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— Heather Donahue, The Blair Witch Project

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Winsor McCay -- The Master Edition

A new DVD offers an opportunity to see films by a master of animation —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Gertie the Dinosaur, born of Winsor McCay

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Pixar and Blu-ray have consistently proven to be the perfect match: great movies with immaculate presentation. The Incredibles is no exception. What’s more, pushing 7 years after its theatrical release, the movie’s social commentary proves to be every bit as relevant, if not more so.

The Litigious Society of Mediocrity

The Incredibles are now on Blu-ray
The Incredibles are now on Blu-ray

Times are tough and cynical in Metroville and it’s hard for a super hero to get credit where credit is due. That’s the world faced by Mr. Incredible, the super alter ego of citizen Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson, Poltergeist), an oversized man of action who winds up on the wrong side of a law suit after a man whose life he saved sues him. After all, Mr. Incredible didn’t save the suicidal man’s life, he ruined his death. With that, a spate of lawsuits puts the kibosh on the hero business.

And so it is, 15 years later, we find Bob Parr married to Helen, formerly the incredible Elastigirl (Holly Hunter, O Brother Where Art Thou?). Together, living under the protection of the super hero relocation program, they have a nice house in suburbia, three children, and Bob drives a beater to a suffocating office job in the insurance industry.

At work, Bob gets to share cube space with one of the building’s concrete pillars and denizens of corporate America will find the drab gray cube farm and pale, artificial lighting all too familiar. It’s a dreary job Bob sucks at because he’s too pure and concerned about his customers’ well-being to look after the company’s shareholder value.

Thankfully, though, Bob soon finds himself at the center of an incredible adventure that ultimately requires the incredible help of his incredible family.

No Capes, Daahling!

The storyline of The Incredibles is too good to be written off as just the stuff of a children’s movie. Following the tradition of sophisticated humor and whimsy found in other digital marvels like Pixar’s first two Toy Story movies and Dreamworks’ first Shrek flick, The Incredibles is the kind of animated fare that’s great for adults and kids alike.

What sets The Incredibles apart and makes it, well, incredible, is its sweetly sugar-coated criticism of life in America today. The Incredibles makes a marvelous commentary on how children are raised today, which is all the more juicy considering The Incredibles is distributed by that bastion of all things kid-friendly, Disney.

Sure, Bob’s a loving father, but he would rather be out stopping criminals in their tracks than going to some artificial ceremony honoring his son Dash’s graduation from 4th grade to 5th grade. Bob cynically refers to it as “new ways of celebrating mediocrity.”

Oh. And the villain of the piece is the dastardly Syndrome (Jason Lee, Almost Famous), who hunts down and knocks off heroes in hiding as part of a nefarious plot to create havoc and set himself up as the next super hero. Some might say that reeks of current events.

Set the current affairs subtext aside and what’s left is a lot of fun. Michael Giacchino, who has created scores for video games and the TV series Alias, provides a horn-heavy score of such brassy bravura it’s more Bond than James Bond.

There’s also plenty of pure super hero shtick, including over-the-top villains such as the incendiary French evil-doer, Bomb Voyage, and colorful supporting characters like that munchkin fashion designer to the super hero stars, Edna “E” Mode (voiced by director Brad Bird).

The Incredibles is an ambitious production with such painful attention to detail that it is actually more rewarding with repeated viewings, a genuine bonus for owners of this completist 4-disc Blu-ray combo pack.

Blu-ray Exclusives

Disc 1 includes a pair of new supplements.

Jack-Jack Attack Exploded is a great visual commentary played against the animated short with Brad Bird and three others provided voice commentary accompanied by terrific visual embellishments.

The Incredibles Revisited is a 22-minute round table with director Bird and several key Pixar members recalling sundry challenges and humorous anecdotes.

The exclusives continue on Disc 2, which includes Paths to Pixar: Story Artists, a 6-minute chat about the career backgrounds of several Pixar people. Grocery stores are a frequent topic.

Studio Stories: Gary’s Birthday is a pretty funny little bit (1:24) about how the team creatively addressed the ubiquity of birthdays.

Ending with a Bang: Making the End Credits (1:35) is a neat enough look at, yeah, the graphics accompanying the end credits.

The New Nomanisan: A Top Secret Redevelopment Plan (3:30) is a goofy look at retooling Nomanisan as a holiday resort. It’s an all-new piece of animation. After a brief introduction, the feature revolves around a map that leads to mini-commercials of some of the new Nomanisan’s amenities.

The deleted scenes from the original DVD release are now presented in high definition, as is the teaser trailer. The six deleted scenes primarily take the form of animated storyboards. The 34-minute bundle includes introductions to the scenes, highlighted by an alternate opening that isn’t anywhere near as good as the one in the final cut. Sometimes it’s amazing how polished and smooth the final product is compared to the original ideas.

Perhaps as a trade-off for leaving out Brad Bird’s DVD-specific supplementals introduction, Disc 2 of the Blu-ray set adds six “ABC Stunts,” 10-second bits under the Publicity section. There are also three product tie-in commercials.

The original Easter Eggs - all 10 of them - are presented in one not-at-all-hidden menu option, along with the DVD’s Incredi-Blunders collection of digital bloopers and odd computer-generated gaffs.

