Everyone needs heroes. Except the good people of Metroville. They’ve had enough of ’em. The city has been slapped with so many lawsuits from property owners, people injured during rescues and suicidal citizens who didn’t want to be saved, that it has forced caped crusaders and Spandex-clad defenders of justice into early retirement. One of those superhuman few (treated like a mob informant in need of witness relocation) is Bob Parr, aka Mr. Incredible.
We next encounter Mr. Incredible, ahem, Bob, trapped in a corporate cubicle, living the subdued life of an insurance claims adjuster. The only bright spot in his secluded suburban existence is his similarly closeted superhero wife, the rubber-limbed Elastigirl, who neighbors know as Helen. For 15 years the devoted couple suppress their powers and do the best they can to be “ordinary.”
Instead of stretching her limbs, Helen expands her parenting powers raising three children, including a lightning-fast little boy (Dash), a brooding teenage daughter with the ability to render herself invisible and put up force fields (Violet) and a new baby (Jack Jack) capable of who-knows-what. No longer are Bob’s greatest nemeses evil villains desiring his destruction, they’re a receding hairline, a bulging waistline and a tin can of a car.
Then Bob gets a mysterious invitation to don his old super-suit and visit a remote island to battle a mega-machine gone mental—an offer he accepts without his family’s knowledge. One thing leads to another, and before you know it Mr. Incredible is in the middle of a gigantic showdown with a pest from the past now named Syndrome. Realizing Bob’s not just attending an insurance conference like he said he was, Helen and the kids home in on his tracking signal, joining him for what turns out to be a life-and-death battle to once again save Earth from evil. “No matter how many times you save the world, it always manages to get back in jeopardy again!” Mr. Incredible laments. “I feel like the maid; I just cleaned up this place! Can’t you keep it clean for 10 minutes!”
There’s plenty of truth, justice and the American way sewn into these costumes. But there’s more to this movie than typical save-the-world positivity. “At its heart, I saw The Incredibles as a story about a family learning to balance their individual lives with their love for one another,” says director Brad Bird. And the end result lives up to Bird’s vision. Mr. Incredible’s grandest superpower is his ability to love his wife and kids. Vainly attempting to convince Elastigirl to stay in a safe place during the story’s climactic battle, he tells her he’s strong enough to risk taking on the baddies alone, but he’ll never be strong enough to bear it if she’s killed. “If we work together,” she retorts, “you won’t have to be.” Realizing that his drive to do superhero-type things almost cost him his family, Mr. Incredible informs them, “You are my greatest adventure, and I almost missed it.”
Dash and Violet are pretty keen on family bonds, too, agreeing that death itself might be preferable to their parents getting divorced. The pair bicker and fight as young siblings are wont to do, but they readily stick up for each other and watch each other’s backs. Helen shows the strength of character it takes for a parent to apologize to her kids when she’s done the wrong thing, letting Violet know that she’s sorry for wrongly pressuring her to suddenly become super-proficient with her superpower. Executive producer John Lasseter calls the Parrs a “superhero family trying to do what all families try to do—make one another happy.”
Syndrome’s assistant, Mirage, counters his assertion that Mr. Incredible is weak because he won’t kill her. She rounds on Syndrome, informing him in no uncertain terms that there’s nothing heroic about devaluing life. And that Mr. Incredible is actually stronger for having saved her life at the risk of his own.
A persistent theme woven throughout is that individual giftedness and uniqueness should not be stifled. Fulfill your potential, the movie says. Be yourself, and don’t let irrational social pressure tear you down or stick you in a box. “You have more power than you think,” Elastigirl coaches Violet. Similarly, in a scene that elicits thoughts of Proverbs 22:1, Elastigirl instructs her kids to protect their identities at all costs as they are their most valuable possessions. Proverbs 28:10 says that “he who leads the upright along an evil path will fall into his own trap.” Onscreen, Syndrome’s snares are eventually his undoing, and he reaps the whirlwind for setting them.
Mr. Incredible feels a constant urge to “go help people,” but sometimes his pride gets in his way. He’s not fond of anyone helping him, even Elastigirl, and he pushes others out of his life to preserve his seclusion. Indeed, it’s his cold rebuff of a young “fan” who wants to tag along with him that ultimately creates the monster who is Syndrome. And it’s not until Mr. Incredible finally lets others—his family—work alongside him that things are resolved. The obvious lesson is that together we can do what we can’t as individuals.
Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl revel in their visibly passionate relationship. Quick kisses, longing gazes, lingering touches and wink-wink romanticism hint at some of the best things marriage has to offer. Elastigirl becomes concerned that Mr. Incredible has developed a wandering eye, but she’s proved wrong. Elsewhere, Mirage wears an outfit that reveals a bit of cleavage. (All the superhero getups are skintight.) Mocking Mr. Incredible for falling in love with Elastigirl, Syndrome laughs, “So you married Elastigirl and got busy!”
