The Incredibles (2004)
March 2, 2018 6:32 PM - Subscribe

A family of undercover superheroes, while trying to live the quiet suburban life, are forced into action to save the world.

Roger Ebert: On the surface, "The Incredibles" is a goof on superhero comics. Underneath, it's a critique of modern American uniformity. Mr. Incredible is forced to retire, not because of age or obsolescence, but because of trial lawyers seeking damages for his unsolicited good deeds; he's in the same position as the Boy Scout who helps the little old lady across the street when she doesn't want to go. What his society needs is not superdeeds but tort reform. "They keep finding new ways," he sighs, "to celebrate mediocrity."

NYMag: At its shiny core, The Incredibles is about credibility—about how, as one character puts it, “your identity is the most important thing you have.” We first see Mr. Incredible (voiced with basso bombast by Craig T. Nelson) in his glory days, rescuing citizens from petty crooks and runaway trains. Then some recipients of Incredible largesse get the all-American idea of suing him for distress, and the “supers,” in writer-director Brad Bird’s terminology, lose their government sponsorship. Flash-forward fifteen years, and Mr. Incredible, his wife, Helen (the former Elastigirl, twang courtesy of Holly Hunter), his teen daughter, Violet (the sour-ball-voiced Sarah Vowell, from NPR’s “This American Life”), sparky son Dash (Spencer Fox), and baby Jack-Jack are living in the Midwest ’burbs, anonymity courtesy of the “Supers Protection Program.”

NYTimes: The intensity with which "The Incredibles" advances its central idea -- it suggests a thorough, feverish immersion in both the history of American comic books and the philosophy of Ayn Rand -- is startling. At last, a computer-animated family picture worth arguing with, and about! Luckily, though, Mr. Bird's disdain for mediocrity is not simply ventriloquized through his characters, but is manifest in his meticulous, fiercely coherent approach to animation.

The Guardian: The animation is, as ever, gasp-inducing with dazzling effects of light and detail that we have almost, but not quite, got blasé about. As with the Toy Stories, it is somehow the streetscapes that are the best things. The sheen and texture of cars, Tarmac, glass, brickwork, are all intensified by the dizzying horizontal and vertical perspectives: tall buildings and straight roads along which we zoom at the speed of thought.

WaPo: As always, Pixar excels with its animation, but what makes this family film even more appealing is the smartness of the script, which is clearly written, end to end, to appeal to adults as well as children. Instead of simply using double-entendres and sight gags, "The Incredibles" is a superb send-up of stereotypical suburbia, complete with bland tract house, endless commute in bumper-to-bumper traffic, smiling stay-at-home mom and, for dad, a cubicle job in the decidedly white-collar insurance world. They even have leftovers night.

Rolling Stone: Skeptics say The Incredibles is too long at two hours and too PG-dark for the coddled general audience. This makes no sense, because there's no better expression of family values and fears onscreen right now. By building the family bond into the DNA of his story, Bird has crafted a film — one of the year's best — that doesn't ring cartoonish, it rings true.


The Incredibles’ incredible focus on the family

'The Incredibles' actually takes place decades ago — here's the moment that proves it

The Incredibles 2 turns Jack-Jack into a monster in new trailer
posted by MoonOrb (27 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
posted by praemunire at 7:53 PM on March 2, 2018 [9 favorites]

"I'm not strong enough" always absolutely flattens me.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 8:25 PM on March 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

There's still a lot that I like about this film, but the stealth-Randism ends up souring things more than a bit; one online acquaintance of mine flat-out said that Syndrome was right--why should people lucky enough to get superpowers by accident have all the fun? (And I'm still waiting for someone to explain why you can't have breakaway cape pins.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:34 PM on March 2, 2018 [16 favorites]

This movie caught me at a very vulnerable time. The first time I saw it I just cried and cried. I was having a hard time in school and it hit me in a place I really needed to be hit, and the animation was so beautiful. Then the next day I started parting my hair on the side like Violet.

Reader, I still part my hair on the side like Violet. Fourteen years later!
posted by potrzebie at 12:55 AM on March 3, 2018 [12 favorites]

Elastigirl: Remember the bad guys on the shows you used to watch on Saturday mornings? Well, these guys aren't like those guys. They won't exercise restraint because you are children. They will kill you if they get the chance. Do not give them that chance.
I was so engrossed in the movie that I forgot I was watching animation at this point. Ranks right up there with the conveyor belt scene from Toy Story 3.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 3:32 AM on March 3, 2018 [9 favorites]

one online acquaintance of mine flat-out said that Syndrome was right--why should people lucky enough to get superpowers by accident have all the fun?

I realize that this is the internet and so "actually, the machete-wielding maniac is the real hero and those horny teenage camp counselors are the true villains"-style hot takes and just a thing that we do, but come the fuck on.

