AS PIXAR SCORES yet another computer-animated hit with The Incredibles, here's an excellent chance to become acquainted with the debut feature from its director, Brad Bird. On disc Nov. 16, this special-edition DVD of the Cold War fable—based on a story by Ted Hughes—topped my 10-best list for 1999. Perhaps because it deals with mortality and self-sacrifice, as a giant robot from outer space (voiced by Vin Diesel) befriends a fatherless boy, the PG movie didn't click with kids and parents more accustomed to easier Disney fare. The boy and his single-parent mother find themselves pitted against our own paranoid government; they're made to feel like aliens, too, along with their mysterious visitor.
On a commentary track he shares with a few co-animators, Bird mainly confines his remarks to the mechanics of animation. It's kind of wonky, with insights and tidbits perhaps best suited to the future animators of America, but there are some inklings of influences and in-jokes. Some of the animators became models for the characters they worked on. You'll see Sputnik-era cues from old Maypo commercials and The War of the Worlds. And in the boy's friendship with the unknowingly lethal giant, Bird alludes to "this Frankenstein misunderstood monster stuff." With the kid as its mentor, the big tin can only belatedly learns that, "At his heart, he's basically a big weapon."
Vin Diesel even pops up in a mercifully short segment on his grating-jawed, clanging voice. Fascinatingly, the deleted scenes exist as barely animated black-and-white storyboards cut before the real artistry began. The other extras are pretty ho-hum, which is OK, since the movie stands quite nicely on its own.
As with The Incredibles, The Iron Giant has a retro feel to it, which the traditional 2-D animation furthers. There's also a superhero theme to it: The boy's mad for comic books and makes his hulking buddy a kind of Superman protégé. Like the members of the Incredibles clan, too, the amnesiac iron giant ultimately has to confront—or remember—his superpowered identity.
NOV. 9 greets that unnecessary remake of The Stepford Wives—with Birth, another dubious career move for Nicole Kidman. The Clearing doesn't do much more for Robert Redford and Helen Mirren. Before Sunset surprisingly lacks any commentary. Gift-sized on four discs, Gone With the Wind is back with a newly transferred print. There's a Marx Brothers box set that features five classics including The Cocoanuts and Duck Soup. W.C. Fields gets the same treatment on five discs, with The Bank Dick among them.