"The Incredibles" was a movie of firsts for Pixar Animation Studios. It was the first motion picture from Pixar to feature a cast of human characters, utilize a lyric-less musical score, have a PG rating, and win two Academy Awards (including Best Animated Feature).
The team behind "Toy Story," "Finding Nemo," and "Monsters, Inc." took a super leap of faith to make its story of an average American family that just happens to be made up of superheroes. To achieve its goal, the Pixar crew took on Herculean tasks, stretching the realms of animated drama and surmounting design restrictions by using new technology. With "The Incredibles," writer-director Brad Bird and his crew pioneered the creation of a world so inventively "alive" that it's possibly the most human animated film ever made.
Pixar had been building up to this breakthrough for a decade. Since the premiere of "Toy Story" in 1995, the Northern California studio raised the standard for computer animation with each subsequent film. "A Bug's Life" introduced organic environments and characters that squashed and stretched. "Monsters, Inc." ventured further into the world of round organic shapes and successfully tackled the previously unthinkable realm of photo-realistic hair and fur. And "Finding Nemo" convincingly portrayed a wide variety of aquatic life and settings on a fantastic journey under the sea.
"The Incredibles" required everything Pixar had learned from these films -- and much more -- in order to tell its wide-ranging story of a family facing its greatest challenge. In this article, we'll cover every aspect of this groundbreaking movie, from the special effects to the unique characters. We'll begin in this section by summarizing the plot of "The Incredibles," examining the film's enormous success, and introducing you to the people behind the scenes.
The Incredibles Image Gallery
"The Incredibles" follows the adventures of a family of former superheroes who are discovering the true sources of their powers. Once one of the world's top masked crime fighters, Bob Parr (Mr. Incredible) fought evil and saved lives on a daily basis. But 15 years later, he and his wife Helen (also a famous former superhero named Elastigirl) have been forced to take on civilian identities and retire to the suburbs, where they live as mere mortals and lead all-too-ordinary lives with their children. As a clock-punching insurance man, the only things Bob fights are boredom and a bulging waistline. Itching for action, the sidelined superhero gets his chance when a mysterious message summons him to a remote island for a top-secret assignment. With the fate of the world at stake, the family must come together and once again find the fantastic elements in its life.
"At its heart, 'The Incredibles' is a story about a family learning to balance their individual lives with their love for one another," says Bird. "It's also a comedy about superheroes discovering their more ordinary human side. I wanted to create a world filled with pop culture references -- with spy-movie gadgets and comic book super powers and outrageous evil villains using ingenious devices -- but also to create a story within that world about family. I really poured everything in my heart into the story. All these personal things -- about being a husband, being a father, the idea of getting older, the importance of family, what work means, and what it feels like to think you're losing the things that you love -- all tucked into one big story."
"The Incredibles" is the fourth-most successful superhero film of all time, following "The X-Men," "Batman Returns," and "Spider-Man." "The Incredibles," which premiered on November 5, 2004, was Pixar's best-performing film to date at the box office. It earned $70 million in its first week and was the fifth-highest-grossing film of 2004 ($259 million). Internationally, the movie was even more successful, ranking as the fourth-biggest film of 2004. Mexico went insane for "The Incredibles," demanding hundreds of character products that quickly sold out. In Belgium, the car manufacturer Opel distributed "Incredibles" model cars.
"Finding Nemo" is the only Pixar film that has been more successful. But while "Finding Nemo" was the first Pixar film to win an Academy Award (Best Animated Feature of 2003), "The Incredibles" won two (Best Animated Feature and Best Achievement in Sound Editing).
At the heart of "The Incredibles'" is the artistic vision of Bird ("The Iron Giant," and "The Simpsons"), who also wrote the original screenplay. One of the most passionate animators in the business, Bird started his first animated film at age 11 and finished it two years later. The film brought him to the attention of Walt Disney Studios, where, at age 14, he was mentored by Milt Kahl, one of Disney's legendary animators. Bird can be heard in "The Incredibles" as the hilarious, scene-stealing voice of tiny Edna Mode, the deadpan diva who designs superhero costumes.
"The Incredibles" was produced by John Walker ("Osmosis Jones" and "The Iron Giant") and executive produced by John Lasseter, the Academy Award-winning filmmaker and vice president of creative for Pixar who made history as the director of the studio's first feature-length computer-animated film, "Toy Story."
Playing a major role in creating the film's retro-futuristic style and exuberant mood was composer Michael Giacchino ("Alias," "Lost," and the video game "Medal of Honor"), who recorded with a 100-piece orchestra for "The Incredibles." It was the first time he had ever scored for a motion picture.
