BUENA VISTA-WALT DISNEY-PIXAR/Color/2.35/Dolby Digital, DTS & SDDS/115 Mins./Rated PG

Voice Cast: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Jason Lee, Sarah Vowell, Spencer Fox, Wallace Shawn, Brad Bird, Elizabeth Peña, Dominique Louis.
Credits: Written and directed by Brad Bird. Produced by John Walker. Executive producer: John Lasseter. Associate producer: Kori Rae. Story supervisor: Mark Andrews. Music by Michael Giacchino. Edited by Stephen Schaffer. Supervising technical director: Rick Sayre. Production designer: Lou Romano. Character design: Tony Fucile, Teddy Newton. Supervising animators: Fucile, Steven Clay Hunter, Alan Barillaro. Art director: Ralph Eggleston. A Pixar Animation Studios film.

Since the debut of Toy Story in 1995, Pixar has continued to break new ground in computer animation, most recently with the undersea wonders of the massively successful Finding Nemo. But no Pixar project has been as wildly ambitious as The Incredibles, the superhero comedy-adventure written and directed by Brad Bird, whose traditionally drawn The Iron Giant was the most unjustly overlooked animated feature of the 1990s. Not only is Pixar attempting an entirely human cast of characters for the first time, but the scope of the movie is huge and the action is a rougher-edged PG. The result: a yardstick against which all future CG movies will be measured.

Technology aside, what really makes The Incredibles work is the wit of Bird, whose past credits include a key role in the original creative team for “The Simpsons.” Ironically, the latest Pixar film may not reach the box-office heights of Finding Nemo because much of it will be over the heads of very young viewers who account for so much repeat business. Bird’s satiric take on suburbia, conformity and forced notions of equality is surprisingly sophisticated and biting for an animated feature, matched by a visual panache that is often breathtaking. The film’s only disappointment comes in the final half-hour, a frantic onslaught that will please action fans but seems out of character after the subtler pleasures that precede it.

The movie begins with a terrific action sequence as muscular Mr. Incredible (voiced by TV’s former “Coach,” Craig T. Nelson) responds to crisis after crisis en route to his wedding to Elastigirl (Holly Hunter). But the superhero’s derring-do exacts a price: A jumper sues him for interfering with his suicide and wins, setting a legal precedent that makes superheroes uninsurable. The super-couple enters a relocation program, and 15 years later we find them living in the suburbs as the unassuming Bob and Helen Parr—he an overweight insurance salesman working in an ocean of cubicles, she the frazzled mother of mopey teenager Violet, mischievous grade-schooler Dash, and baby Jack Jack. Stifled by his dead-end job, Bob, with his best pal Lucius Best (Samuel L. Jackson as the former Frozone), spends his nights monitoring the police scanner and anonymously foiling bad guys.

Fired after a work-related meltdown, Bob is recruited by a femme fatale named Mirage for a secret mission on a mysterious island. What Bob doesn’t know is that Mirage is in the employ of Syndrome, at one time a persistent but unwanted Mr. Incredible fan, who has grown into a bitter adult with a dastardly plan to eliminate the world’s superheroes and win all the adulation for himself. Bob’s capture by Syndrome ultimately leads Helen to become Elastigirl once again, accompanied by Violet and Dash, who have been suppressing their own amazing superpowers.

The Incredibles delivers intense action set-pieces, but I prefer the earlier scenes of this extraordinary family in suburban hell: the beefy Bob squeezing into his “work station,” the dinner-table squabbles in which Helen puts her flex-arms to efficient use, or Violet’s sudden invisibility reflecting her high-school outcast status. Another high point is the visit to the ultra-modern mansion of Edna Mode, the diminutive but haughty fashion designer to the superheroes, voiced to scene-stealing hilarity by director Bird. (The montage illustrating the practical reasons why Edna detests capes is pricelessly funny.) Once the story arrives at Syndrome’s exotic island, The Incredibles becomes the James Bond adventure producer Albert Broccoli could never afford, abetted by Michael Giacchino’s dead-on, John Barry-like orchestral score. (Just as The Iron Giant paid delightful homage to ’50s pop culture, The Incredibles boasts wonderful retro-’60s production design.)

The climax, in which Syndrome vents his diabolical fury, is more violent than Pixar audiences are accustomed to, and will be too unsettling for the tiniest viewers. But that misstep is ultimately a small quibble in light of the movie’s triumphs: Bird’s classic comic timing, the perfect casting of Nelson, Hunter and Jackson, the sensational computer-generated movement and design details, and the overall message that “when everyone’s special, that’s another way of saying that no one is.” The incredible Incredibles is very special indeed.