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Unless you were born in Spielbergia, life in the suburbs is usually pretty unheroic—and that’s just for the tightsless among us. Consider the plight of Bob Parr: Once known as Mr. Incredible, Bob was at the top of his crime-fighting, life-saving game when a lawsuit by a thwarted jumper opened the floodgates for litigation over any unwelcome superheroly intervention. The ensuing money grab forced Bob and his new wife, Helen—aka Elastigirl—underground to Metroville, U.S.A., where they’re known only as the plain ol’ Parrs. Fifteen years and three kids later, Bob is out of shape, driving a compact car, and earning a living at a heartless insurance company, where he’s forced on a daily basis to make little old ladies cry. At least Hellboy had nachos.
The Incredibles, which borrows its spirit from Spy Kids, comic books, and James Bond flicks, is the latest—and, at 115 minutes, the longest—from storied (as in Toy) Disney partner Pixar Animation Studios. But its combination of complex narrative and butt-numbing length may make the movie, the first by Pixar to be rated PG, a bit too much for the littlest Finding Nemo fans to handle. In fact, the touches that contribute to its ’60s look and sound, including a Q-like character based on old-school Hollywood costumer Edith Head, may be grasped by few under 50.
But if the overall feel of the film is of a throwback, its ideas are decidedly up-to-date. Bird has some fun with the greediness of lawyers and big business, but a more prominent theme is what happens when, well, no ’toon is left behind. Bob (voiced by Craig T. Nelson), for instance, calls the “graduation” event of his fourth-grader, Dash (Spencer Fox), “psychotic,” ranting that the schools “keep finding new ways to reward mediocrity!” Even more frustrating is the fact that the cautious Helen (Holly Hunter) won’t let Dash, who’s essentially a tiny Flash, participate in any sports, for fear that his speed will get the family recognized and ridiculed. While Dash is itching to stand out from the crowd (when Mom tells him that “everyone is special,” he responds, “Which is another way of saying no one is”), teen daughter and invisibility expert Violet (Sarah Vowell), her blue-black hair hanging over one eye, laments that “no one in this family is normal.”
Unbeknownst to Helen, Bob hasn’t totally left behind his old life, spending his “bowling nights” with pal Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson), listening to police scanners and helping society in disguise. This activity leads to an invitation from the mysterious Mirage (Elizabeth Peña) for Bob to return to superheroing on a remote volcanic island, where he and his old suit are flown to fight a multilegged machine with the ability to roll a path of destruction like a giant medicine ball. Naturally, another opponent awaits—villain Syndrome (Jason Lee)—though his appearance is accompanied by a stretch of unusually tedious storytelling.
Once again, Pixar has produced a visual stunner. The characters may be sharp-lined exaggerations—Bob is shaped like an inverted triangle; the women are sticks with J. Lo asses—but they’re softened by Barbie-glossy heads of hair in which every strand is perceptible. Indeed, it’s the details that will add up to wow you: Frequent news footage, sometimes in black and white, is appropriately grainy, while the secret island’s green lushness, blue skies, and surrounding water are shockingly realistic. This, in other words, is a world closer to Nemo’s than Toy Story’s, a mix of the casually cartoonish and the meticulously true-to-life.
Bird keeps the drama/comedy ratio relatively balanced, too—which means the story isn’t exactly a laff riot. As often is the case with Disney, the humor runs toward the sophisticated, with quips about superhero “monologuing” and uniforms that “breathe like Egyptian cotton.” (Though, for good measure, there are also plenty of shots along the lines of “My God, you’ve gotten fat.”) Like Ben Edlund’s Seinfeldian comic/cartoon/sitcom The Tick, The Incredibles is strongest when it puts its extraordinary protagonists into very ordinary situations—the family and its everyday travails, for example, are entertainingly presented as crashingly ho-hum with just a dash of Harry Potter high jinks.
In the end—where Bird nicely picks up the pace—the gifts that were burdening the Parrs are the very things that keep them together, with the outgoing message being, of course, a positive one: “You have more power than you realize.” Mercifully, Bird’s script doesn’t get too sticky-sweet on us, even offering a bit of surprisingly dark humor in the clan’s last-act butt-kicking. (Without giving too much away, let’s just say the Parrs discover baby Jack Jack’s previously hidden power.) When the dust finally settles in the Parrs’ quiet Metroville neighborhood, a criminally adorable neighborhood tyke, watching the action from his tricycle, squeals, “That was totally wicked!” Well, maybe not totally. But this well-intentioned, if not entirely well-paced, movie is still pretty close.
Go Further, a save-the-environment documentary by Comic Book Confidential director Ron Mann, also encourages the power of the individual—and, uh, hemp. Mann follows “actor-activist” Woody Harrelson on a 2001 bus/bike trip from Seattle to Los Angeles dubbed the SOL Tour. That’s short, of course, for the message on offer: simple organic living.
Along with a small entourage that includes a yoga instructor, a raw-foods chef, and Steve, a flaky pothead/junk-food addict, Harrelson stops at colleges, areas of commerce, and logging companies as he talks about the need for change in our energy use and diets. The group—actually, the horny Steve—even gains a follower, persuading British student Linda to come live the bike-and-broccoli lifestyle for a while.
And wouldn’t you know it? By the time Linda leaves our heroes, this erstwhile Earth-hater has clear skin, gobs of energy, and a new attitude toward our horrible consumer culture. It’d be a convincing development if it didn’t go completely unchallenged. If only the same could be said for Harrelson’s mantra that milk is full of blood and pus—an idea that Steve, who gets more screen time than the star himself, soon repeats ad nauseam. (Whether he owned his “Fuck milk—got pot?” T-shirt before or after learning this is unclear.)
The attention that Mann (who previously collaborated with Harrelson in the 1999 documentary Grass) pays Steve turns out to be double-edged. Though Steve’s “Far out, dude!” demeanor makes him by far Go Further’s liveliest personality, his alleged transformation from a guy who dined at 7-Eleven to someone who suddenly implores crowds to “Say no to corn dogs” is a little too key to the film’s argument. Like Linda’s transformation, it’s just not believable—or even complete: Though Steve extols the deliciousness of seaweed cookies to a truckload of whippet-huffing teenagers, he eventually succumbs to a Snickers.
Harrelson, however, really does lead by example. The bus is fueled by hemp oil and equipped with cork floors and solar panels. And his arguments for sustainable energy, pesticide-free farms, and alternative paper sources—three subjects whose relative merits are at least backed up by brief interviews with outsiders—are passionate without seeming crazed. (At one point, Harrelson even plants his team outside a logging company and questions a worker, though he’s quick to say that he hates the deed, not the doer.)
Go Further tries to poke gentle fun at Harrelson’s grass-roots efforts, including short animated sequences with smiley-faced protesting vegetables and a little bus whose exhaust spits out “HEMP HEMP HEMP HEMP.” But the overall feel is alarmist and earnest, helped by a soundtrack that includes the Dave Matthews Band, Billy Bragg, and Natalie
Merchant, who makes an appearance singing dourly into the camera in between shots of cleared forests. If the former Maniac wants to change things, she should start by listening to the speaker who introduces Harrelson in Santa Barbara: “There’s still hope for the world,” she says. “But only if we stop being dickheads.”CP