In the next section, learn how "The Incredibles" got off the ground.
The Idea for 'The Incredibles'
"The Incredibles" began in the imagination of director Brad Bird, a filmmaker who wanted to make a motion picture that would capture everything he'd always loved about the movies: grand adventure, unconventional families, inventive thrills, cutting-edge imagery, sharp humor, and characters so compelling and real you can't help but become involved in their emotional and moral dilemmas. The hitch was that Bird wanted to do all of this in an animated feature that would raise the art form to a new level of dramatic achievement.
Bird believed passionately that it was possible. At the time he came up with the story of "The Incredibles," he was also a new father. This led to the creation in Bird's mind of a father -- a superhero father -- who is forced to give up his passion (in this case, saving the world) for the good of his family.
Enter Bob Parr, formerly Mr. Incredible, whose family long ago entered the Superhero Relocation Program and is living a typical, foible-filled suburban life until a mysterious communique gives Bob a chance to rescue the planet and his own sense of self-worth.
As Bird began to write "The Incredibles," two very different stories came together: (a) a wildly imaginative spy adventure and (b) a drama about the ties that bind us that explored how the greatest superpower of all might simply be the power of a family. Bird began to view the Parrs as being pretty much like the rest of us -- facing the daily grind of bosses, traffic, and minor misunderstandings that get blown out of proportion -- but just a little more incredible.
How Things Got Started
In addition to pushing the technical limits of animation, Bird hoped to push the form's storytelling potential to a new edge. "To a certain degree, I was inspired most by the classic Disney animated films like 'Lady and the Tramp' with characters that have stood the test of time," he says. "The question was how to do that with the very best tools the art form has to offer today."
When Bird finished an early draft of the script, he brought the story to the only people he was convinced would understand his vision for an animated film that he hoped would look, feel, and be produced unlike any other: Pixar Animation Studios. Innovation has long been the name of the game at Pixar, the company behind many of animation's biggest blockbuster hits and critical sensations, including the pioneering "Finding Nemo." The studio is always looking for original stories from creative visionaries, and the minute John Lasseter -- Pixar's creative VP -- heard Bird's pitch, he knew he had found one.
Lasseter also knew that "The Incredibles" would be an unmatched challenge for Pixar. Not only would it be the first time the studio had tackled wholly human characters, it would be the trickiest, biggest, and most complex production the studio had ever tackled. The story unfolds on nearly 100 different sets -- ranging from a whimsical, modern suburbia to the lush and untamed jungles of Nomanisan Island. Because the film emphasizes the characters' humanity, the Pixar team had to create the most believable human animated forms in history -- with realistic skin, hair, and clothing.
Would creating "The Incredibles" prove to be an impossible task? The next sections take a close-up look at the Pixar production process.
'The Incredibles' Production Process
The production of "The Indredibles" followed a familiar Pixar process. Here's a look:
Creating an animated film involves multiple, carefully planned stages. First, the story is written and preliminary storyboards are drawn to help tell the story visually in the earliest stages. The storyboards are then turned into a form of early animation -- known as "reels" or "animatics" -- that allows the filmmakers to fine-tune the sequences before actually animating them.
Simultaneously, the art department is hard at work, illustrating every last physical detail of the individual characters and the entire universe in which they exist while also brainstorming the design of "virtual" sets, props, buildings, surfaces, and color palettes. Once the story and look of the film are decided upon, actors are brought in to record the voice performances -- giving the characters distinct personalities, which are, in turn, used to inspire the rest of the creative process.
Then the process of metamorphosing these 2-D representations into a 3-D reality begins. The first step is for the modeling group to build the characters and sets in the computer. The layout crew is instrumental in the next phase -- fine-tuning the characters and the shots to create environments that will tell the story to its greatest effect. Following this, the characters are fully animated -- move by move, shot by shot -- and they come to life with a full range of expressions, movements, and emotions.
Nuanced shading and digital lighting complete the production phase, and the entire movie is rendered. In rendering, all of the information that makes up the motion picture is translated from digital data into actual frames of film. Finally, the film is completed much like any other motion picture -- via final editing, scoring, and the addition of sound and special effects.
Technical Challenges of "The Incredibles"
With "The Incredibles," director Brad Bird asked his team at Pixar to innovate, expand upon, and find new ways to push this process to its furthest creative extremes. Says producer John Walker, "This film started with a personal vision and a passion that spread throughout Pixar. It's an exciting thing to break new ground, pioneer new techniques, and invite audiences into an experience that is as emotional and fun as it is innovative."
