THERE they go again. Pixar, that is. As in, the most inspired animation house in the United States. Their movie this time is "The Incredibles" and it's, well, incredible. Funny. Inspired. Superbo animation. (That's superb and turbo combined.) It's easily the best and brightest family-friendly movie of the year.
Not that you need a family to enjoy this. You could take someone else's kids. Or just go yourself.
"Sometimes I wish the world would just stay saved!" yells the big-chinned, red-suited Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson), who is being interviewed on-camera about his superhero life. His face looms large in the camera, looking just a little bit nuts for a second. He retracts his head with a just-kidding smile.
See, Mr. Incredible (who's actually a mild-mannered guy named Bob Parr behind that mask) tends to be a little over the top when it comes to saving people. Trying to talk a kitty out of a tree, and also keeping an eye on an escaping perp, he uproots the trunk to shake the cat out. Then he uses the tree to sideswipe the bad guy's car. Hey, it's effective.
Unfortunately, these and other stunts -- not only from Mr. Incredible but other superheroes in the neighborhood -- are freaking people out. Lawsuits are flying. The result: Bob and his wife, Helen (Holly Hunter), who moonlights incognito as the superhero Elastigirl, are forced to skip town under the Superhero Relocation Program. Same goes for all caped crusaders, including Bob's pal Lucius (Samuel L. Jackson), whose alter ego is Frozone, an icemaking agent of good.
Cut to 15 years later. Bob, now a slightly tubby insurance claims adjuster with a new identity and existence, heads a family of budding mini-heroes. But the kids have been forbidden to reveal their talents. On no account must lightning-quick son Dash (Spencer Fox) win those foot races or indulge in that rapid-speed practical joking. And Violet (Sarah Vowell) must never, never show off her powers of invisibility.
Being normal -- what a freakin' drag.
It's hard for Bob, too. He and Lucius have taken to sneaking out at night, eavesdropping on the police radio and surreptitiously kicking a little criminal butt. So Bob's all ears when a slinky number named Mirage (Elizabeth Pena) invites him on a special mission -- superheroic, of course.
When Dad sneaks off on a secret mission and lies about what he's doing, what's a family to do, except follow?
Writer-director Brad Bird, an executive consultant for "The Simpsons," "The Critic" and "King of the Hill," who also made the rather wonderful "Iron Giant," has aced himself. The film brims over with hilarious sight gags and witticisms. Bob's company, Insuricon, has its own special motto: "Your life is in our hands." And at one point, the villain in the movie (whose identity I won't divulge) starts talking maniacally about the bad things he has in store for the captured Bob when he suddenly stops himself and says: "You caught me monologuing!"
Beyond the sophisticated humor, there's something for almost every conceivable viewer. Mom, Dad, daughter and son all get a major bite of the action. What could be more appealing than an entire family not only empowered but super-empowered?
Now here's a caveat. There is definitely a lot of smash and crash in that action. The Incredibles get quite a workout, fighting a big, intimidating robot that smashes giant potholes in the ground and is bent on destroying them. This pugilistic intensity might not be good for the sensitive or very young. Of course, it will thrill the instant-gratification element. Okay, I'm talking about boys. I throw myself before the Board of Political Correction without legal representation, but I'm confident most people are going to have a great time.
The off-screen voices are terrific, too. Even, and perhaps especially, in animation, performance is the real chemical ingredient. That's the final act of animation -- the putting of life into the images. Nelson makes a wonderfully amusing Bob, bighearted and just a little goofy. And Jackson makes much of his supporting role as Frozone. But for my money, the real revelation is Hunter as Helen. She's a warm, husky-voiced mom who stands her ground and gives you a sense that this family is really worth loving and fighting for. That's not bad for a take-home message.
THE INCREDIBLES (PG, 115 minutes) -- Contains some intense action fare. Area theaters.