INCREDIBLES, THE – Blu-ray review

Brad Bird is proof positive that the Disney Animator Training Program works. Three years out of high school, the aspiring animator got a Disney scholarship to attend the California Institute of the Arts, where he met John Lasseter. After a brief stint with Disney, Bird ventured out on his own to make “The Iron Giant” for Warner Brothers, then moved to Pixar at Lasseter’s invitation. The first project he pitched was “The Incredibles,” and that 2004 film turned out to be prophetically named.

Although it had a whopping $92 million budget, the superhero family film eventually pulled in $632 million internationally. Critics loved it–97 percent of Rotten Tomatoes critics gave it a “fresh” rating–and it won Academy Awards for Sound Editing and Best Animated Feature Film.

In his DVD review, John J. Puccio liked that “‘The Incredibles’ has humor, thrills, and adventure, but most of all it has heart.” It’s true. But that heart doesn’t come from the Superman side of the action-comedy-adventure; it comes from the Clark Kent side. Few people can identify with a man of steel like Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), who has super-strength. But everyone can nod with recognition and empathy when they see themselves in Bob, the new identity he received through the Superheroes Relocation Program after the public outcries over collateral damage caused by their dramatically heroic rescues forced them to go underground. Bob is a family man who has to deal with annoying bosses, fighting children, a growing pot belly, his wife’s insistences, and a lack of respect and appreciation that dogs just about every working stiff. So humanized, he becomes like any other guy who expected to be somewhere else at this stage in his life, or whose glory days in high school or college have since been eclipsed by mundane mediocrity.

“The Incredibles” derives most of its comedy from those suburban family moments, undercut by a secret that the audience knows: Bob got himself fired and has been instead going out at nights with the former Frozone super hero (Samuel L. Jackson), the two of them listening to a police scanner and trying to do a little quick, anonymous moonlighting as superheroes again. When will his wife, Helen (the former Elastigirl, played by Holly Hunter) find out that he’s trying to relive his Mr. Incredible glory days? And what will happen to him when she does?

It’s not that simple, of course, because every Superhero needs a nemesis, and Mr. Incredible’s is a deliciously ironic one–the super fan who wanted to be his sidekick, but instead ridiculed by Mr. Incredible and so sufficiently traumatized that he lived for the day when his evil inventive genius would enable him to get revenge. Through Buddy (a.k.a Syndrome, played by Jason Lee), Bird and his writers pay homage to Dr. No and that remote island complex designed for the single purpose of launching a rocket for destructive purposes. There are echoes of “Spy Kids” as well, as the whole family somehow gets involved.

It’s the family element that makes “The Incredibles” a film that can be watched over and over again. Their young son, Dash (Spencer Fox) is just as hyper as every “normal” boy his age, and just as mischievous. But his hyperactivity is exaggerated by his super power: a super speed that allows him to leave his seat in the middle of class and put a tack on his teacher’s seat without being detected. The parents’ reactions, when the school calls them, are perfectly drawn. The mother wants him to be punished, while the father’s first response is a high-fiving “Wow, good job, son.” His sister, meanwhile, is a typical high-schooler who’s feeling self-conscious about boys and her own appearance . . . which gets complicated, because her special ability is that she can become invisible. She’s the typical shrinking Violet (Sarah Vowell), but exaggerated to the point where she removes herself entirely from an embarrassing situation. Still, those human elements enable viewers to connect with the characters.

As the kids discover their powers and this family hovers somewhere between super and dysfunctional, “The Incredibles” finds its voice . . . and it speaks to families everywhere.

Sometimes I wonder why I bother with descriptions of Disney-Pixar titles. Quality is Disney-Pixar’s middle name, so to speak. I can’t remember the last time their production values disappointed me, and “The Incredibles” continues that streak. The AVC/MPEG-4 transfer to a 50-gig disc (well, four, actually–two Blu-rays, a DVD, and a Digital Copy) is another fine one, with only the slightest hint of compression “unpacking” and generally vivid, distinct, colorific, high-detail visuals in every frame. It’s a gorgeous-looking video, presented in the original 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Colors are bright, black levels are superb, edge delineation is fine, and the level of detail is up their with the best.

Same with the featured audio, an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 that’s both booming, LFE-style, and dynamic enough to fill the room with sound. Dialogue and effects are nicely mixed, so that you don’t have blast-your-eardrum sonics during the high-action scenes and whisper mode during conversations. I appreciate that, because as my wife says, you’re willing to put up with more rock-’em-sock-’em sound in a theater than you are in your own living room. Well, at our house, at least. But I loved the way sound traveled across the field, commensurate with the action.

Where to begin? There’s a lot here–more than eight hour’s worth–with two commentary tracks topping the list. I’ve met Brad Bird and heard him speak, and he’s passionate about his films andBlu-ray. He loves the authentic replication that HD provides, and his commentary track with producer John Walker conveys that sort of earnestness, but there’s also enough stories about the production and decisions they had to make that it ought to please both fans and serious film students. The second track is probably more for serious film students, because there are so many supervising animators and animators it’s like hearing, rather than seeing, one of those huge groups go up to claim a single Oscar onstage. There are too many to name, and you never quite remember who’s speaking. But this group has a lot to say, and for serious students of film and animation, this is probably the track that will matter most.

“The Incredibles Revisted” is less than a half-hour long, but it’s the best feature on the disc. It’s densely packed with insights, humor, and anecdotal information, featuring just about everyone involved in the production of this film. It’s presented in HD, and serves as a companion to the “Making of ‘The Incredibles'” bonus feature in SD, of similar length.

Two Pixar shorts are included: “Boundin”” (with optional commentary), and “”Jack-Jack Attack,” with optional video commentary. Both are in HD.

Carried over from the DVD release are features on the story, character design, evolution, character design, set design, sound, music, lighting, tools, etc., which total 70 minutes. Also included are deleted scenes (35 minutes’ worth, in HD), a virtual tour of Syndrome’s island, three short featurettes under 6 minutes each on “Paths to Pixar: Story Artists,” “Studio Stories: Gary’s Birthday,” and “Ending with a Bang: Making the End Credits.” Rounding out the bonus features are a few easy-to-find Easter Eggs transferred from the SD DVD, some in-character PR interviews, an interactive art gallery, easers, trailers, and a Movie Voucher good for admission to “Cars 2.”

Bottom Line:
The family that slays together, stays together.