Adds Bird, "As director, I became well acquainted with what I called the 'Pixar Glaze,' where these complete technical geniuses would just grow pale and start looking at each other like, 'Does he know what he's asking?' But no one ever gave up. Every problem found a solution that kept pushing the film's creativity. It's a real testament to Pixar that they kept coming up with magic from thin air."
In the end, "The Incredibles" took everyone involved on an imaginative ride. "The creation of 'The Incredibles' required a tour de force," executive producer John Lasseter says. "Fortunately, our guys at Pixar keep getting better and better. When you see the characters in this movie act, and you look into the pools of their eyes, you can feel what's going on inside their soul. The subtleties of their facial animation and their body gestures are remarkable. You get so caught up with the characters and the story, you don't think about what genre of movie it is. You simply know you are watching a remarkable story."
Production Design of "The Incredibles"
The filmmakers first set out to build the richly stylized world of "The Incredibles." The design scope of that world turned out to be unprecedented. Unfolding on more than 100 virtual sets, an eye-popping world, both futuristic and nostalgic, was created.
"I saw the world of 'The Incredibles' as looking sort of like what we thought the future would turn out like in the 1960s," says Bird. "During that period, there were all these shows that promised people that, in 10 or 15 years, we would all have jet packs or use hydrofoils to travel across the water and then drive up on land. It didn't turn out that way, so this film is the 1960s view of what we believed life was going to be like today."
To help capture this very special "suburban mid-century tiki" look, production designer Lou Romano and art director Ralph Eggleston (the Oscar-winning director of the Best Animated Short for 2002, "For the Birds," who previously served as the production designer on "Toy Story" and "Finding Nemo") were faced with the enormous task of creating human emotion through the shape and color of the sets. They borrowed forms from contemporary architecture and used color to subtly reflect the story and mood.
"The film starts off very bright and saturated during the golden age of superheroes, but then the color drains out as we find Bob working away at his boring job," says Romano. "As the film progresses, we brought in more color until we came full circle to the big confrontation scene at the end."
Set sequence supervisor Nigel Hardwidge worked alongside Romano and Eggleston to make sure their vision was clearly communicated to the technical crew. This meant a lot of problem-solving.
"My job is to ask a lot of questions about each environment -- what it looks like, how much are we going to see of it, what time of day is it, and how are we going to create it in a way that will satisfy these guys who dreamed it up in such wonderful detail," Hardwidge explains. "Right off the bat, we knew this film was going to be an unprecedented undertaking because 'The Incredibles' has nearly three times as many sets as we've dealt with on any previous film. One of the first big challenges was the scene where Dash races through the jungle to escape from the Velocipods. Dash ran at about 200 mph, which meant we needed literally to create twice as much ground as originally planned. It was just one sequence, but we quickly realized how massive this project was going to become."
With the dozens of sets completed, the next task was for the layout team to establish the staging, blocking, and timing of each scene, and to start transforming ordinary 2-D drawings into a 3-D world. To allow for maximum creative flexibility with the camera and the character action, Pixar changed its typical layout process for "The Incredibles." For previous films, Pixar first built detailed models of the sets and then figured out camera positions, just like on a live-action film.
With this film, Pixar did things in reverse. On some of the big scenes, it filmed using a simple geometry model. After the director approved the shot, more complete models were built out to the camera. This allowed more flexibility. For example: The final battle scene in the city was so big that it made no sense to build a city and then figure out how to film it. So the Pixar team pre-visualized the scene and then filmed the action. Only then did the filmmakers build a final model that added more detail.
From a lighting perspective, "The Incredibles" was an enormous job because of the unusually large number of sets and shots: "The Incredibles" had nearly 600 more shots than "Monsters, Inc." The lighting crew also had the tricky job of trying to create cinematographic lighting schemes that would match the unique look of the film. This meant less light, and more contrast, like a live-action thriller or adventure story -- something not typically done in animation. This gave the crew a chance to create more delicate lighting effects that added to the overall photo-realism and impact of the film. For example, there is a sequence in which Mrs. Incredible is in shadow in a car, but there's still enough fill light to read her eyes.
In the next section, we'll show you how the animation came together to create realistic human characters.
'The Incredibles' Animation Process
After tackling the sheer scale and intricacy of production design for "The Incredibles," the filmmakers took on their most difficult task: animating the characters so that they appeared alive throughout the broadest possible gamut of human-like movements and expressions.
This would take the film's crew into a "forbidden zone": It was widely believed that computer animation wasn't equipped to generate subtle human qualities. For instance, it was considered impossible to animate muscles that would flex and ripple, hair that would flip and bounce, skin that would pucker and stretch, and clothing that would move independently of the body. Because of this, computer animators had long avoided human-like characters. Director Brad Bird, however, was convinced the technology could be invented to allow his characters far more "life."