Syndrome's plan was not the democratization of super heroics. It was:

1. Kill every other super hero.
2. Manufacture a series of crises where he could stage interventions in order to gain public approval.
3. Be the only superhero for decades.
4. When old age kicks in and he's tired of being a superhero, release his technology to the public and be remembered as a benevolent god figure.

This isn't even a situation where I can pretend like the subtext was too subtle for some of the audience to pick up on. Syndrome explains it. Out loud. In plain English.

But hey, if you're willing to overlook that then let's consider the possibility of what his plan would look like if he made it successfully to Step 4. Superheroes have up until this point been a government-regulated group. Bob and Helen are registered and trained and have a government handler to whom they are reportable. The movie shows us this. Syndrome's end game is essentially, "Why should Air Force pilots have all the fun? I'm going to give everyone an F-15."

tl;dr: Your friend is a hobo suit, darling. You can't be seen with them. I won't allow it.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 8:30 AM on March 3, 2018 [19 favorites]

Yeah, the nods in the direction of Randian thought are there and problematic. And there's a quick, voice-over only line where Helen tells Lucius to "Say hi to Honey for me" that I'm convinced was only added in because they belated realized they hadn't given Lucius's wife a name (He only says "Honey" in the "Where is my super-suit?" scene.)

But nothing, nothing gets me going like the 100-Mile Dash.
posted by stevis23 at 8:30 AM on March 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

This is a great movie, and really its only fault is the villain is too sympathetic with his Randian message. "Some people are just better than others" is a hard statement to refute, and "I want to make everyone equal" is an easy goal to get behind. Then like Halloween Jack's acquaintance you miss the part where Syndrome is actually a glory-hound shit who mainly wants to invent stuff for his own benefit and you find yourself relating more to Syndrome than Mr. Incredible.

The sequel looks to focus more on Elastigirl, with Mr. Incredible basically having to deal with becoming the stay-at-home sidekick, which is a handy way of sidestepping the Objectivism of the first movie. Ideally the Halloween Jack's acquaintances of the world will come to the second movie and get a dose of "Don't be such a jackass"
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 8:54 AM on March 3, 2018 [3 favorites]

I can see why people talk about the Randian thought in this movie, but to me, it has always been about embracing who you are. Syndrome is a great villain, because his motives are understandable and relatable; but it's about ego-gratification and enrichment at the end. It's not about making everyone equal, it's about the glorification of himself and him being the "god" who hands these gifts out.

The Incredibles are flawed people, who struggle because they are not allowed to be themselves. Which also makes them people we can relate to. And I've always found it wonderful that the 2nd act of the movie basically belongs to Elastigirl - Mr. Incredible is the one who needs rescue, rather than the other way around. And the reason that's the case is that while Mr. Incredible has embraced his true self again, he still kept that part of his life hidden from his wife and family. Violet is a walking metaphor of keeping herself hidden.

Add to that the absolute glee of the scene on the island where the kids start to realize what they can do, and all four of them reunite in a moment of triumph...yeah. I like this movie. And I think it's great that this movie can spark debate about whether or not there is a message of Randian Objectivism in it or not.

(As a side note, when the oldest nubspawn was about 3 or 4ish, we were on a long road trip, and pulled out for a stop along the way. I was going a little fast for the turn, and ms. nubs went "Aaaah! We're all going to die!" to which we heard a little voice from the back seat say "We're not going to die! Now both of you will get a grip!")
posted by nubs at 9:21 AM on March 3, 2018 [9 favorites]

The movie's core idea is Rand's- some people are just better than the rest of us, and it's wrong of the non-special people to restrain them or try to hold them account when they harm us and causes bad things to happen.

Syndrome is the villain Ayn Rand would've written if she wasn't such a pathetic mess that she couldn't imagine people she didn't like as anything but pathetic, moustache-twirling untermenschen. He hates the special people and wants to be special even though he isn't, and instead of staying in his place when a special person puts him there, he fights against the special people and tries to make himself special, for which he's ultimately punished because he's not good enough to defeat the special people. The movie wants us to recoil at "When everybody's special, nobody is!" but that's the kind of sentiment you can only be horrified at if you believe that there really is a natural and righteous hierarchy of special people and unspecial people. Sure, his plan is villainous. But you could strip away the crimes he's committed, and plans to commit, and he'd still be an evil man in the film's eyes.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:59 AM on March 3, 2018 [8 favorites]

The thing is, Syndrome obviously IS special since he's able to invent all these amazing gadgets to give himself super powers. Problem is, the movie makes it clear that to be "Special" means you have innate super powers. Syndrome doesn't have powers and the inventions he makes don't count, so he's forever excluded from the superhero club. That's really where Objectivism falls apart in the real world, because in reality there's no simple answer to the question "What makes someone special?"

