Variety describes the themes of The Incredibles (2004) as “work, family, ego, and the passion of ambition.” That’s pretty deep for a cartoon. But it’s not wrong. And it’s part of the reason that fans of the movie have been pushing so hard for a sequel. They want more of the same. And this week — after fourteen years — Disney is going to deliver. The Incredibles 2, which comes out June 15, is the long-awaited next chapter to a cartoon action movie with a surprisingly deep moral message.
In a new video from The Story Locker, Caleb Brown explains that 2004 found Bob Parr (AKA Mr. Incredible) chafing against normalcy. The use of superpowers had been outlawed and Bob was relegated to a boring job at an insurance company. He was unfulfilled, itching for adventure, and unhappy. And, because of this, he was neglecting his wife, his kids, and his responsibilities as head of the household. Helen (AKA Elastigirl), on the other hand, had settled into her life as a stay-at-home mom. She cooked, she cleaned, she took care of the kids, and she was content — fulfilled. It seems like a pretty clear statement to me: a woman can find fulfillment in her family and her home. A man needs something external to connect him back to his family.
Brown explains that Bob’s job as a superhero “gave him purpose,” whereas Helen has found her purpose as a stay-at-home mom. But, as Brown points out, when Bob goes off on an adventure without telling his wife, he sacrifices his family “for the chance to feel incredible again.” It’s only when Bob realizes that he has to use the thing that gives him purpose — being a superhero — to reconnect with his family, that everything slots into place and everyone in the family is happy and fulfilled.
The Incredibles was about “work, family, ego, and the passion of ambition,” but, more specifically, it was about how those things interact. A man must find a way for his family to become his motivation to achieve acts of heroism, not his ego. At first, Bob wants to be “super” again because he craves the adventure and the adrenaline rush it provides — many men can, no doubt, relate to this kind of yearning. But he comes to see that he has to check his ego in order to be the husband and a father his family deserves. As Brown shows in his video, sometimes acts of heroism are incredible — but sometimes they’re mundane. The fact that Bob is a superhero is an asset to his family, but only if he channels his powers into protecting them, not putting them at risk.
Bob figures this out by the end of the movie. He tells his family he’s been “a lousy father, blind to what I have, so obsessed with being undervalued that I undervalued all of you.” It’s his family that makes his superpowers worth having. And it’s his wife, who has kept that family running while Bob has been off chasing his thrills, who is a hero of a different kind.
The Incredibles 2 finds Bob staying home with the kids while Helen heads off to work as Elastigirl. Since the first movie came out in 2004, we’ve entered the era of fourth-wave feminism, and the #MeToo movement. I can’t help but wonder whether the values of the first film — which today’s critics might call radically antiquated and anti-feminist — will carry over into the second.