"Everyone at Pixar knows that the closer to reality you try to make something, the easier it is to fail -- but the secret Brad used with 'The Incredibles' was to produce something that the audience knows doesn't exist, something so stylized that they are ready to believe in it if it all works seamlessly," executive producer John Lasseter explains. "With the technology that we've been pioneering at Pixar, we were ready to achieve that. Our goal on 'The Incredibles' was to create very stylized human beings who could never pass as real humans but have hair, skin, and clothing so true-to-life that their reactions have a stronger, more dramatic impact."
Faced with the challenge of moving the characters in a realistic fashion, the technical team decided to literally get physical. Copies of the classic medical school book "Gray's Anatomy" were given to all the digital sculptors and the rigging team to help them understand how the body moves during specific actions. Live-action footage of people flexing, walking, and moving also helped the team animate muscles, skin, hair, and clothes.
Skeletons and Muscles
The skeleton and its surrounding musculature is where all human motion begins, so this, obviously, was where the Pixar team started. It began with the body of Bob Parr, Mr. Incredible, and literally created him from the inside out.
"Bob was definitely the toughest character for us to model and rig because he is such a muscular guy," says Rick Sayre, the film's supervising technical director. "As we began to create him, we developed a completely new and different approach for his skeleton and the way muscle, skin, bones, and fat would attach to it. We used a fantastic new technology called 'goo,' which allows the skin to react to the muscles sliding and sticking underneath in a very true fashion."
This changed the entire animating process. Animators are not so much technicians as they are artists -- actors or puppeteers who creatively choreograph the characters' movements and expressions through specially programmed computer controls. Now the animators had more control of the characters than ever before.
"You may have noticed that it is very hard to get a convincing shoulder motion in CG animation," Sayre says. "This is why you often see animated characters that have shoulders that are too broad. We wanted to make a shoulder breakthrough on this film, so to speak."
Once Bob was completely modeled, he served as a template for the skeletons of the other characters. "With Bob, we really concentrated on achieving a high level of complexity in body motion," says character supervisor Bill Wise. "Once we were able to rig his movements, we were able to use that same articulating skeleton for the other characters -- with some changes, of course. A female character, for example, isn't going to have as defined a musculature, but she's still got a deltoid that pulls down over the top of the humerus. There's still a collarbone there. And so you could reshape that same rig to fit any character."
One character in particular proved to be especially challenging in her muscular movements: Helen Parr, alias Elastigirl, who had to be able to stretch, bend, and fold into a vast array of pretzel shapes that would flummox even the finest Yogi. Elastigirl pushed the animators one step further, and so they wrote a program called a "deformer" that would allow her to twist and turn as needed. It was the most complex rig they had ever made. The animators could actually pull her body into a parachute shape or stretch her arm out into a long ribbon of flesh and bone.
Skin and Hair
The qualities that truly create realism in a character are the appearance of skin and hair. This is where Pixar made its most important breakthroughs, with new approaches to lighting and shading the skin and sculpting hairstyles. Pixar came up with a new technology called "subsurface scattering," which gave more translucency to the skin and made the characters seem alive. With hairstyles ranging from Helen's short, well-manicured coif to Violet's long, free-flowing locks, new programs and approaches were also required to sculpt the tops of the characters' heads.
"The characters came into our department bald and naked, and they left with wardrobes and hair that would move in a realistic way," says Mark Henne, the film's hair and cloth simulation supervisor. "Hair in a CG film has always been tough because it's so multi-layered and made up of millions of strands that have friction against each other and a sense of cohesion. It breaks apart and re-forms in response to how the head is moving and how the wind is blowing. The trouble comes from all the layers wanting to pass through each other and how you keep that from happening as it interacts with arms, shoulders, and other solid objects."
The most difficult character to animate from a hair standpoint was Violet. She remained an "unsolved research project" well into the production of the film, due to her long, flowing hair -- the bane of an animator's existence. In fact, no one had ever animated this kind of hair before for a CG film. Henne and his team came up with five different sculpted hairstyles for Violet for the different phases of the film. Each of these styles could then be modified to reflect the various environmental conditions she encounters, including rain, wind, and the zero gravity of her own force field. Eventually, Violet's hair became one of the film's triumphs.
Even in regard to wardrobe, "The Incredibles" was more complicated than any animated film in history, and more akin to an epic costume drama. More than 150 garments had to be specially designed and tailored to fit the lead and background characters.
