..Gary Dretzka
Noah Forrest
..Leonard Klady
..R.J. Matson
..David Poland
..Douglas Pratt
..Ray Pride
..Michael Wilmington

The Incredibles
Directed by Brad Bird

A major leap forward in American animation, the 2004 Oscar-winning The Incredibles retains all the joy of a cartoon movie loaded with funny gags; delivers a solid, emotional moral about keeping the family together; and yet still achieves the scope, excitement and dimensional thrill of a James Bond action film. Composed with the most advanced computer animation techniques of its time, the artwork is constantly dazzling, and yet it is always drenched in human wit and ingenuity. It seems, really, to achieve some kind of halfway point, where the characters and setting are make-believe, but are grasp-ably real within that world (the animators often refer to their characters as 'puppets'). The story, about a superhero tricked out of retirement by a villain, provides an ideal framework for the animation, and the cleverly conceived and delightfully executed characters carry you the rest of the way. Officially, the film runs 115 minutes, and even with its long end credit scroll, it still runs well over an hour and a half, yet you never feel the fatigue that sometimes sets in with longer animated films, and this is even with the story having about four different endings as all of its various loose ends are tied together. It is an exhilarating, happy experience, and it makes for a glorious Pixar and Buena Vista Home Entertainment Widescreen DVD (36387, $30).

The presentation, letterboxed like an action movie with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback, does indeed look incredible. The image has been transferred digitally, without an intermediate step of touching film. The colors are vivid, and no matter how fast the heroes are racing across the screen, details are crisp and stable. The film's designs, which have a delightful, early Sixties look, are scrumptious. The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound, with EX-encoding, is totally invigorating, and the louder you turn things up, the more fun you have. There are alternate French and Spanish tracks in 5.1 Dolby and optional English, French and Spanish subtitles. The DVD opens with a very funny and impressive trailer for the next Pixar blockbuster, Cars, and a War of the Worlds-angled trailer for Chicken Little.

The film is accompanied by two commentary tracks (there is also a cute 'hidden' 30-second animated clip if you let the music on the commentary menu play out and then select the action figure that appears-in fact, throughout the DVD, watch the menus for little figures that appear near the end of the menu loops, which reveal other brief but amusing clips and documentaries). One commentary features producer John Walker and director Brad Bird. Bird, the established traditional animation director responsible for Iron Giant and other programs, was brought in by Pixar to energize their lineup. The two talk about the challenges that were presented in each sequence, and acknowledge the animators who contributed the most creative ideas and work. They agonize over shots and designs that zip by in a second, because of the time and arguments that went into designing each one. But Bird also has many opinions about the artform and the industry, and is eager to share what he thinks.

"There's expectations for animation, and, you know, you make this connection with animation and superheroes, you think, 'Saturday morning,' and Saturday morning they have these very strange shows, completely designed around conflict and yet no one ever dies or gets really injured, or there's no consequence to it. I think that came out of, you know, a team of psychologists determined that it is bad for children, and I think just the opposite. I think that it's better if kids realize there's a cost and that if the hero gets injured and still has to fight, it's more dramatic, and it's closer to life.

"The filmmakers I most admire recognize the value of teasing moments and milking moments. You know, you think about a good storyteller, somebody who tells good stories in a bar, they don't blast through a story. They stop, and they savor certain moments, and they know which moments they can milk, and all of my favorite filmmakers have the confidence to slow down, versus, I won't name names, but a lot of successful hacks who, by having rapid-fire editing all the way through, never have to deal with the issue of 'is anybody paying attention' because they keep throwing stuff at you, and to me there's an edge of desperation about that. You want a moment to take them in, you know, it's like, a good [comedian] pauses. I think that a good filmmaker slows down."

The second track features a dozen or so members of the animation staff, talking in various groups. Some of the animators who came over with Bird from what they call the 2-D world discuss the unexpected problems they confronted in adapting to the computer world, and what things remained the same. Generally, the talk is about the day-to-day conflicts the animators addressed, but here and there the talk drifts into more generalized discussions about the artform. At one point they talk about the difference between celebrity voices and voices that are really appropriate for the characters, explaining that the drawback goes beyond aural stimulation. "As an animator you have to sit there and listen to the soundtrack over and over again for like a day before you even start sinking your teeth into the shot. So if the voice is weak, and you don't have anything to draw from, you know, it's just this kind of bland reading, it's a real struggle to put the performance in that is required for the scene if the voice isn't there."

As if all of that on the first platter wasn't enough to fully justify the DVD's list price, there is a second platter with many more extras. Three original cartoons are featured, each running about 4 minutes. The funniest one shows what happened to the baby and the babysitter while the rest of the family was off, fighting the bad guy. Another is a parody of old, cheaply animated TV cartoons, using the heroes as characters, and it is offered with an optional commentary track featuring the same characters, who complain about how the cartoon demeans their images. And there is a vividly animated cartoon about a sheep in the Southwest who gets shaved and has to endure the ridicule of the other animals, which was conceived and produced by one of the animators who worked on Incredibles, Bud Luckey. There is also a commentary by Luckey and a separate 4-minute profile of Luckey. It's a cute short.

Also featured are 34 minutes of abandoned story approaches and deleted scenes. They are fully interesting just in the revelations they provide for how the story was developed and improved, but there are also other insights-at times, footage that remains in the film becomes more understandable when you see what was taken out. There is a 27-minute overview of the film's creation, which also kind of works as a souvenir for the Pixar staff, and then there is an additional 41-minute documentary that systematically goes through each step of the animation process, explaining how every part was executed and why various choices were made at each point. Included as well is a 2-minute blooper reel that seems to overdo it a little bit, a weird 9-minute short film by and about one of the voice actresses, Sarah Vowell, an extensive array of superhero character profiles that include audio segments on each hero (according to the commentary on the movie, the filmmakers had a heck of time coming up with names for superheroes that weren't already copyrighted), a good still frame section of developmental artwork, three trailers and 6-minutes of funny live 'interviews' with the characters.

March 15, 2005

DVD Roundup: This Week's DVD Releases
The Review Vault

- by Douglas Pratt

Douglas Pratt's DVD-Laser Disc Newsletter is published monthly.
For a free sample, call (516)594-9304 or go to his website at www.DVDLaser.com


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