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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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The Incredibles’ is the new animation king-no lion

“The Incredibles”Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar AnimationWritten and directed by Brad BirdStarring the voice talents of Craig T. Nielson, Holly Hunter, Jason Lee, and Samuel L. JacksonRated PG/115 minutes

Five out of five stars

Animation needn’t always be benign fairy tales with cute sidekicks. The Japanese have known this for years-movies like “Akira” and “Princess Mononoke” are animated, yes, but they’re also full-blooded adult entertainment, filled with wondrous and often violent sights. Thumper wouldn’t last a second in those worlds.

Brad Bird’s “The Incredibles” is a bold step in that direction. Granted, it still has one foot in the door of family entertainment (after all, it is Pixar), but it earns its PG rating. The sheer amount of superhero action on display here rivals (and in some cases surpasses) such live-action blockbusters as “X-Men” and “Spider-Man 2.”

Characters grapple with crises of identity, impotence and even death. There’s more at stake here than whether or not Boy will kiss Girl. “The Incredibles” is exciting and funny and touching-it doesn’t condescend to the pacifier crowd. “The Incredibles” is one of the best films of the year.

The idea of middle-aged superheroes facing the scorn of society isn’t a new one. Twenty years ago, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons explored the same concept in their graphic novel “Watchmen”-albeit with a straighter face.

In Pixar’s version, Mr. Incredible saves a jumper and is sued for obstruction of suicide. That sets off a chain reaction of similar lawsuits, forcing all masked crusaders to hang up their capes and enter a superhero protection program.

They adopt earthbound names, settle down in suburbia, and waste away in cubicle farms. Mr. Incredible is now “Bob Parr” and he has such a job. Somehow, telling little old ladies they’re uninsurable isn’t quite as heroic as saving the world from cackling villains. It’s like joy-sucking Kryptonite.

At home, Bob is married to Helen, aka Elastigirl, who can stretch and contort her body into positions not even hinted at in advanced Yoga class (must’ve been one hell of a honeymoon night). They’ve raised a family of little superheroes: Dash (guess what he can do?), Violet (invisibility goes well with teen angst) and baby Jack-Jack.

Adjusting to a “normal” life simply isn’t feasible for this clan. Dash wants to play sports, but his parents forbid it- his super speed would blow their cover. Violet crushes on a high school hottie, but she’s too insecure to stay visible. Bob sneaks out night after night to dispense some vigilante justice. That doesn’t sit well with Helen, who wants what all movie wives want-a husband who will settle down.

If nothing else, “The Incredibles” is an involving story about a family in crisis. Writer/director Bird has worked with dysfunctional families before (he was a creative consultant for “The Simpsons,” back when it was great instead of simply good), and his work here is sublime.

There’s a funny scene at the dinner table in which the kids go nuts, Helen’s hands are tied (literally), and Bob asserts some dominance by lifting the table as if it were plywood. That’s not too far from the average household-sans the table lifting and force fields, of course.

But that’s just the setup. Bob has a breakdown at work. He’s contacted by the aptly named Mirage, an exotic temptress, so to speak.

She offers him a job: Go to a remote, tropical island and destroy a berserk robot. Bob jumps at the chance and soon he’s back in action, clobbering robots, and dining with Mirage at one of those long, austere tables at which only the very rich or the very villainous dine.

Indeed, Bob discovers a sinister plot, and faster than you can say, “Boy, I didn’t see THAT coming!” he’s captured. Helen gets wind of the evil scheme and jets to his rescue, with Dash and Violet in stow. Baby Jack-Jack is left at home with a sitter (who should probably ask for a raise next time).

For the last hour at least, we’re treated to scene after scene of clever and thrilling action set pieces. Some, like when Elastigirl creeps around the villain’s lair and stretches herself too thin, are ingenious in their comic build-up. Pixar is at the top of its game here.

Remember, though: “The Incredibles” is rated PG, and may be too intense for Teletubbies tots. If your kids can handle “Star Wars,” they’ll be fine.

So: The action is superb, but it would be nothing but flash and noise if we didn’t care about the characters. Director Brad Bird (“The Iron Giant”) walks a tightrope, holding back on the action for the first hour or so, instead focusing on the family dynamics. The gamble pays off. Once they embrace their powers, those feelings of impotence and insecurity are replaced by renewed vigor and beaming self-confidence. Action gains so much more when we care about the characters.

This all goes without mentioning the… incredible…supporting cast. There’s Frozone, a cross between the Silver Surfer and Samuel L. Jackson, voiced, appropriately, by Samuel L. Jackson.

And then there’s Edna Mode, the needle behind the (machine-washable!) super suits. She’s the type of eccentric fashion guru you might find barking orders to sunken-cheeked models in Europe. Her voice is brought to you by the director himself in a scene-stealing performance.

Animation is perhaps the ideal medium for movies such as this. When it’s live-action, we’re always looking for the special effects. Even when they’re done as well as, say, “Spider-Man 2,” there’s always that moment at which we can spot a tear in the fabric and the movie unravels.

But animation makes no effort to fool us. It’s the genuine thing. We can watch a chase through the jungle, ducking and dodging and whooshing through the trees, with no respect to gravity, and we accept that. It’s exhilarating.

“The Incredibles” is a triumph of action and character, with animation that never calls unnecessary attention to itself (though it is incredible). Go cry in your swamp, “Shrek 2”-here is the Academy Award-winner for Best Animated Film.

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