The director didn't simply want great-looking clothes for his characters -- he wanted clothes that would move like actual fabric. Pixar was already famous for its pioneering work in cloth motion, thanks to advances made with Boo's T-shirt in "Monsters, Inc." For "The Incredibles," the team found an inventive way to "bake" garments onto the characters, especially in the case of tight-fitting supersuits. Instead of simulating the clothing for each individual frame, this process analyzes the different poses and motion patterns for a character and automatically creates the appropriate movement for the clothing. For example, when Bob sits in a chair, wearing his supersuit, the suit knows what to do and where to crease because it has already been through a comprehensive training set.
The special effects included every possible natural element -- from water to fire to ice (for Frozone's super-cool antics) -- and needed to be created for more than one-third of the final 2,200-plus shots in the film.
"The effects seen in 'The Incredibles' are completely fresh and spectacular," says Sandra Karpman, effects supervisor. "The biggest leap from an effects standpoint is the fact that we have beautiful, amazing, 3-D volumetric clouds that you can actually fly through. Most clouds in other effects movies, or even previous CG films, are matte paintings or stock photography. In our film, when Helen is in the airplane flying through the clouds, it's very 3-D, and you see the clouds moving against each other. They're transparent, and if you stack them, they become opaque."
As great as the special effects are, the personalities of the characters are what really give "The Incredibles" its human feel. In the next section, we'll take a closer look at each character.
'The Incredibles' Characters
As he embarked on the intense journey of making "The Incredibles," writer/director Brad Bird knew that he would need to surround himself with devoted talent to bring his vision to life -- not just on the technical side, but also through gifted actors who could give his characters depth and dimension. He began the process by making sure the storyboards would communicate enough to the actors to elicit multi-tonal performances. Bird worked with story supervisor Mark Andrews, artist Teddy Newton, and supervising animator Tony Fucile, who each played a major role in designing the characters and bringing them fully to life.
"Brad would simply describe the characters to me -- he wouldn't use too many adjectives, but he would often do an impression or a voice for them," says Newton, who was the first to draw many of the film's characters. "Sometimes the voice alone would put enough pictures and ideas in my head. It's like when you listen to the radio and you start to imagine what the person would look like. You get inspired and everything starts to take shape."
With the characters well established, casting for "The Incredibles" could begin. The filmmakers began looking for actors capable of bringing out the ordinary, everyday feelings that reside inside these superhero characters. Here's a look at each character:
The Good Guys
Bob Parr, aka Mr. Incredible
At the center of the film is Bob Parr, Mr. Incredible himself, the family's muscular powerhouse of a patriarch who is trying to come to terms with the changes in his life that have taken him from superhero to suburban dad. For Bob, the director was drawn to the combination of down-to-earth humor and tough-guy charisma represented by Craig T. Nelson ("Coach," "The District").
"Craig has an authoritative voice but also a wonderful, easygoing kind of humor that really lends itself to who Mr. Incredible is," says Bird. "You can definitely see his voice fitting into this big, strong, hulking body, yet there is also a real vulnerability in him -- enough so that you really relate to him simply as a man looking for something he has temporarily lost -- and when the scene needed to be intense, he was right there."
For Nelson, the character -- animated or not -- proved irresistible. "I really empathized with him," he says. "Here's a guy who is literally able to leap tall buildings and do all kinds of super-heroic things, but that isn't what makes him special. It's his value structure and his moral strength, not his mighty feats that I really responded to. He is one of those people I'd really like to meet and get a chance to shake his hand, because he knows what counts and he has a good sense of himself and his family."
Nelson faced an unexpectedly daunting task in voicing Bob.
"The role of Bob was probably one of the more difficult things I've ever done," he says. "I quickly discovered that Brad and his team had an extremely specific idea of what they wanted because they'd lived with this story so closely for such a long time. They perfected the script and knew this family inside and out, and every other which way. So it was up to the actors to bring to life exactly what they had in their mind's eye.
"This isn't as easy as it might seem. The delivery has to be correct tonally and the energy has to be at precisely the right place at the right time. You end up doing a lot of experimenting and concentrating on your vocal energy, but at the same time you're also trying to imagine the situation as if you were involved in it. It was a real challenge as an actor, but it was definitely a fascinating ride."
Elastigirl, aka Helen Parr
Coming to her husband's rescue when the chips are down is the family's petite matriarch, Helen, formerly known as the ultra-flexible superhero Elastigirl. This character was created in part as a celebration of the typical modern-day mom who, says Bird, "has to stretch in hundreds of different ways each day."
