I was eight years old when the first Incredibles film hit cinemas in 2004. I remember watching the DVD over and over again, entranced by the story of outlaw superheroes saving the world from certain jeopardy in a futuristic sixties setting, accompanied by a fantastic musical score.
One of my favourite moments from the first film comes right near the beginning, in the original interviews with all the old supers. Elastagirl turns to the camera and says sassily, “Leave the saving of the world to the men? I don’t think so.” Fourteen years later, I’m planning a trip to Peru to do conservation work in the Amazon rainforest and it seems like those words have really stuck with me.
It took fourteen years for Pixar to release the sequel to this perfect family film, and this time, Elastagirl (Helen Parr) gets all the screen time. The fate of supers is once again in the balance, and it’s up to Helen to save the day, whilst Bob (Mr Incredible) is left behind at home to look after the children.
The reversal of gender roles being explored in this way is something which brought me so much joy when watching the film, particularly since it shows Helen switching effortlessly between parenting and saving the world (when she answers a phone call from Dash asking where his shoes are in the middle of a high-speed motorcycle chase) – while Bob is shown to struggle. It illustrates the challenges that a single father might face, someone who has not been brought up in a world where parenthood is encoded into their individual identity the same way that it is for women.
A favourite moment of the film for me is the discussion between Elastagirl and Evelyn about their careers and how successful they have been as women in their own rights. Both The Incredibles and its sequel pass the Bechdel Test, but it is the quality of female characters which really sells the film’s feminist messages.
Evelyn, the villainous mastermind behind the Screenslaver, does wonders to contradict expectations of what a villain should be. Good hair, good fashion, an imprecise nature, and femininity are rare traits to be found in a supervillain. Evelyn completely destroys the “brains or beauty” dichotomy, proving you can have both in bucketloads and still have time to try to take over the world with hypnotism.
I couldn’t write a piece about The Incredibles without mentioning Edna Mode, the fan favourite eccentric designer who provides much of the comic relief in the film. She is tasked with babysitting Jack-Jack when Bob discovers that he has more powers than he knows what to do with. In a night, she is able not only to connect with Jack-Jack to the extent that he even copies her mannerisms but designs him a suit which adapts to each new power he is revealed to have.
The women in The Incredibles 2 are truly well-rounded and used to make intelligent comments about gender, without the feminist elements of the film overpowering the excellent storyline and heartfelt moments. I am sure this is not the last we will see of the Parr family.
[I also hope that the next film made focuses on Violet balancing saving the world and dating Tony, the clueless guy from her school who utters the immortal line “it’s not like I don’t like strong girls. I’m pretty secure.” – TBB]