THE INCREDIBLES Once again, Pixar flexes its muscles.

The Incredibles
dir. Bird
Opens Fri Nov 5
Various Theaters

You can usually trust certain directors to put out good work. Or some screenwriters. Even a few actors can be counted on for delivering consistently good performances. But when it comes to studios, all bets are off--they'll crank out anything, as long as it'll turn a profit.

Except for Pixar. With revolutionary short films, and blockbusters like Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Monsters Inc. , and Finding Nemo, the computer animation studio cranks out consistently amazing films. So Pixar's latest, The Incredibles, has an astonishing level of anticipation surrounding it. And it doesn't disappoint.

The Incredibles--for those who haven't seen the pervasive marketing on every cereal box and soda can--are a family of superheroes. Mr. Incredible is super-strong; his wife, Elastigirl, is taffy-like in her flexibility; their son, Dash, can run blisteringly fast; and Violet, their daughter, can disappear and create force fields. Problem is, they can't use their powers--thanks to overly litigious citizens (Mr. Incredible sprained a guy's neck trying to prevent his suicide), superheroes have been forcibly retired. Instead, The Incredibles have to pretend they're a normal, boring family, acting decidedly un-incredible in the sprawl of suburbia. All of this is just expository setup, of course; with teasing glimpses of super-powers, it all leads up to the predictable but exhilarating moment when The Incredibles ditch suburbia and save the world.

There's so much to like here: The jaw-dropping animation, the retro-futuristic production design, the self-aware script and fully-realized characters, the relatively dark tone, and the flawless voice acting by Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson, Samuel L. Jackson, Spencer Fox, Sarah Vowell, and Jason Lee. (Other animation studios could learn from Pixar, which casts its actors for their talent rather than their marquee value.) In fact, writer/ director Brad Bird--who also created the critically lauded but little seen The Iron Giant--has made a film so good that criticizing it becomes an exercise in nitpicking.

But here goes anyway: The pedestrian first half isn't nearly as much fun as the euphoric second half. As much fun as Jason Lee's maniacal supervillain, Syndrome, is, he's never very threatening. There isn't enough of the Samuel L. Jackson-voiced, ice-centric superhero, Frozone. And by cribbing all their superpowers from existing superheroes, the film sometimes merely imitates the characters (the X-Men, Spider-Man, and the Fantastic Four) it aims to subvert.

But those are minor complaints--if anything, they're the byproduct of an overzealous critic examining the seemingly undefeatable Pixar with a microscope, vainly trying to find some fault. By and large, The Incredibles is quite good--and once again, Pixar has proven itself as the studio to beat. And those two facts, in and of themselves, are some pretty incredible accomplishments.