A Fascinating Day in Animation History: Pixar’s ‘The Incredibles’ (2004)


Today marks ten years since the release of a film that is not only a phenomenal accomplishment in the realm of animation, but is perhaps the greatest superhero movie of all time. Too much? Not even close! The story Brad Bird developed has profundity effervescing from practically every line of dialogue. The film’s messages against praising mediocrity and of promoting heroism, duty and family resound as relevant and revivifying in our squishy, politically correct world. I could go on for two and a half years about how much I think of this film, but I may lose a few of you in my philosophical musings along the way. You got me monologuing! 

The idea of The Incredibles was one Bird had for over a decade when he finally acquiesced to John Lasseter’s pleas to join Pixar and make “the film you’ve been dying to make.” Something wholly inspiring to me about Brad Bird is how, in his interviews, he always seems to be bubbling over with ideas—like there just isn’t enough time to get them all out. This makes whatever Bird works on seem that much more important and builds anticipation to see his projects immeasurably. I’m sure this is what Lasseter also sees in Bird and exactly why he gave Bird free reign. Of course, Bird and Lasseter go way back together—all the way to Cal Arts circa 1978—and the two have mutual respect and admiration for each other as storytellers.


If you’ve ever done even a small amount of perusing into John Lasseter or Brad Bird interviews that address how and why they think Pixar is so successful, both directors (especially Bird) will emphasize story as the absolute key. So, what about the story of The Incredibles? Does it live up to its name? Is it incredible? The story centers around a nuclear family—mom, dad and kids—which was a first for a Pixar film at that point. They are superhuman, yet their character arcs are of the most intrinsically human components.

Bird said that the idea for Mr. Incredible’s major conflict came from his own struggles with balancing making great films and being a great father and husband. The villain is one of my favorites of all time; the complexity of Syndrome and his issues with “supers” is dark, yet almost understandable. Like so many great superheroes, Mr. Incredible actually had a hand in the creation of his own arch nemesis. Interesting note about Syndrome: Jason Lee voiced the character in four days, while Craig T. Nelson recorded Mr. Incredible’s lines over two years.


In the film, there is a beautiful and unique level of intimacy shown between Bob and Helen—certainly a rarity for animation. We see romance, jealousy, resentment, forgiveness and fidelity between the two strong, dynamic characters. Bob calls his family “my greatest adventure” and Helen is an amazing example of how powerful and heroic “stay-at-home moms” really are. Their children are also complex characters with interesting progression. Violet’s hesitance to embrace her gifts and her teenage angst impacts the plot several times. Dash’s retort to his mom’s line, “Everyone’s special, Dash,” with, “Which is another way of saying no one is” is one of the simplest, greatest lines ever spoken by an animated character. From the mouths of babes, indeed. Jack-Jack is an unexpectedly great source of comic relief and also a key in the plot near the end of the film. If I could watch a Saturday morning cartoon based on any of the Incredibles, I’d pick Jack-Jack. (P.S. Jack-Jack Attack is HYSTERICAL and my family still quotes “Hi! I’m Kari, the babysitter” all the time.)

Normally in comics, the superhero hides his/her identity from his family, but in this film, the family is hiding theirs from the world. This provides us with one of the fundamental themes of the film—not keeping your talent from the world, even if the world is trying to force you to do so. The importance of family is so essential to the fabric of this film (speaking of fabric, Edna Mode is an amazing character that Bird said came from his questioning who made superheroes’ costumes, anyway) and when Mr. Incredible tries to go it alone, it is the greatest failure of his life. The island he travels to is even named “Nomanisan Island,” a reference to the famous meditation by John Donne.

So, does The Incredibles have a great story? Absolutely.

This film also has amazing character and set design, songs, sound, (until 2012, the only Pixar film to win an Oscar for something besides Best Animated Feature, The Incredibles won for best sound editing) and animation. For example, the decision by the filmmakers to choose a more bold, less realistic aesthetic for the character design was extremely successful, but not one that was a given. Bird or Lasseter could have chosen to go uber-realistic, as some competitors did and as the technology of the time allowed, but due to keen artistic and entertainment instincts, the film was made to look like what it is: a cartoon. Does that take away from the film in any way? Quite the opposite.


A few more incredible factoids:

  • The film’s code name during production was “tights.”
  • Holly Hunter’s dialogue during the scene when Mrs. Incredible is flying the jet is exceedingly accurate to pilot-lingo, per the insistence of the actress, herself.
  • Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, two of Disney’s “nine old men,” have cameos in the film, as they do in Bird’s first film, The Iron Giant.
  • This is the only Pixar film not to include the Pizza Planet truck at any point.
  • Doc Hudson can be spotted from behind in the final battle scene.
  • This was the first Disney/Pixar film to receive a PG rating.
  • Bird first developed and pitched this film as traditional animation while he worked at Warner Bros.
  • Lily Tomlin was cast for Edna Mode’s voice, but declined when she heard Bird’s rough tracks, saying that he didn’t need her: he had it down!
  • Syndrome’s facial features are based on…who else? Brad Bird.

Overall, I’m sure you can tell what a fan-girl I am for this film and Brad Bird, generally. However, it is not unfounded. This film, in particular, is 115 minutes of fast-paced, heartfelt awesomeness and the super-cool theme song makes for one motivating ringtone! I hope everyone celebrates this exciting anniversary with another watch-through of this classic animated film. Especially since (rumor has it) The Incredibles 2 is currently in pre-production. Sorry, Mr. Incredible, I guess we need you to suit up one more time!

Edna No Capes

No matter how many times you save the world, it always manages to get back in jeopardy again. Sometimes I just want it to stay saved! You know, for a little bit? I feel like the maid; I just cleaned up this mess! Can we keep it clean for… for ten minutes!

2 thoughts on “A Fascinating Day in Animation History: Pixar’s ‘The Incredibles’ (2004)

  1. Nice homage to a great film. Some points though: The second Pixar film to win something besides animated feature was Up in 2010 (best score) and The Incredibles 2 has been confirmed to be in development it’s not a rumor. Other than that it was a nice read.

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