To get to the core of Helen's mix of maternal and stoic strength, Bird trusted the finely honed instincts of Academy Award winner Holly Hunter. "Holly struck me as a consummate actress who could portray someone sensitive, yet with a very sturdy center," says Bird. "You feel like there's a part of Holly that would never crack. She has such great resiliency in her, and that was something that I needed for Helen because she's such a very strong woman."
Hunter was intrigued by the film because it was an unconventional story about human dynamics. "What I really liked is that beneath all the superhero adventures, 'The Incredibles' is basically a story celebrating family -- real families with all their differences and quirks -- and what a family's individuals can do when they come together," she says.
For Hunter, who had not done any animated voice work previously, it was also an exciting way to step out of her usual terrain. "It was a really different and exciting experience for me, learning to be expressive through your voice alone," she says. "From the start, I was pulled into it by Brad, because his imagination is so alive and he really knows this character. Brad thinks musically. For him, it's about finding a rhythm and an intonation that can be really more related to music more than anything else. The back-and-forth exchange is very staccato and very dynamic, which was very interesting to me as an actress and a lot of fun."
Rounding out the family of Bob and Helen Parr are their three children: the reclusive teenage Violet; the speedy 10-year-old Dash; and baby Jack-Jack. In developing their individual superpowers, personalities and human foibles, Bird looked at typical American families all around him for inspiration. "Violet is a typical teenager, someone who's not comfortable in her own skin, and is in that rocky place between being a kid and an adult," he says. "So invisibility seemed like the right superpower for her."
For the voice of Violet, the director had an epiphany that resulted in an unusual choice. "I'm a big fan of the National Public Radio show 'This American Life,'" he says. "And there's this wonderful author of books and essays who appears regularly on that show: Sarah Vowell. One day I was driving in the car listening to Sarah's voice, and I immediately thought, 'That's Violet.' When I called Sarah to ask her if she'd play the part of a teenage girl who just wants to be invisible, she was kind of scratching her head and telling me that she had never done voices before. She turned out to be perfect."
Dash is the diminutive and mischievous son of Bob and Helen Parr, gifted with super-speed and endlessly frustrated by the fact that he is forbidden to show it off. "Dash moves at lightning speed because the average 10-year-old boy can move twice as fast as anybody else, and something always has to be happening or they just crash and fall asleep," says Bird. "So he goes so fast you can barely see him."
To play Dash, the boy whose parents have to cheer "slow down" when he enters a school race, the filmmakers cast then-11-year-old Spencer Fox. Fox made his feature-film debut in "The Incredibles," but began his professional acting career at age eight with community theatre credits, commercials for Domino's Pizza, Staples and Tide, and voice roles in ads for Hershey's, Coca-Cola and Campbell's Soup. Fox's big break in "The Incredibles" led to roles in "Kim Possible" and several films, including Disney's upcoming animation film "Meet The Robinsons."
With the family cast, the filmmakers set out to find an actor cool enough to portray Frozone, a superhero who can always put his enemies on ice. Bird was thrilled to be able to cast Oscar nominee Samuel L. Jackson. "Nobody sounds cooler than Sam Jackson," says Bird. "And he makes it seem so effortless, too. He can be funny, soft, or tough as nails. I think he's one of the most versatile actors around today. We were blessed to get him for the part of Frozone, and he just nailed it right away. The animators had a blast working with his voice because there's so much happening inside his performance."
The Bad Guys
For the voice of Syndrome, the film's villain, the filmmakers turned to Jason Lee ("Almost Famous," "My Name Is Earl"). Says Bird, "I've enjoyed Jason's work in some great independent films, and he has a very quirky sensibility. He put his all into creating this unique voice for a villain. You can hear the kid in it, but he's definitely not a kid."
Lee empathized with the character, despite his dastardly ways. "It was fun to play a really mean guy who wanted to be something more," says Lee. "This was an amazing experience for an actor, especially to be a part of Pixar, which is one of the most unique and creative studios I've ever seen. It's full of youthfulness and spontaneity and imagination. They're interested in creating true classics and going way beyond the expected. I look forward to the day when my kid is old enough, and I can say, 'Let's watch 'The Incredibles.' I was in that movie.'"
Syndrome's attractive henchwoman, Mirage, lures Mr. Incredible out of his domestic duties and delivers him into the villain's evil clutches. There's more to Mirage than meets the eye, and she proves she's a classic combination of beauty and brains. In her first role for an animated film, prolific film, TV, and stage actress Elizabeth Pena gave Mirage her seductive voice.
This newly emerging supervillain is determined to declare war on peace and happiness. He is performed vocally by accomplished screenwriter, director, producer, and Emmy-nominated actor John Ratzeberger, who is best known as know-it-all postman Cliff Claven on "Cheers."
