Movies That Matter: The Incredibles

As the sequel enters cinemas, looks at the enduring message of Pixar’s superheroes

Cinema is an art form worthy of critical insight, close analysis and intense study. It is also, however, a form of entertainment, and the kind of art that touches people deeply, forming unbreakable connections of adoration between the viewer and the film. It is easy to sneer at someone’s favourite film, but to wax lyrically and pour out all your reasons for why a film means something to you is a joyous activity. That is why at Nouse we let our writers write to their heart’s content about the “Movies That Matter”, whether they be critical masterpieces, childhood favourites or the film that made them fall in love with the cinema.

Credit: Disney-Pixar

Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe rammed superheroes down our collective willing throats, another set of enhanced individuals stole the show. I am, of course, talking about Pixar’s masterpiece The Incredibles.

The sophistication of the animation, the natural development of the story and fantastically choreographed action set-pieces contributed to making The Incredibles the sleek and entertaining superhero flick it is.

The film was released when I was five years old. My first viewing of it was with my dad, one of many treasured cinema trips. The awesome action with a hyperactive blond child as a leading character spoke to me for some unknown reason, and Brad Bird’s movie soon established itself as my favourite. But this edition of Movies That Matter is not merely going to me gushing about the best (yes, best) superhero movie of all time.

Stuck in a cubicle that’s too small, with a boss that browbeats you down, for a job that doesn’t pay enough and doesn’t do any good. Bob Parr is like many adults of a certain age. The bright spark of youth and idealism dogged down by pragmatism and a need to compromise on principles. But Bob’s youth wasn’t spent politically debating at university or calling meat-eaters murderers. Bob was Mr Incredible, fighting good against evil until a series of lawsuits brought his golden age to an abrupt end.

Like all Pixar films, The Incredibles has a profound and meaningful message at its centre. I’d go as far to say the collective moral compass of this generation has been formed as a result of Pixar films. But where The Incredibles establishes itself is the universality of its message. The narrative centre being on the family unit means that the film puts itself in between being an adult or a kid film.

Credit: Disney-Pixar

Bob’s fall from youth, fame and glory into a soul-crushing job at an insurance company is a textbook mid-life crisis. The dull boxes of his office, his car and his home reflect the symbolic boxes he has to try and fit into to hide his exceptional abilities. The Bond-ish themes of the opening salvo are crushed by the monotonous tones of the hum-drum life Bob has assumed.

The opportunity to relive the glory days through the mysterious tasks given to him by Mirage almost brings down his marriage and threatens to gets his entire family killed. Indeed, all of the films drama is caused by the naivety of Bob in chasing his own glory.

Credit: Disney-Pixar

Bob’s nostalgia is his kryptonite and what he has to ultimately overcome to defeat Syndrome. His insistence on wearing his, now frightfully tight, old super-suit and listening to police scanners for days to save reek of a man who can’t let go of the past.  Above all else, The Incredibles teaches us to live in the present. Edna Mode puts it best: “I never live in the past darling, it distracts from the now.” And Mode is the architect of Bob’s acceptance into reality, it is the movement into her red and orange outfits that symbolise Bob moving on from his individual past and into his familial present. When the Incredibles band together in the final battle, it confirms to us that Bob has learnt his lesson.

While The Incredibles was an accessible film for me as a kid because of its spectacles and easy-to-follow plot, on revisiting Brad Bird’s superhero flick, it confirmed to me that the film is far more than just a swashbuckling ride from one action sequence to another. It is a scathing indictment of the nostalgic distraction that afflicts us all at one point or another in our lives, and that’s why, to me, The Incredibles is a movie that matters.