I emerged from the theatre cheering after seeing The Incredibles for the first time. I loved it. It was the most openly fun I’d had during a Pixar film thus far and it remains one of my personal favorites. It’s always a joy to watch and when I think of Pixar, this is one of the first ones that springs to the forefront of my mind.
However, with this rewatch, I found it surprisingly difficult to articulate why I enjoy it so much. What is it, exactly, that makes The Incredibles so . . . well . . . incredible?
From the jump, story and tone strike just the right balance between quiet, wild, imaginative, witty, sweet, and speculative. I could break down elaborate, nitty-gritty examples of why this movie is so effective (Michael Giacchino‘s score, the style and art direction, homage v. originality, etc.) but, truthfully? This film demonstrates an unusually solid example of “movie magic”; when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts (for me, at least). A lot of that comes down to the team behind it; if Pete Docter is my favorite Pixar director, then Brad Bird comes in at a very close second. I’ve been a fan of his style since I first saw The Iron Giant (oh, how I love that film, too). In Bird’s films, I most appreciate the dialogue, pace, and – like with Docter – the ambition. There are blurred moral lines here. We may not sympathize with the villains, but we understand them. While their decisions and reactions to their circumstances may be wrong, the points they make are very often sound.
The first Pixar flick to feature an all-human cast (the only other being Brave), as well as take place in our world, the plot, conflict, and premise all deal with very human themes and experiences. I remember being surprised that I was not more surprised by this change. It never feels too mundane and it never lags. I was surprised by how adult it feels; here, we have one of the most established romantic storylines between Helen and Bob as a happily (for the most part) married couple, who also offer the most openly sexual relationship of the Pixar canon. They clearly have a healthy and active love life. Additionally, the film follows Mr. Incredible through a mid-life crisis. The biggest tensions of the film come from his questioning his worth, his purpose. Did other kids find that dull? I certainly didn’t.
All of the characters wrestle with their identity and worth.
Who am I?
What happens if I lose part of myself?
How do I suppress what makes me me?
The Incredibles gave us a strongly peopled – literally – with characters that felt relatable in spite of their superpowers and took us on a great adventures that I enjoy taking every time. Edna sums up the movie’s message this time. When Bob tells her that he’s retired from superhero work, she smiles. “As am I, Robert,” she replies, “yet here we are.”
Dash rebels and lashes out. Violet retreats into herself, longing for normalcy and hating her true nature. Helen focuses laser-sharp on trying to maintain order that she loses herself and puts all her worth in domestic life, keeping her family safe, and seeing everyone around her experience unhappiness.
One of the first things we hear Edna Mode say is a string of complaints about working in fashion – another example of a character struggling with having to live only one part of her identity. She, like all of them, misses the work she did that provided a higher purpose; enabling heroes to be and perform at their best.
But more than that, she gives Helen the advice she needs. She counsels heroes. “You are Elastagirl! My God, pull yourself together! … You will show him he his Mr. Incredible and you will remind him who YOU are!” But, even though it’s a comedic line, her follow-up comment demonstrates what I so love about Edna. She really is in touch with the two sides of herself. She embraces who she is, revels in it, and feels no shame. Again, visible in her smile to Robert, and when she throws her arms into the air to shout, “Go, confront the problem! Fight! Win!” Then softens to add, in complete earnest: “And call me when you get back, darling. I enjoy our visits.”
Ultimately, Bob’s journey leads him to realize that he isn’t just Mr. Incredible OR Robert Parr. He’s both, and the key is in finding the balance between the two, rather than denying one over the other. To be all or nothing leads to madness and disaster. Once he figures this out, his family not only joins him in superheroism, but they don their masks before him. They are a whole “family of supers,” that are now ready to take on the world, together.
As I said, I could ramble on for several more paragraphs, but those were my biggest takeaways from this rewatch and I was delighted to find that I still love this film as much as I ever have. Whether the forthcoming sequel manages to bring us a worthy sequel, I don’t expect it to change my admiration for this movie. The Incredibles remains not just one of my favorites in Pixar’s collection, but one of my favorite films overall. Maybe someday I’ll figure out how to explain it more succinctly.
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