Disc 3 is a DVD version of the movie, accompanied by the animated shorts Boundin’ and Jack-Jack Attack.

Disc 4 of the set includes a digital copy of the feature film for use in portable devices.

DVD Extras: The Best

The feature film is accompanied by both of the original DVD’s running commentaries, one by writer/director Brad Bird and producer John Walker, the other by 13 of the animators.

Bird and Walker’s commentary was recorded prior to the movie’s theatrical release, creating a time capsule of their unbridled enthusiasm, regardless of the film’s financial fortunes. While Bird’s penchant to continually name the animators while also apologizing for not naming every single animator grows a little tiresome (this is, after all, a running commentary, not an Oscar acceptance speech), his enthusiasm and insight make up for the occasional lulls into congratulatory chatter.

The second track, with the baker’s dozen of animators, is a hodgepodge of input that ranges from overly technical gobbledy-gook to the humorous to the astutely observant.

Both tracks offer good nuggets about the behind the scenes efforts, providing insight into the limitations of computer-generated animation (yes, there still are some) even as they also talk movie shop with references to the deep focus technique of Citizen Kane as well as the tricks used to create the flat, claustrophobic effects generated for Bob’s corporate life. They also let it slip that Harrison Ford and George Clooney both auditioned for the role of Bob Parr, but Craig T. Nelson was the man Bird had in mind all along.

Disc 2 of the set includes the rest of the supplementals from the original DVD release. The supplemental materials are superb, the rare kind that actually expand on the movie’s universe. In this case, though, the supplements will probably bring more pleasure to the adults in the family than the kids.

The funniest supplement of the set is still the “long lost” animated short, Mr. Incredible and Pals, done in the cheesy, sparsely animated style of the old Hanna-Barbera Justice League of America cartoons. As an added treat, Mr. Incredible and Frozone provide a biting, hilarious commentary track.

Adding to The Incredibles mystique are the highly entertaining top secret files from the NSA (National Supers Agency). On board are the profiles of 21 supers, detailing their powers and personality traits. Included are very well done audio clips of interviews with the individual supers that are finely detailed, right down to the background noise of crowds or radio static. It’s the animated equivalent of cinema verité.

Jack-Jack Attack is an animated short that recounts Kari the babysitter’s adventures tending to Jack-Jack while the parental units were away on an adventure. It’s nicely done, complete with the same sense of humor as its feature-length counterpart.

DVD Extras: The Rest

Approximately 70 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage is split between Making of The Incredibles and 10 departmental segments covering the story, character design, animation techniques, sound music, lighting - the whole 9 yards (well, 10 yards). It’s all worthwhile viewing that oddly provide the feeling that working at Pixar is not for everybody; it’s something akin to working in a giant pressure cooker, one in which fun and games are only two small ingredients in the stew.

The segment entitled Vowellet: An Essay by Sarah Vowell is an amusing look at the young lady who provides the voice for Violet. Vowell does not have any super powers, as she herself admits. However, she is just as quirky as any of the other characters.

Also on board is an art gallery that’s been upgraded to Blu-ray’s more sophisticated capabilities, such as the ability to rate images and tag them as favorites. Included are production sketches, storyboards, and designs for characters, costumes, and sets.

A 13-minute collection of publicity materials features lead animated characters being interviewed by real-world entertainment reports, product tie-in commercials, and trailers, which are worth checking out for the footage created specifically for the previews.

Boundin’, the animated short that accompanied The Incredibles’ theatrical release, rounds out the primary extra features. In addition to the short, there is a segment on its creator, Bud Luckey, as well as a commentary track by Luckey himself.

Picture and Sound

The feature presentation is superb, in keeping with other great Pixar Blu-ray releases like Ratatouille and Cars. It’s the kind of - yes, incredible - image quality in which things like the (intentionally) misplaced hairs on the characters’ heads are clearly visible. And the lush greenery of Nomanisan bedazzles with details.

For the audio, the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is full-bodied and terrific. Other options: English Dolby Digital 2.0 and English Descriptive Video Service 2.0, as well as Dolby Digital 5.1 EX tracks in French, Spanish Spanish, Mexican Spanish, and Argentine Spanish.

Subtitles are available in English for the Hearing Impaired, French, and Spanish.

Disc 2 offers English audio as well as dubbing in Spanish and French; optional subtitles in English, Spanish, and French are also available.

It’s worth mentioning some of the DVD supplements were originally presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. It’s particularly annoying Mr. Incredible and Pals and the character interviews have been blown up to full-screen 1.78:1. It degrades the image quality; having blackness on the left and right sides of the image would be preferred in order to preserve not only the original aspect ratio, but also provide greater picture sharpness. It’s sad when something looks better on DVD than Blu-ray and it would be expected of Pixar to know better than to tamper with something like that. It’s a black splotch on an otherwise awesome track record.

How to Use This Set

Of course, enjoy The Incredibles’ immaculate Blu-ray presentation. For a more in-depth experience in the characters’ world, be sure to check out the extended movie content: The New Nomanisan: A Top Secret Redevelopment Plan, Mr. Incredible and Pals, and the NSA files.