I emerged from the theatre cheering after seeing The Incredibles for the first time. I loved it. It was the most openly fun I’d had during a Pixar film thus far and it remains one of my personal favorites. It’s always a joy to watch and when I think of Pixar, this is one of the first ones that springs to the forefront of my mind.
However, with this rewatch, I found it surprisingly difficult to articulate why I enjoy it so much. What is it, exactly, that makes The Incredibles so . . . well . . . incredible?
From the jump, story and tone strike just the right balance between quiet, wild, imaginative, witty, sweet, and speculative. I could break down elaborate, nitty-gritty examples of why this movie is so effective (Michael Giacchino‘s score, the style and art direction, homage v. originality, etc.) but, truthfully? This film demonstrates an unusually solid example of “movie magic”; when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts (for me, at least). A lot of that comes down to the team behind it; if Pete Docter is my favorite Pixar director, then Brad Bird comes in at a very close second. I’ve been a fan of his style since I first saw The Iron Giant (oh, how I love that film, too). In Bird’s films, I most appreciate the dialogue, pace, and – like with Docter – the ambition. There are blurred moral lines here. We may not sympathize with the villains, but we understand them. While their decisions and reactions to their circumstances may be wrong, the points they make are very often sound.
Pete Docter may be my favorite of the Pixar directors. He helmed some of my favorite of the studio’s stable: Monsters, Inc., Up, and Inside Out. Watching Monsters, Inc., I am reminded how much worldbuilding it requires, right from the jump. I would argue that it remains one of Pixar’s most imaginative movies to date. It does not take place in our world – let alone a bedroom or sunny backyard – but rather delves into a parallel dimension, populated by wildly outlandish characters. The characters dip into our world frequently, but the landscape virtually encompasses the entire globe. That is an immense undertaking, and a huge risk. That said, Pixar’s success with its first three films laid the groundwork for them being able to present something so “out-there,” and, thus, continue with even more radical ideas in the future. After all, Pixar was launched on a wild, unprecedented venture, so it’s not exactly surprising.
What was surprising, however – apart from the dynamic worldbuilding and physical comedy (we’ll come back to that) – was the depth of the movie’s theme. Of course, at four films into the studio’s collection, depicting deep themes was clearly their M.O., weaving these subjects delicately so it reaches audiences emotionally, regardless of age, but not coming off as preachy. And, like with A Bug’s Life, the message struck me a lot harder and a lot more powerfully as an adult. As Sully summarizes during the film’s conclusion:
“…laughter is ten times more powerful than screams…”
* contains spoilers *
Even though A Bug’s Life is the second movie in the Pixar filmography, this is my first post for “Watch-It Wednesdays,” my weekly movie night with friends. Going into this film, I remembered it fondly. I never did see it in cinemas, even though I had loved the trailer (still do, this one too).
However, I was put off by public reception and by my own rather less than fond reaction to Dreamworks’ ANTZ. I will try not to compare the two films in this review as they really aren’t anything alike (aside from featuring insect characters) and they offer radically different viewing experiences. To this day, though, I prefer A Bug’s Life.
According to the Disney Wiki: “The film is loosely inspired by the fable ‘The Ant and the Grasshopper’ and the classic film The Seven Samurai, it is the second Pixar movie and tells the story of an outcast inventor ant named Flik, who recruits a group of circus bugs he mistakes for warriors when his colony is threatened by a group of grasshoppers.”
Back in 1998, I remember a general consensus of disappointment with this film as a follow-up to Pixar’s first feature, but I find that, the further away we get from initial release, the better A Bug’s Life holds up.
For the past several years, a highlight of my week is what my friends and I call “Watch-It Wednesdays.” The name has changed a few times (i.e. “Marathon Mondays”) but the idea has stayed the same; myself and a group of friends gather together to watch a movie (or a couple episodes of a television series). Considering how busy our lives get, this weekly staple provides a chance to stay connected with friends and partake in some good old-fashioned fun. Call it an exercise in self-care. This also has brought some remarkable new titles into my life; most recently, the anime film, your name. Though I’m super late to that bandwagon, I’ll probably have to write a post about that pretty soon. It was well worth the hype!
In any event, I’m going to start blogging about the films we watch each week. We’ve gone through quite a few themes and collections (Doctor Who, Veronica Mars, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Firefly…) but now we’re beginning the journey through the films of Pixar Animation Studios, moving chronologically. So, last week we began with Toy Story and this week we watched A Bug’s Life. In both cases, it’s remarkable how well the story, characters, and animation hold up…and I shall elaborate in the separate reviews to come.
First up: A Bug’s Life!
Born of cold and winter air
And mountain rain combining
This icy force, both foul and fair
Has a frozen heart worth mining
Cut through the heart, cold and clear
Strike for love and strike for fear
There’s beauty and there’s danger here
Split the ice apart
Beware the frozen heart. . .
I didn’t really register those lyrics in the opening of Disney’s Frozen the first time I saw it. I enjoyed the music of it – I do recall being impressed by the use of a men’s choir and the overall sound of this song as their opening number. After getting the soundtrack, however, and listening to the lyrics themselves, it really struck me how smart this song is; in and of itself, the lyrics are well written and the musicality of the piece is quite pleasing, but setting it at the top of the film frames the story and tells us, the audience, right up front, that there is a certain sense of understanding between the people of Arendale and their harsh, winter climate. What’s more, it essentially explains the theme and story that the movie is about to show.