But around the Pixar production offices, he's known as part of the studio's Oscar-winning animation team, since he is the only actor to participate in every single Pixar film. He began as the charming and witty Hamm the piggy bank in "Toy Story" (reprised in "Toy Story 2"), then became P.T. Flea in "A Bug's Life," Yeti the snow monster in "Monsters, Inc.," and a school of Moonfish in "Finding Nemo" before voicing The Underminer in "The Incredibles." He also voiced Mack in Pixar's subsequent film, "Cars."
Bob's boss at the insurance company, Gilbert Huph is the personification of everything petty and bureaucratic that's ruining Bob Parr's life. Huph tyrannizes Bob in his dogged pursuit of the bottom line and squelches Bob's every attempt to help the public.
Huph is played by Wallace Shawn, one of the film industry's most recognizable character actors and a highly respected playwright. The proud bearer of a long and distinguished list of movie and television credits, Shawn is a three-time Pixar feature voiceover actor -- "Toy Story" and "Toy Story II" in addition to "The Incredibles" -- and has the honor of adding the cry "Inconceivable!" to the popular lexicon. He has also lent his voice to the animated features "The Goofy Movie" and "Teacher's Pet."
The Scene Stealer
One of the great scene-stealing characters in "The Incredibles" is the deliciously deadpan and truly tiny fashion diva Edna Mode, or "E" for short, who specializes in designing costumes for an elite superhero clientele. After several attempts to cast the voice, Bird gave in to popular demand from his colleagues at Pixar and agreed to take on the role himself.
"I wasn't intending to play Edna, but we had trouble finding any other voice and it just seemed easiest for me to do it," Bird says. "I really like this character because I've always been fascinated by the question: Who designs superhero costumes? Costumes are such a big deal in the superhero world because it gives them their identity and sets them apart from everyone else, yet nobody ever explained where the costumes came from and who was behind them. The way I saw it, the costumes had to be created by somebody with a scientific and engineering background. So I started thinking of German engineering. And then I got to thinking that the Japanese make all those unbelievable cars and cameras. So I thought about a half-German, half-Japanese, tiny powerhouse of a character, and Edna just emerged.
"I really like E. She's not remotely intimidated by superheroes or anyone at all for that matter. She's incredibly insistent on her own way of seeing things. The word 'no' just doesn't exist in her vocabulary, especially if it's in opposition to her. She is incredibly confident and sure of herself. Doubt is not in her -- and I suppose you could say I have a side to me like that."
In the next section, we'll talk about the different scenes in "The Incredibles" so that you can remember your favorite moments.
'The Incredibles' Scene Guide
One thing that makes "The Incredibles" DVD so enjoyable is the ability for fans to repeatedly watch their favorite scenes. What follows is a guide to selected scenes from "The Incredibles." Download the full scene guide of "The Incredibles" here.
Scene 1: "Golden Age." This title sequence includes vintage documentary interviews of Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, and Frozone.
Scene 2: "Weddings & Lawsuits." On his way to his wedding, Bob Parr turns into Mr. Incredible and takes several detours to heroically make rescues and foil crimes. His No. 1 fan, Buddy, appears and asks to assist him as his sidekick Incrediboy, but Mr. Incredible dismisses him as he hurries away to foil another crime with flirty Elastigirl's help. Buddy, however, gets in the way, causing a blast that requires Mr. Incredible to miraculously stop a train from crashing. He makes it to the church in time to say "I do" to Elastigirl, but then learns that the rescued passengers are suing the city for damages, forcing the superheroes out of business and into seclusion.
Scene 3: "15 Years & 50 Pounds Later." Forced to live secretly and anonymously as average suburbanites, Bob has a boring job in an insurance claims department and Helen (formerly Elastigirl) is a housewife taking care of their baby Jack Jack while their son Dash and daughter Violet are at school.
Scene 5: "Family Dinner." The Incredibles sit down for a chaotic family dinner in which they bicker and reveal their unique powers. Lucius (formerly Frozone) drops by to pick up Bob for bowling night.
Scene 6: "2 Ex-Supers." Frozone and Mr. Incredible reminisce while listening for trouble on a police scanner so they can sneak to the rescue against orders. They are followed by a mysterious woman and nearly get caught by the police. Helen finds out and berates her husband for nearly blowing the family's cover.
Scene 8: "Help Wanted." Bob returns home, but doesn't tell Helen he's lost his job. He clears out his briefcase and finds a classified communication from Mirage drafting him into service on a top-secret mission. Tempted to relive his superhero days, he eagerly accepts and then fibs to Helen, telling her he's being sent to a conference.