Syndrome could have been rich and happy inventing things, but instead he became obsessed with people with superpowers. It's like a surgeon getting upset because he isn't as good at playing a piano as his concert pianist idol. This is the toxic nature of Objectivism. When you get obsessed with sorting people into ubermenschen/untermenschen and you find yourself sorted into the wrong group, what recourse do you have? Of course no one who ascribes to Objectivism could ever see themselves as anything other than an ubermensch held back by those dastardly SJWs. Syndrome doesn't have that luxury since there really is an objective difference between himself and the man he wishes he were.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 11:55 AM on March 3, 2018 [10 favorites]

stevis23: "And there's a quick, voice-over only line where Helen tells Lucius to "Say hi to Honey for me" that I'm convinced was only added in because they belated realized they hadn't given Lucius's wife a name (He only says "Honey" in the "Where is my super-suit?" scene.) "

Nitpick: They did animate her line there, though your theory does sound pretty plausible given the way SLJ reads it later on.
posted by Rhaomi at 11:59 AM on March 3, 2018

Problem is, the movie makes it clear that to be "Special" means you have innate super powers.

Tell that to Edna Mode, Dahling.

As for the Randian message that special people shouldn't be held back by normals, I agree that this is one of the two points of view in conflict in the movie but to call it the theme of the film that ignores the synthesis apparent in the final race scene. The final scenes are very much in the line of "To your own self be true, but you also have to live with the rest of humanity."

My partner pointed out that one way the film isn't Randian, is the ethos of a hero is about helping others. Which is why one of the most important scenes defining Bob Parr is his giving advice to the woman about an insurance claim. No superpowers, no holding himself apart from others, just helping.
posted by happyroach at 1:29 AM on March 4, 2018 [5 favorites]

The specials were only allowed to operate under government supervision. Those who didn't were outlaws to be brought to justice. That's not a terribly objectivist message at its heart.

Regardless, the movie is a hoot, and one of my all time favorite animated films. That scene where Dash finds himself running on water and lets out the most fantastically happy giggle when he realizes it, gets me every time.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 1:55 AM on March 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

That line at the end of the movie "I may be beneath you, but nothing is beneath me" is something I have said far too many times. Gets a laugh every time though.
posted by LegallyBread at 6:04 AM on March 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I'm not saying that Syndrome was the best representative of the why-can't-everyone-fly point of view, any more than Erik Killmonger was the best representative of his. He's an overgrown kid who hatches a decades-long revenge scheme because Mr. Incredible got upset with him in the middle of a running battle once. He is, in fact, the worst representative of that point of view, without even Killmonger's charisma. But that in itself is a way of stacking the deck. It should also be pointed out that, contrary to the Incredibles being a government-managed group, they're currently a government-banned group because of lawsuits, the government being a favorite bugbear of objectivists.

I should make it clear that I like The Incredibles, and will no doubt do a rewatch before the sequel, but between this and Tomorrowland, I wonder if Brad Bird is ever going to break down and do a straight-up adaptation of Anthem.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:56 AM on March 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Huh, I reckon it's because I willfully refused to think too deeply about Tomorrowland but I never noticed how much of a Randian slant it has as well. It and The Incredibles both have a view that some people are objectively better than others, but unlike Objectivism it's your duty as a Special to help the plebs rather than use your abilities to benefit only yourself (which will somehow trickle down to making the lives of Plebs better too).
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 8:04 AM on March 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

Right--it's not hard Randism, and there's also the previously cited example of Bob Parr helping someone navigate the insurance bureaucracy, which is one of the reasons why I like it.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:04 AM on March 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

LegallyBread, YES, the Underminer is a fantastic throwaway gag. A sad feeling I had when Disney bought Pixar was that I would probably live to see an Underminer movie. And then I was like "BUT ACTUALLY MAYBE I WOULD LIKE THAT?!?! Maybe this 15-second joke character COULD actually carry a full length feature film because that's how good Incredibles is?"

I totally get the Objectivist reading and it occurred to me too, but like others in this thread, I think the film falls apart as an Objectivist/Randian document with a close read. Because yes, what the supers ultimately want to do is help. Yes, they're having a good time doing it - because it probably feels fucking fantastic to be born with special skills to save innocent people from bad stuff and to be given carte blanche to do exactly that! I know doctors who love their jobs that way too.
posted by potrzebie at 2:11 PM on March 4, 2018

In the Incredibles Superheros work tirelessly without pay to help people who need it. That fact would have made Rand shit her intestines out her nose .

