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The Incredibles
The Polar Express


The Incredibles (2004). Starring Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Jason Lee. Directed and written by Brad Bird.
This Pixar CGI film is a huge amount of fun. Of course, “Pixar” and “huge amount of fun” are pretty much the same thing, right?

In the Spider-Man films, Peter Parker doesn't want his superpowers, but he's been placed in a world that forces him to use them. He doesn't want to be outside the normal life he sees others enjoy, but situations arise where he, and only he, can affect the necessary redress.

The Incredibles have the opposite problem. They love having super-powers, and they love using them, but the government (for a variety of reasons) has made it necessary for them to live in hiding, as ordinary non-super people. Some, like Elasti-Girl have adapted quite well to the situation and she teaches her super children Violet and Dash to keep their powers hidden. Both of them are envious of the baby, Jack-Jack, who (appears) completely powerless.

Other heroes, like Elasti-Girl's husband, Mr. Incredible, have a harder time keeping up appearances. Forced to work in a demeaning job, with a demeaning boss, his efforts to keep his super strength hidden go to (if you'll pardon the phrase) heroic levels. Every now and then, he loses his cool, and the family has to relocate. While he truly loves his wife and children (this cinematic family is very nuclear, no pun intended), his great secret pleasure is to listen in on police band radio with one of his ex-super buddies, and help out the needy in secret. (Both this film and Spider-Man 2 have a burning building scene.)

Fortunately, Spider-Man 2 already did the “trying my best to be normal” and did it very well, so with this film, it shifts to becomes necessary for the super-heroes to save the world again, as it has been necessary throughout history. Fortunately, also, the Incredible family has the power and will to do what they do best. And they go for it with enthusiasm.

A nice aspect of the title is that it not only refers to people with extraordinary abilities, but it's also the “family name” of the main group of superheroes. And, as noted, these characters have a very strong grasp of family, coming to each other's aid in a pinch and diverting danger toward themselves rather than see a family member in peril. It's a very touching devotion and it's nice to see a family in an animated film (ever notice how many animated families are missing one parent?) that are so well behaved toward each other. Even the expected fighting between Dash and Violet is very brief and serves to make their bonding all the more touching.

While there are a number of stand-out scenes, of action, comedy and family togetherness, one of my favorites combines them all, when Dash (who has super-speed) is running a race at school. His family encourages him to press on, and he rockets into the lead, only to hear their alarm as they call to him to scale back, asking for “a respectable second!”

Well, the entertainment in this one is second to none (how about that for a seque?).

I'd say this is one of the very best of 2004, though of course I only saw a handful of films, so my vote should be looked at in that regard. If you haven't seen the film (and you probably have) you should hunt it down like a super-villain, and prepared to have entertainment served!

The Polar Express (2004) Starring Tom Hanks several times, Mandark. Written by Robert Zemekis and William Broyles, Jr, from the book by Chris van Allesburg. Directed by Robert Zemekis.

Well, when I went to see this I had no idea that I was going to see some of the most spectacular, kinetic action sequences I've ever encountered.

If you read that and think, In the Polar Express? Based on the Chris Van Allesburg book?, you'll be having the same reaction I had.

The book is only a few pages long, and it's a quiet, wee-hours tale of faith rewarded. Doing a simple adaptation might, might have yielded a movie twenty minutes long.

Obviously, we can't have a feature film twenty minutes long, can we?

So, as an adaptation of the book it's pretty much a failure (they even change the “hero boy's” Holiday beliefs just to have some kind of story conflicts). As a super-powered action ride, it succeeds splendidly.

The design work is very faithful to the book; some of the scenes look like they were taken right out of the pages. It's all the chases and runaway trains and such that really don't belong. Everything has been jacked up past eleven. There's a page in the book where the kids on the train are served hot chocolate. That's all it is—a guy in a chef's hat wheeling a cart through the car. Here, it's been turned into a singing, dancing, Busby Berkeley spectacular; it's kind of cool in a way, but it sure isn't The Polar Express.

While I had fun, it sure makes me wonder what the adapters saw in the original book that made them want to make it into a movie, and why they then made this movie. It almost seems as if they were thinking, say, the drawings in this are cool, let's make a movie of this before someone else does, but they got bored and started doodling, and trying to top each other with “Hey, what if--” scenarios. And all they could come up with were runaway trains.

In fact, in the book, the journey itself isn't really dwelled on much, as the book is more illustrated in the boy's simple faith in Christmas. Here, there are at least three spectacular action scenes, with the train careening down mountains and slashing across a frozen lake that's shattering underneath it. They really don't belong in an adaptation of the book.

Except for the fact that they're really, really cool. I'd love to see the various roller-coaster ride sequences spliced together in one big action reel. I'd probably play that thing for hours. It would make a great exercise tape. Even now, I can imagine running on the treadmill while watching that. All the way to the North Pole.

Recommending this is way, way iffy. On the one hand, it was fun, on the other, it sure wasn't The Polar Express. If you can forget the latter and concentrate on the former, you'll probably have as good a time as I had. If you're more of a purist about these things, I'd recommend that you go to the bookstore instead and replace your worn-out copy of the book.