21 November 2004

Having finally seen The Incredibles, one is left with the question of why Pixar hits home runs so much more consistently than the rest of the major studios. Easy. Just make one movie every eighteen months rather than twenty movies a year, and make that one movie count. Could there be a lesson here for the rest of Hollywood? Eh, maybe. The economics of the movie business probably make it impossible for Fox or Paramount to be quite as selective as Pixar: they'll never get to the point where they can choose to swing at nothing but potential home runs, but they could certainly improve their on-base percentage. (Can you tell that I've read Moneyball recently?)

In terms of wit, invention, and excitement, The Incredibles stands near the top of any list of the best movies released this year. On balance, however, I'd have to place it in the second tier of the great Pixar productions. Why? What sets Finding Nemo and the Toy Story films apart from the rest, along with their other virtues, is that, miraculously, they don't need to resort to villains to tell an exciting story. There aren't any bad guys in Finding Nemo or Toy Story; at worst, there are a couple of snot-nosed kids (or adults) who exist on so remote a plane from the other characters that they become equivalent to forces of nature. Yet those films are able to generate an astonishing amount of conflict and excitement from the realistic interaction of flawed, interesting, and funny cartoon characters.

This isn't the case with A Bug's Life or Monsters Inc., which feature somewhat conventional bad guys scheming on the same level as the heroes themselves. And it certainly isn't the case with The Incredibles, which features, without exaggeration, the most hateful villain I've seen in any movie in a long, long time. (You'd have to go back to John Herzfeld's underrated 15 Minutes to find a villain that I disliked more. It's a combination, I think, of the villainous and the mediocre that aggravates me the most.) Don't get me wrong: the villain in The Incredibles is very funny and brilliantly handled. But if a relatively sophisticated viewer like me can react so intensely to a film like this, I can only wonder how a six year old might feel.

Again, though, a minor quibble about a great movie. (The Onion has a nifty interview with writer and director Brad Bird, who is the closest thing to a genius auteur working in animation these days.)

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