Animating 'The Incredibles'

A new superhero is about to appear in theaters. He is middle-aged, with thinning hair and a gut so big he can barely fit into his costume. His name is Bob Parr, aka "Mr. Incredible."

Watch Bob Brown's full report Friday on "20/20" at 10 p.m. ET

He was dreamed up by writer and director Brad Bird in what is, to say the least, one of the most unusual superhero backstories ever created: The reason Mr. Incredible grows so out of shape is that he and other superheroes have to retire, go into hiding and take boring desk jobs because they keep getting sued for trying to be good Samaritans.

"This assumes that in our highly litigious society, it becomes a burden to constantly bail the superheroes out and get them out of trouble," Bird said. "For instance, if somebody's in trouble and you knock down a wall to save them, who pays for the wall?"

Bird's computer-animated story, "The Incredibles," opens Nov. 5. It was made at the Pixar Studios and released by the Walt Disney Co., the parent company of ABC.

The concept of a retired superhero brings with it some familiar issues that everyday mortals face. The former Mr. Incredible is trapped in a desk job where he can't make full use of his abilities. He must balance his dreams against family obligations.

"I came up with the idea when I was having trouble going into movies from television," Bird said. "At the same time, I had a new family. And the anxiety of trying to be good at both things kind of filtered its way into the story. I wasn't aware of it, at the time. At the time, I just thought it was just a goofy movie about superheroes that I found myself entertained by."

Training With 'The Simpsons'

Since childhood, Bird has been fascinated by the potential of animation as a storytelling medium. While he was growing up in Corvallis, Ore., his mother once made a marathon drive to a faraway theater so he could see a re-release of a historic milestone, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," the first full-length animated feature.

"I found it in this tiny little hole-in-the-wall theater outside of Portland -- I mean, just one step above a urinal. And my mom drove me two hours through the rain. And we sat in this horrid little theater. But I was transfixed," he said.

"I couldn't talk about anything other than animation for a while. My friends would indulge me for, you know, up to two minutes."

At the age of 11, Bird began drawing and photographing his own animation, a cartoon version of "The Tortoise and the Hare," which he finished before he turned 14. It brought him to the attention of the Walt Disney studios and helped start a career in animation in which he has made films worth millions of dollars, often enlivened with what he calls a "Northwest sense of humor" that's "slightly darker but still friendly."

He worked as an executive consultant and director on the long-running television series "The Simpsons," where he combined his love of animation and caricature with the work of writers focused on jokes and dialogue. For Warner Bros., he made what fans consider an animated classic, "The Iron Giant." He gave emotional punch to a mechanical figure in the story of a boy and a robot caught in Cold War paranoia.

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