Scene 9: "Nomanisan." Mr. Incredible travels to Nomanisan Island, where Mirage tells him his mission is to locate and disable an artificial-intelligence robot. After a dangerous battle in the jungle and in a volcano, he succeeds.
Scene 13: "An Important Meeting." Mr. Incredible arrives on the island and is surprised by Buddy, aka Incrediboy, who introduces himself as Syndrome, Mr. Incredible's vindictive nemesis and a wealthy inventor with an island full of dangerous super-weapons. In a cave, Mr. Incredible discovers clues to Syndrome's terrible scheme, including GazerBeam's "Cronos" message.
Scene 15: "Secrets Revealed." Mr. Incredible enters Syndrome's headquarters to hack into the computer system. He discovers that Syndrome has killed dozens of superheroes and that he may be next. He also learns how Syndrome plans to send a robot to destroy the city.
Scene 16: "Suiting Up." Back at home, Helen packs her suitcase to go find Bob and includes her new Elastigirl super-suit. Dash and Violet find their suits, too, and try them on. Helen resumes her identity as Elastigirl, borrowing a jet to find Mr. Incredible.
Scene 19: "Good Guys/Bad Guys." Mom tells her children the truth about the real life-and-death dangers that threaten them all and insists that their powers are no longer taboo. She instructs them to use their powers to their fullest, for the first time in their lives, to keep each other safe.
Scene 25: "Bob's Confession." The four Incredibles are held captive. An emotional Mr. Incredible tells his family that he's come to realize that they are "my greatest adventure -- and I almost missed it." Violet uses her skills to escape and release her family.
Scene 27: "Omnidroid Attacks." Syndrome arrives to stop his own robot and trick citizens into believing he saved the city, but the robot gets the better of him. The Incredibles arrive by strapping an RV onto one of Syndrome's jets.
We wouldn't want to spoil the ending for you, so we'll stop there. Of course, if you're dying to know how things turn out, download the above PDF. As for the future of "The Incredibles" franchise, go to the next page.
The Future of 'The Incredibles'
Disney wouldn't think of allowing a film as popular as "The Incredibles" to go without a sequel. Consequently, the studio went to expensive lengths to make sure new "Incredibles" projects could be possible: It bought the company that made the film. In January 2006, Disney struck a deal to purchase Pixar for an astonishing $7.4 billion.
In addition to its success on the big screen, "The Incredibles" has found tremendous success with tie-in products. The list includes: a two-disc Collector's Edition DVD (released March 15, 2005, from Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Pixar Animation Studios); a soundtrack album featuring Michael Giacchino's orchestral score (released by Walt Disney Records); and many books.
There are also video and computer games: the best-selling "The Incredibles" for Nintendo GameCube, PlayStation2, Xbox, and Nintendo Game Boy Advance, and PC/Mac; "The Incredibles: When Danger Calls," a PC/Mac title featuring an assortment of minigames; and "The Incredibles: The Rise of the Underminer" console and handheld video game featuring Mr. Incredible and Frozone.
The newest mission for "The Incredibles" supports Disney's new "Healthy Kids" initiative. The characters' images will be used to promote Disney Magic Selections, such as string cheese and kid-size apples and bananas.
"Disney is entering the healthy-food category with our classic characters as well as recognizable film characters like the Incredibles, which will encourage healthier eating habits for children," says Nidia Caceros Tatalovich, senior manager, corporate communications for Disney Consumer Products. "The Incredibles kids are a natural fit, because they're so full or energy and enthusiasm."
Yes, this superhero family lives on. Whatever happens next, Brad Bird, the writer/director of "The Incredibles," will be at the heart of the story.
"I think the main concern of everyone who worked on 'The Incredibles' in every capacity -- from the actors to the artists to the technical geniuses -- was making the characters and the story really feel alive," says Bird. "That's different than reproducing straight reality, of course. But believability is what was so important on this film. For me, that's where it all starts: creating characters and a world that feels real because it means something to you."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Vicki Arkoff is entertainment editor for Sweet 16 magazine, and is one of MAD Kids' and MAD Magazine's "usual bunch of idiots." She also writes for Nickelodeon Magazine, Disney Adventures, Tiger Beat, Bop, Sugar (UK), Girlfriend (Australia), and TV Hits (UK, Australia & Germany), and is an authorized biographer and co-writer for such youth-market superstars as Hilary Duff, Jesse McCartney, The Cheetah Girls, Raven-Symone, Emma Roberts, Drake Bell, JoJo, Carrie Underwood, and Kelly Clarkson.