attempt to duplicate Pixar's success, but they're chasing a false idol. The true secret sauce is much trickier to reverse engineer.
The Incredibles is a departure for Pixar from their heretofore successful animated creature/animal stories. The characters here are all human, albeit superhuman in many cases, and some cartoon action sequences earn Pixar it's first ever PG-rating. One trait of the Pixar comedy routine remains: no matter how different these characters are from the rest of us, they have the same human problems and emotions. It's one reason that audiences feel such strong emotional resonance with Pixar characters.
In this case, a family of superheroes (the Simpsons mold: father, responsible mother, mischievous son, precocious but socially maladjusted daughter, and as-yet personality-less infant) struggle to overcome suburban ennui in a world that has banned the use of their powers. Of course, it isn't long before a threat to society requires them to unleash their powers. Okay, you know all that from the trailer. Any more plot detail here is unnecessary.
The voice work is excellent, as usual, especially from Holly Hunter. And the humor, unlike that of movies like Shrek, is not grounded in time-stamped pop culture references that will be stale within a decade but in classic family relationship issues. The improvement in animation quality from one Pixar movie to the next are not as dramatic as from old-school animation to Toy Story, but a few sequences showed some new tricks. The rendering of water and ocean waves in motion is gorgeous, and because these are superheroes, one of them able to move at super speed like the Flash, some chase scenes are shot and rendered at hyper speed. We're talking "Leia and Luke on speeders flying through the forests of Endor in Return of the Jedi" speed. These action sequences are dizzying, breathtaking, and exhilarating, the kind that leave an audience clapping at the end out of sheer delight.
The moral of the story is somewhat fuzzy. Let all people use their natural abilities to the fullest? If Terrell Owens scores a touchdown, let him do his dance? I was pondering the issue early in the movie, during a momentary lull, and then I was having so much fun I forgot all about it.
[Footnote: Prior to the movie, Pixar trailered Cars, their next movie, due out in 2005. Just a tease. I thought of it as Pixar does NASCAR. And of course, Pixar showed a short, Boundin', about a dancing sheep. It's clever, like Pixar's other shorts, with an infectious rhyming verse.]