I figured I would conclude a week’s worth of superhero posts by talking about one of my favorite “original” movies from the era: Pixar’s The Incredibles. The reason I put original in quotes is because, for all intents and purposes, The Incredibles basically adapted and made family-friendly the plot of Watchmen. Not that that’s a bad thing. For my money, The Incredibles is the best film version of Watchmen out there. Anyway, I’m not going to go in-depth on this comparison today. That’s not my reason for talking about The Incredibles. I watched this film yesterday and started really thinking about the content. The Incredibles does not have kids as its target audience. Does that mean it’s not a children’s movie: no. Does that mean that kids won’t enjoy it: no. Should you show it to your kids (if you have them): of course, it’s completely appropriate. But the fact remains that The Incredibles tells a far more adult-oriented story than most western animated films.
Basic plot rundown for The Incredibles: a family of superheroes in hiding must dawn their masks again to do battle with a new super villain bent on world domination. Doesn’t get more basic than that. Well that may be the plot, but that does not touch the themes of the movie. At its heart, The Incredibles is a commentary on one thing: marriage. I suppose if one wanted to look approach a little closer, the film is essentially the fantastical approach to how a marriage survives a mid-life crisis. Not a theme most kids are fully going to understand.
So thematically this is not a story about friendship or growing up, this is about what happens after. As such, most of the issues in this film are elaborations on that theme. Sure there are battles as well. Superheroes punch bad guys in the face and cause giant explosions. I know how I’m typing it makes it seem tacked on but it’s not. That’s one of the reasons that I really like The Incredibles. It works on multiple levels. You can watch the movie as nothing more than a high-action superhero romp and you will not be disappointed. Personally I think there is a bit more James Bond than Superman in the film (that might just be because of Michael Giacchino’s soundtack). Again, not a bad thing.
Let’s start with one of the larger subplots and one that may or may not be appropriate for younger viewers: cheating. In the first half of the film, Helen Parr (Elastigirl) is very suspicious that her husband may not be entirely faithful. She openly accuses him of being it later on, but anyway, back to it. This means that we’re dealing with sex in a children’s movie (gasp). You may say I’m reaching here, that while Bob might lie, there is no implication of sex or other sexual behavior in the movie. Really then, let’s look at the opening prologue:
I may have a dirty mind but I don’t think that’s just playful banter. There’s one or two things implied. But it’s not just this time either. In the last third of the movie, once the villain Syndrome has captured the family (he is holding them in his anti-gravity field) he makes a very lewd gesture once he realizes that Dash and Violet are Mr. Incredible’s kids. Let me clarify: it is lewd to adults but subtle enough that children might not notice, this movie is clever like that. Really writer/director Brad Bird should be commended for his use of subtly in this movie.
So the theme of mid-life crisis vs. marriage rears its head in this suspicion of adultery. Of course Bob is not cheating on Helen, the only reason for his suspicious behavior comes from the fact he is lying to her about his superhero life and work. I guess that’s better?
What other problems become part of a mid-life crisis outside of marriage. Death for one. Mr. Incredible has reached the age where people he knows are starting to die. In this case, they are not natural deaths. Again here comes the cleverness of Brad Bird and The Incredibles. It also ties back into the comparison to Watchmen. In both movies, someone is killing a lot of heroes.
Bob Parr is trying to hang onto his past while it’s being removed. He has reached the point where his old life is over (he doesn’t see his old friends outside of Frozone cause well – they aren’t around anymore) and his new life is going on. In typical mid-life crisis fashion, he is unsatisfied with it. What is his new life: marriage. It all comes back around. It is only when the two are brought together that our protagonist truly understands the strengths of his married life and the weaknesses of his role as a superhero.
I know it may seem like I’m trying to make The Incredibles out as too adult for children but I’m not. This is a great family film. I don’t think it should be condemned for approaching more adult material, I think it should be emulated. Western animation could use more films like this one. Movies that can be enjoyed by everyone but ring truer to the older members of the household. I mean think about it, if this movie was live action, it would have been rated PG-13, not simply PG. Western culture has a view that animated cartoons and their subsequent movies can only be for kids. Brad Bird has stated he does not hold with this view: “the point is, animation is not a genre. It is a method of storytelling. People are constantly analyzing it and misanalysing it as if it is a genre. It isn’t a genre. It can do horror films, it can do adult comedies if it wanted to, it could do fairy tales, it could do science fiction, it could do musicals, it could mystery, it can do anything.”
Yeah, I love The Incredibles and Brad Bird’s other Pixar film, Ratatouille, primarily for that reason. He is not a man who thinks animation is just for the family. Is The Incredibles appropriate for all ages: sure. Was it written only to be fun for kids: no. There is a very well done and very adult script driving this film.
Thoughts? Comments? Am I full of shit or onto something? Let me know now in the feedback section of this article.