Imagine a James Bond movie animated—without any blood. Flying bullets. Exploding vehicles and buildings. Careening cars and RVs. The violence is intense and prolonged; the body count higher than many parents might be prepared for. It is also fraught with personal jeopardy. By that I mean each character that you come to care about experiences a near-death experience at least once, most of them many times. [Spoiler Warning] Missiles destroy the jet Elastigirl, Violet and Dash are flying. And while viewers see the three “parachute” to safety, Mr. Incredible is left believing his family is dead. He, of course, stares through death’s door countless times, and is even tortured (with electrical charges) by Syndrome. A hulking Doc Ock-style machine attempts to crush Mom, Dad and both kids on quite a few occasions. Dash outruns explosions, machine-gun fire and whirling hovercraft. Violet uses her invisibility and force fields to fight, among other things, hovercraft and the multi-armed robot. Even the newest member of the Parr family, months-old Jack Jack, is threatened with destruction when Syndrome kidnaps him. The baby is subsequently dangled from a great height, then dropped when he morphs into a clawing beast. (Mom catches him before he hits the ground.)
Bombs explode, blowing one thing or another up every 10 minutes or so. Several superheroes meet their doom when their capes catch on rockets or get sucked into jet turbines. (Additionally, it’s explained that Syndrome has maliciously killed a great number of superheroes to advance his research on superpowers. We see a skeleton of one of them.)
Fistfights are also a common means of communication between the good guys and the bad guys. Dash and Violet scuffle with each other during dinner, prompting Mom to forcibly rein them in with her super-long arms. A burning building collapses. Another is nearly shattered when the rampaging robot tumbles into it. Mr. Incredible incapacitates several of Syndrome’s guards by throwing things at them. He threatens to strangle Mirage, dangling her by her throat. (He doesn’t do it.) Later, Elastigirl punches Mirage in the face, thinking she’s been seducing Mr. Incredible. A mugging is witnessed. A suicidal man leaps from the top of a skyscraper.
Startled, Mr. Incredible blurts, “What the …,” then trails off before finishing. Interjections of “oh my god” and “jeez” pop out of characters’ mouths two or three times.
Mr. Incredible consumes (or is about to consume) wine and a mixed drink. One of Syndrome’s henchmen opens a bottle of champagne while playing a sadistic drinking game with his comrades.
Instead of going bowling with his buddy Frozone each week (which is what he tells Elastigirl he’s doing), Mr. Incredible covertly works as a superhero. He also lies to his wife by not telling her he’s been fired and by insisting he’s at business meetings when in fact he’s taken on what he thinks is a new superhero gig. Several times he abuses his powers, using them in anger and frustration. That’s pretty trivial when the result is a dented automobile; it’s significant when he hurls his boss through a series of walls. Early on, he forcibly ejects a young tagalong from his car, leaving him crumpled by the side of the road. (It’s an act that comes back to haunt him later, though.)
Dash and Violet disobey their mom a few times, most notably when they stow away on her jet. Dash uses his superpower to put thumbtacks on his schoolteacher’s chair.
If anything in any of Pixar’s previous projects proved too much for you or your tots, stay far away from The Incredibles. All of Pixar’s previous high-profile projects were rated G. This one’s not. And with good reason. In Toy Story, Sid terrorizes toys by swapping their parts and strapping them to homemade rockets. In Monster’s, Inc., the sometimes-invisible and always scary Randall attacks Sulley. And in A Bug’s Life, Hopper (before he’s eaten by a bird) wallops friends and enemies alike. But here, the violence is much more vivid. The explosions are epic. The fisticuffs are frenzied. And babies are dangled and dropped. “Remember those guys you watch on Saturday morning cartoons?” Elastigirl asks Dash and Violet. “These guys are not like those guys. They won’t exercise restraint because you’re children. They will kill you if they get the chance.”
“This is a Pixar cartoon?” queries Time magazine. “Instead of toys, bugs, monsters or funny fish, we get a midlife crisis and, in the first half-hour, enough domestic strife to fill a Mike Leigh film.” Clearly, it’s unwise for families to think of The Incredibles as a kid’s movie just because it’s animated. “Oftentimes people call animation a genre, and that’s completely wrong,” Brad Bird says. “It’s a medium that can express any genre.” And this time it’s not a children’s genre.
That said, if I direct my comments toward adults and teens, the actual target audience of The Incredibles, I’m less apt to express worry about the effects of its intensity and more inclined to ramble on about its artistic merits and positive story line. “What are you waiting for?” Mr. Incredible asks a nosey neighbor boy. “I don’t know,” the kid replies, “something amazing I guess.” He soon sees exactly that, as do audiences.
Pixar can’t seem to make even a single mistake when it comes to elevating the artistry of animation. Likewise, while illustrating the value of an intact family or the beauty of individuality or the negative results of pride, The Incredibles is, well, incredible. If its director had left more of its computer-generated violence on his hard drive … it would have been sublime.