My favourite scene is Holly Hunter's incredible sequence in the plane with the missiles - interestingly they were going to have that played by their plane guy friend (the one on the phone) but gave it back to her - such an excellent choice.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:21 PM on March 4, 2018 [6 favorites]

That scene where Dash finds himself running on water and lets out the most fantastically happy giggle when he realizes it, gets me every time.
I showed this to my kids (six and eleven) for the first time this weekend, and they loved it. When we got to this scene, I happened to be watching them watching the movie, and their faces lit up with just about as much delight as Dash's.

My son's (the eleven-year old) first question was why didn't Syndrome just use his cool technology to help people. He pointed out that he could have been loved as both a superhero and as someone who helped the world with his technology, without doing any of the bad stuff he did.
posted by Tabitha Someday at 7:11 AM on March 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

"Well, son, you see, Syndrome is a shithead who ultimately cared only about helping himself, not helping other people. It's called 'Objectivism'..."
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:15 PM on March 5, 2018 [4 favorites]

YES, the Underminer is a fantastic throwaway gag. A sad feeling I had when Disney bought Pixar was that I would probably live to see an Underminer movie. And then I was like "BUT ACTUALLY MAYBE I WOULD LIKE THAT?!?! Maybe this 15-second joke character COULD actually carry a full length feature film because that's how good Incredibles is?"
To hell with that.. if anyone from this movie is going to get a spin-off I am definitely on Team Mode.
posted by Nerd of the North at 2:20 PM on March 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

if anyone from this movie is going to get a spin-off I am definitely on Team Mode

The Avengers
Justice League

The No-Capes
posted by nubs at 3:45 PM on March 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

"'Greater good?' I am your wife! I'm the greatest good you are ever gonna get!"
posted by kirkaracha at 9:49 PM on March 5, 2018 [4 favorites]

I dearly love this's one of my very favorites. I've always avoided engaging with the "Randian-or-not-really" arguments that dominate discussions of the film online, because I think Ayn Rand was both a dumbass and a moral calamity, and I'm not crazy about the possibility of finding her influence at work in something I really like. Which is stupid of me, hiding my head in the sand.

But I can't avoid the argument altogether, because it has some bearing on my favorite thing about "The Incredibles", which is that when Bob and Helen argue in the movie, they're actually really arguing, intelligently, about something that really does matter, and that neither of them is wrong, or being made the straw man to stand in for people the screenwriter disagrees with.

Dash wants to go out for sports. Bob favors the idea, and chafes enormously under the fact that Dash can't be allowed to run track specifically because he'd be too good at it. I mean...political implications aside, as a parent, that's got to suck, right? That your kid cannot do something, because they're too good?

Helen, on the other hand, rightfully recognizes that there are larger issues at play in the question, issues involving the well being of the entire family: Dash may do so well that he exposes them, and forces another relocation. Or worse, draws the attention of an old enemy. And even if they can get through to his immature mind that he can't win by too wide a margin...maybe allowing him to do this thing risks undermining everyting he needs to learn about habits of self-preservation.

And on top of all that, she sees that Bob's position is too self-serving to take at face value anyway: "This is NOT. ABOUT. YOU!!!" Holly Hunter is just...fucking awesome in this role.

I know this argument has political implications related to a particularly toxic strain of American thinking, so that people can't get comfortable about whether the movie is ok to like or not without attaching a bunch of disclaimers to their appreciation. It's a problematic favorite, for sure. But I keep circling back to the fact that lots of adult dramas entirely centered around domestic relationships don't manage to invest their fictional couples with conflicts this well-developed. Finding this level of sophstication in a superhero cartoon is kind of a miracle.
posted by Ipsifendus at 6:43 AM on March 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think it's really less Rand and more straight conservatism, 1960's Vonnegut-- Harrison Bergeron, (which we all had to read in middle school, right?).

I think the 'steely' G-man is portrayed in a positive light, an analogue to Mr Incredible when Mr Incredible is fighting the cruel, profiteering insurance boss from inside the insurance company.

There's a system, an order, we need the system, the heroes don't seek revolution to undermine the order. The system is inhumane, but human beings struggle to work the system to help each other. At the end, govt guy is shown as supportive and thankful.

But the main bureaucracy-as-enemy is a for-profit company, there's zero crazy ranting about 'collectivism' and even genuine family drama at the very heart of the film, rather than individualism. Many character arcs are more "the team needs you to shine your light onto the world, Violet" --people are repressing themselves, not the state, and the drama is how the collective needs people to stop repressing themselves.

I suppose, though, that the US political moment is consumed with the horrid victories of Randites, Paul Ryan and the other, nazi-er clowns who seek liberation in the oppression of others. So I can understand being wary of anything that smells like Rand when Social Security is under threat. This movie is all silver-age, 1960's US liberal bliss, rather than Wakanda or the 2000's fascist nightmare.
posted by eustatic at 5:55 AM on June 15, 2018

« Older ER: Season 1 (Full Season)...   |  Babylon 5: TKO... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments