I love Pixar films. In fact, I love them more now that I’m older. The characters and themes in their movies are easy for kids to understand, but wow do they pack a punch for all ages. Coco and its story of sacrifice for those you love contradicts the typical “Chase your dreams” message from most kids movies. Cars has its flaws, but wow is it a picture-perfect character arc! I’ve probably learned more from writing from that one movie than any other. Inside Out examines the healing power of sorrow.
I think as a kid I didn’t see the full story of The Incredibles. Mostly because the protagonist is a 40-something guy with a struggling marriage and a deep sense of loss. Sure, Elastagirl and the kids play a huge role. The villain is cool. The baby’s surprise powers are hilarious. But now as an adult looking back at the movie, especially as an adult who loves storytelling so much, it looks very different.
So when I saw that a sequel was coming out, I let myself get excited. Star Wars and The Hobbit had let me down. Maybe this was something I could actually put my trust in. I mean, Pixar had a few stinkers in there, but other than the second Cars movie, nothing I would consider pure garbage.
Pixar, once again did an amazing job. However, sadly, I do think it fell short of the first movie.
Let me clarify. I really enjoyed it. The action was great. The characters familiar and yet deeper and richer at the same time. It didn’t feel like it had been years since the first movie. Everything moved and flowed together. Relevant messages about today’s culture filled the story, making it still feel like it belongs in the same time with us. And, with superhero movies being so popular, it still managed to be fresh and new.
I think one of my favorite things about this movie is how marriage and romance are used. While most stories hinge on the “will they/won’t they” tension, though we know they “will”, this movie focused on a complete family.
There were a few lines that were especially powerful. At one point, Bob and Helen are talking about who should go back to work. Bob’s exhaustion is clear. He’s worked hard to support his family, and they are still stuck in a hotel room after their home is destroyed, making him feel like a failure. As much as he wants to save the world and his family, it seems no one wants or needs him anymore. His wife recognizes the struggle and points out how miserable he was at his old job.
“Maybe it’s my turn to sacrifice for the family,” she says.
I love seeing that interaction.
Unfortunately, that is also the one point of the movie where I was a bit uncomfortable. While Pixar didn’t go as far as some recent movies, it was clear they had jumped on the feminist bandwagon on this one.
Helen was a powerful, capable woman in the first movie. But the themes of the story centered around the power of the family group. Bob Par had been viewing family life as taking away his power and purpose but found that instead, his family gave him more of both.
In this movie, Helen Par took the role of protagonist and left Bob at home. While I think they handled this beautifully, without making Bob look stupid, lazy, or incapable, they didn’t make up for it with Helen. There was a lot of potential in this storyline, and so many great things they could have explored with Helen as the lead. But I feel like a lot of that potential was wasted. Instead of giving her flaws and struggles, they seemed scared to let her fail. As a result, the antagonist was obvious and Helen’s struggle was hardly even frightening.
In the Incredibles, Bob fails almost off the bat, getting tricked and captured. And it is clear that this only happened because of his deep-seated character flaws. His pride, fear of obscurity, and the feeling that his potential was being wasted.
In the Incredibles 2, we get a few solid moments of “girl power” talk, and Helen saving the day again and again, to great acclaim, before the plot finally turns and the villain is revealed. The entire time, it wasn’t her failing that brought her down. In fact, she was the only character that didn't seem to have a solid character arc. No flaws to overcome. No fears to face. No mistakes to clean up after. Because of that, her victories mean nothing. And because she is the protagonist shouldering the whole movie, that means that the entire movie feels a bit off.
While, in the end, there were still many powerful themes and the story still came around to a compelling end, it was despite Helen, not because of her. She was positioned as the protagonist but Bob’s ...with his flaws and failures and struggles, was ultimately more compelling. While Helen’s storyline, with the many pointed conversations and clear “messages”, felt more like propaganda.
Let me make this clear. I’m not a feminist. I’m also not an anti-feminist. And I don’t want to go into my political views through this platform. However, if you go into a story afraid to offend a group, or with a particular message that you need to pound in...no matter what that message is...you will end up sacrificing some quality in your story. I would say this for any ideology. In fact, those of you who know me well know that I have a problem with most Christian Fiction for this very reason.
Overall, I’d say The Incredibles 2 is a four out of five in my book. Pixar has always gone into a story ready to challenge the regularly accepted views of American culture. Ready to tell us the things that other movies and books won’t.
I hope that, in the future, they will find the courage to tell those kinds of stories again. That they will not try to tell us how to think and feel, but instead invite us into a world filled with complex and beautiful characters like they once did. Because a good story isn't about sitting down your viewers or readers and telling them what is right and what is wrong. It’s about offering them a world to explore and people to love, and trusting them to take it from there.