In the early 1990s, a middle-aged animator by the name of Brad Bird sketched out a superhero family on paper. He envisioned a story based on his own life experiences at the time, expressed through a family of superheroes in hiding. Living a suburban middle-class family life, with boring white collar jobs, in the fictional city of Metroville. This family would eventually become the Parr family of The Incredibles fame.
Bird was a respected animator, who had been mentored by one of Disney’s “Nine Old Men”, Milt Kahl. Bird graduated from the California Institute of the Arts alongside Tim Burton and John Lasseter, and went on to work with the latter as animators on Disney’s The Fox and the Hounds (1981) and The Black Cauldron (1985). During these early years Bird worked on the first eight seasons of The Simpsons, helping to develop the overall animation style and direction of the show.
In 1999, Bird left Disney and signed a deal with Warner Bros. to write and direct his first animated feature film, The Iron Giant. The movie was unjustly a box office flop thanks to a poorly planned and executed marketing strategy by Warner Bros. But since then has received widespread critical acclaim and become a cult classic.
Bird decided to approach old colleague John Lasseter who was now at Pixar to pitch his animated superhero family idea. Lasseter was so impressed he convinced Bird to jump ship to Pixar, and in 2000 Bird signed a multi-film deal on the basis of The Incredibles concept. Pixar even relaxed their own principles on hiring directors and screenwriters. Bird was the first director who had not come through the Pixar ranks, and he was given sole control to direct and write The Incredibles on his own, as opposed to with a team of writers and directors which was the Pixar norm at the time.
“The dad is always expected in the family to be strong, so I made him strong. The moms are always pulled in a million different directions, so I made her stretch like taffy. Teenagers, particularly teenage girls, are insecure and defensive, so I made her turn invisible and turn on shields. And ten-year-old boys are hyperactive energy balls. Babies are unrealized potential.”
– Brad Bird, writer, and director of The Incredibles.
Bird arrived at Pixar with the basic plot concept in mind. A family consisting of a mom and dad, both suffering through the dad’s midlife crisis; a shy teenage girl; a cocky ten-year-old boy; and a baby. Bird had based their powers on family archetypes. Though he loves his family, Bob dislikes the mundanity of suburban life and his white-collar job. Together with his friend Lucius Best, also known as Frozone, Bob occasionally relives “the glory days” by moonlighting as a vigilante
The Incredibles was an extremely ambitious project at that time. This was Pixar’s first animated film with all human characters, and human characters were then considered to be the hardest to animate in 3D. Bird was a 2D animator with no experience working in 3D, and neither did the team he brought with him from The Iron Giant. The story was longer and more complex than any Pixar had previously undertaken, with a plethora of technical challenges including the number of diverse locations, and the effects involving different elements such as water, fire, smoke, and explosions.
Disney initially considered the challenges too risky and pushed Bird for a live-action production which he rigorously rejected. The eventual outcome is a testament to the team’s faith in the project, Bird and his team’s ability to adapt and learn, and the incredible talent of the animation team already at Pixar.
The Incredibles benefits from an ingeniously selected voice cast.
Craig T. Nelson was cast as the role of Bob Parr / Mr. Incredible. Holly Hunter, who won best actress Oscar for her lead role in The Piano, plays the matriarch and Bob’s wife, Helen Parr / Elastigirl. Sarah Vowell and Spencer Fox play the two oldest Parr children. Violet Parr and Dashiell “Dash” Parr respectively. Eli Fucile and Maeve Andrews play Jack-Jack Parr, the Parrs’ infant son. Jason Lee, who is best known as the titular character in My Name is Earl, was cast as Buddy Pine / Incrediboy / Syndrome. Samuel L. Jackson as Lucius Best / Frozone, Bob’s best friend.
Brad Bird even played a voice role in the film as Edna Mode, a fashion designer and costume maker for superheroes.
The late 90’s and early 00’s saw a resurgence in the popularity of retro-futurism in film and gaming. The Incredibles is based on a view of the future as envisioned by 1960’s society. Brad Bird considered it a priority to use a film score to represent this retro-futuristic outlook.
Bird eventually selected American film composer Michael Giacchino to create the soundtrack. Bird was impressed with Giacchino’s work on Alias and gave him his first big feature film project. Giacchino embraced the opportunity afforded to him. He studied older soundtracks and recorded the score on analog tapes to get the retro feel to the score. The upbeat big band jazz sound was a new direction for both Giacchino and Pixar, but the result speaks for itself. A dramatic and serious sound that was cool and fun in the right places. A tribute to the 60’s composers who used jazz to bring a hip modern flair to the movies of the time.
Giacchino was nominated for two Grammy Awards in 2005 for The Incredibles: Best Score Soundtrack Album for Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media and Best Instrumental Composition.
A Well Deserved Academy Award
The Incredibles is a well crafted animated movie with a great story, excellent voice work. Perfectly paced, with a soundtrack to match the action, you could say The Incredibles was ahead of its time in the 3D animation world. It was an original concept, putting a great spin on the tired superhero genre. It was only fitting the movie won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature at the 77th Academy Awards in 2005. The film beat strong competition from Shrek 2 and Shark Tale of DreamWorks films. It also secured the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing, and nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Best Sound Mixing.
This was Pixar’s first feature to win multiple Oscars, and some say it was the best feature of 2004. This is one of the greatest animated movies ever made. The long-awaited sequel which will be released in 2018 might just be even better.