Why is there still a stigmatism when it comes to talking about animation? Animation seems to still invoke the word "cartoon", and "cartoon" meaning it's only for the kids.
Over the past decade, believe it or not, we have started to see a new evolution in the world of animation as these so-called "cartoons" have come to look more and more real. And there seems to be a division beginning between "cartoons" and "animated films".
Why can't an "animated film" express and explore any kind of genre or situation? As filmmakers and animators move closer and closer to as real as the technology allows, they seem to push audiences away. Look what happened to the photo-realistic CGI-animated flop, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.
In Japan, animation explores all sorts of subjects from how to prepare sushi to spy thrillers to sex to outer space exploration. Why do Western audiences panic when a "cartoon", as they call it, becomes as close as it can to reality?
One of the computer-animated industry leaders is Pixar and the studio's last film, Finding Nemo, was utterly photorealistic and every aspect of the film seemed real. Well, except that the fish could talk and they all had cute little cartoon faces. The biggest thing that blew me away about Pixar's Finding Nemo was that it looked and felt so real. I kind of wished the animators were allowed to keep the characters looking as real as their environment.
In Pixar's latest project The Incredibles, the animators have been allowed to use the genius they had for backgrounds and environments to help amplify a world that used to have superheroes.
You see, we did use to have superheroes, but eventually people started suing the heroes after people were saved from burning buildings and attempted suicides. One of those heroes was Bob Parr, aka Mr. Incredible (Craig T Nelson).
Now, heroes have to live incognito and conform to a normal human existence. This makes Bob very uneasy, especially when he is married to fellow superhero Helen Parr, aka Elasti-Girl (Holly Hunter), and they have three children â€" Dash (Spencer Fox), Violet (Sarah Vowell), and Jack-Jack. Bob works a medial job as an insurance adjuster and it's sometimes hard to keep his super-strength and eagerness to save people in distress under wraps.
Now 15 odd years after Bob had to hang up his tights, he gets a mysterious message from a slick and uber-thin blonde named Mirage (Elizabeth Pena), which calls for Bob to spring back into action as his alter-ego "Mr. Incredible".
What is Mirage's plan for Bob? Will Bob ever tell his wife what he is doing? Who is Syndrome (voiced by Jason Lee)? How does Bob's whole family get sucked into the action?
The Incredibles is the brain-child of animator Brad Bird, who brought us the much-beloved animated classic, The Iron Giant. Like Giant, Bird is able to bring all sorts of levels and new dynamics to the world of animation.
Probably Bird's greatest gift is how he tells a story using his chosen medium. Bird is able to cobble depth, feeling, and emotion from his characters and allow them to do things we have never seen in an animated film or in a superhero film to date. The family dynamic, the dead-end job, the fractured family, loss, and love are just some of the topics Bird explores in this film.
I also really was blown away by the amount of detail and animated hybrids from previous films that seem to ricochet through the film's landscape. There are nods to films ranging from James Bond to Jonny Quest and The Fantastic Four to Return of the Jedi.
Of the many film nods in the film, it was the James Bond ones that left me speechless. Never has an animated film of this caliber ever tried to tackle the "spy genre" like this (at least this side of the Pacific). The film is sort of an animated spy thriller with superheroes, and Bird must have loved a lot of the Roger Moore Bond films because there is so much of them in his film. Because there are so many Bond influences in the film, it is logical that some viewers will experience dÃ©jÃ vu or have a been-there-done-that feeling. It just will depend on how the viewer looks at the final product.
Bird also does take on a lot of the superhero clichÃ©s â€" the debate over capes, where they get their costumes, villain monologues, and annoying sidekicks. Some of his solutions for these clichÃ©s left me in stitches while some of these inside jokes may not play well with all audiences.
I also adored the "fashion designer" character Edna 'E' Mode, whose specialty is designing superhero outfits. Every scene with this 4-foot-nothing woman was hysterical. Uncannily, she is also voiced by the film's writer-director Brad Bird himself.
Brad Bird's superhero family brings the medium of computer-animated films to a whole new level as it takes on a non-traditional story and succeeds on so many levels. Now that they have graduated to animating pseudo-humans, could they get rid of those cutesy cartoony faces? (4.5 out of 5) So Says the Soothsayer.