The Incredibles (2004)

 

The_IncrediblesCertain superhero storylines are beginning to overstay their welcome. Spiderman, The Fantastic Four, and even The Avengers spring to mind. The remarkable thing is the fact that this wildly popular genre headlined by numerous wildly popular franchises does not appear to be leaving us anytime soon. And when the prospects of monotonous superhero film after monotonous superhero film get a little too much, it’s rather comforting to return to The Incredibles. Yet again Pixar proved they knew how to craft animated films with great storytelling, but also a depth of character.

Over a decade ago now Brad Bird helmed a project that would introduce us to a very different batch of superheroes. Yes, they began as individuals named Elastigirl and Mr. Incredible, but soon enough they ceased being that. But these weren’t a ragtag alliance like the Avengers or the Guardians of the Galaxy. They were something perhaps more broken and complicated – a family.

Back in the glory days, the superheroes were civil servants held in high regard – one of the foremost of those being Mr. Incredible (voiced by Crag T Nelson), but they soon fell out of favor due to scandal and public controversy. Thus, they drifted into obscurity and their aliases quickly became their real life.

This is where this story gets interesting, as Bob and Ellen Parr, as they are known now, are living life with three kids. Ellen (voiced by Holly Hunter) is happy to give it a go and live the normal everyday existence, but Bob yearns for something more than rush hour traffic and a cramped cubicle in a thankless job. And when he gets a mysterious message with mission impossible-like implications. He is indubitably intrigued.

He begins moonlighting again, sneaking around behind Ellen’s back not wanting to needlessly worry her. He touches bases with his old friend and colleague Edna Mode (Bird himself), who supplies him with a new super suit sans cape. It’s just like old times with the super getting the respect he once garnered from everyone, and his family is happy and healthy. Everything is looking up.

But of course, behind these missions of his is something a little more sinister than he could have ever imagined. Of course, when his wife catches wind of it she expects something completely different – their marriage must be failing. That’s the only possible reason for him sneaking around.

Thus, mother and two stowaways head to a volcanic island smoldering with destructive peril. Mr. Incredible meets his match and is brought low as his past mistakes finally catch up to him. He realizes his weakness and more importantly how much his wife means to him. He could not go on without her. However, his wife and kids do not wallow in their predicament as they try and save the world from the dastardly deeds of the begrudging supervillain Syndrome. It’s in this final showdown that Mr. and Mrs. Incredible are back in their element with their compadre Frozone (Voiced by Samuel L. Jackson). Except now they are joined by their speedy son Dash and their invisible, force-field wielding daughter Violet, who both feel confident in their skin.  A giant mechanical robot is no match for such a crew, especially when they’re a family.

True, these characters have superpowers and special abilities, but then don’t we all in some way, shape, or form? This is a story about the nuclear family when that dynamic is blowing up, and a story about being comfortable in your own skin, in a society that often makes that difficult. So Pixar does the seemingly superhuman yet again by delivering up a popcorn-action-adventure-family film, that still somehow holds up to multiple viewings. It’s retro cool, quotable, and gives its voice actors space to gel. They breathe life into this story, while their contours come alive on screen. It’s a childhood favorite and for a very good reason.

4.5/5 Stars

Ratatouille (2007)

RatatouillePosterOnly Pixar could make me empathize with a rat, and they did it with true style and sensitivity like they have done many times before. Ratatouille is often a forgotten classic that I easily forget in a repertoire that boasts such modern masterpieces as Up, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and of course the Toy Story trilogy. However, Brad Bird’s tale of a gifted rodent and a hapless chef deserves to get its just desserts too and so I will attempt to do that now.

As was already hinted at, Remy (Patton Oswalt) is a very unique rat, because he has an incredibly sensitive palette thanks to an impeccable sense of smell. He cannot stand digging through the trash heaps like his brother Emile and he has higher aspirations than his single-minded father. One day Remy comes across the revelation of mixing foods and flavors in a culinary epiphany. His family doesn’t quite understand his more cultured aspects (walking upright, reading, cooking, etc.), and it ultimately gets him into trouble.

He winds up in none other than Paris and sitting on a rooftop he sees his own personal Mecca. The restaurant of Gusteau (Brad Garret), the man who famously said that anyone can cook before he was taken down by pernicious food critique Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole). After his tragic death, Gusteau’s lost two of its stars and that’s right about where a young man named Linguini (Lou Romano)  comes in.

He’s a bumbling nobody with little talent and only a note from his deceased mother vouching for his character. The incumbent tyrant of a chef (Ian Holm) reluctantly gives him a job as a wash boy which he barely is able to perform. In a fateful moment, he ruins a soup and Remy drops in to salvage the dish. Now after an initial berating, great things are expected of Linguini after a critic loves his new dish. Skinner suspects something is up.

In this predicament with nowhere to turn, Linguini looks to this little chef, and Remy decides to help him. Thus, begins the strangest of symbiotic relationships as Remy learns to control Linguini who acts as the front for the artistic genius who just happens to be a rat. For a while, it works really well. They keep Remy hidden under Linguini’s hat while also keeping Skinner constantly delusional with visions of rats.

Then, success continues to come Linguini’s way. Thanks to Remy the restaurant is a hot spot once more, he gets the girl Colette, and he has become the main attraction at Gusteau’s displacing Skinner. But it gets to his head a little too much, and he and Remy part ways.

The big night of Anton Ego’s return to Gusteau’s is fast approaching and the culinary dream team is no more. Once again Linguini is lost without his culinary partner. But the ever faithful Remy gets the support of his family and returns to the kitchen to aspire to his dreams. Linguini also finally has the courage, to tell the truth which ultimately loses him the respect of his staff.

However, Remy and Linguini both learn something about family and relationships, realizing the need to be who they are. In a brilliant stroke of genius, the ever resourceful Remy makes a simple yet elegant Ratatoullie. Everyone expects the disdain of Ego and yet it never comes. You see Ego also learns something about himself. Upon seeing the mind behind the dish that took him back to his early years, he remains pensive for once. He finally understands the wisdom in Gusteau’s simple adage.

The voice talents of this film are obviously wonderful, from the impeccably-casted Patton Oswalt to Brad Garrett as the jolly Gusteau and Peter Sohn as rollie-pollie Emile. However, I want to focus specifically on the late great Peter O’Toole.

It is rather extraordinary that just before seeing this film again, I took in How to Steal a Millionaire. It too is set in Paris, involves deception, and has its share of drama. Featured in that film is a younger O’Toole, handsome, blue-eyed and far from world-wearied. But the reality is, he had a hard life and you can hear it in his wonderfully Shakespearian, but still noticeably older voice. He brings such a wonderful lineage to this film, and he turns in one of his great roles. Peter O’Toole was part of a dying breed of theater-trained actors who will be greatly missed for their tour de force performances.  But once again many thanks to Pixar for doing the impossible. In some weird, disgusting way I love rats now.

4.5/5 Stars

“In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau’s, who is, in this critic’s opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau’s soon, hungry for more.” – Peter O’Toole as Anton Ego