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The Incredibles:

Anti-Child, Anti-Wife "Family Film"

The Incredibles (2004) Starring Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter. Written and directed by Brad Bird.

Children's movies are usually created, not for children, but for parents. This has never been more true than for The Incredibles, a cartoon about a super-powered dad going through mid-life crisis. There are also children in this film, but they are not heroes. Though the children have their own super powers, they spend all their time alternating between worshiping adults, being rescued by adults, and slavishly obeying adults.

The Incredibles DVD cover

When the film opens, our hero, Mr. Incredible, is not yet a father. The only youth in his life is a teenager who worships him and begs to be his sidekick. Even after Mr. Incredible physically abuses Incredi-Boy (as the youth voluntarily calls himself), ejecting the teenager from a car with great force, the youth still begs to be Mr. Incredible's "ward." But since Incredi-Boy is a young character in an ageist movie, he proves to be a bungler who only gets in the way and must be rescued by Mr. Incredible. Other adults (the super love interest and the super token black friend) can be of assistance, but the youth is predictably worthless.

Soon we jump forward 15 years. Mr. Incredible, retired from superheroism and living as a mild-mannered suburbanite, is now married to Elastigirl and has two children who have their own super powers but who never threaten patriarchy. Ageist adults love to see youth hurt one another, so we have a gratuitous scene where the two children use their super powers fighting against each other; but they never use their powers against their parents.


Our hero grows bored with his domestic life, so he sneaks around behind his wife's back and sleeps with other women engages in super heroics. The film proves as sexist as it is ageist. His secret thrill is an allegory for adultery, yet the film presents this as a normal, acceptable, even positive thing for a man to do. In the film's Act II, Mr. Incredible is clearly the protagonist, and we are meant to root for him to get away with his secret, marriage-threatening fun. His suspicious wife is presented merely as a killjoy obstacle for him to overcome, not as a character deserving our sympathy.

If Act II has a message for children in the audience, it is merely this: If daddy is sneaking around on mommy, don't tell mommy; she would just spoil his fun.

  Mr. Incredible chokes woman
Our Hero in Action

Speaking of sexist clichés that Hollywood should have outgrown decades ago, The Incredibles also offers a plot twist where the villain's girlfriend, Mirage, gets emotional and betrays the villain, choosing to switch sides and help our hero instead. This is even more ridiculous than it sounds given that earlier, Mr. Incredible took this woman as his hostage, threatening to snap her spine if the villain did not surrender.

After Mirage saves Mr. Incredible, he, incredibly, responds by threatening her again and choking her. This is portrayed as heroic because he mistakenly blames Mirage for the death of his family (who aren't really dead). So hurting this woman, after Mr. Incredible snuck around behind his wife's back to be with her, is supposed to show us he is a devoted family man after all.

This film, promoted as "family-friendly," is more misogynistic than the average Eminem song.

Super, but Subservient

Halfway through the movie, the filmmakers apparently decided the film would be more marketable if the plot included other family members. So we get Act III, in which the super wife and the super children fly in to assist super dad in his super adventure. Act III, unfortunately, is super sucky.

As the wife and kids fly in, their plane is attacked with missiles. The verbally abusive mom screams at her teenaged daughter, Violet, to use her powers and create a force field to protect the plane. Violent fails, not out of defiance, but because at another time, mom had ordered Violet to never use her powers. The movie makes it clear Violet is honestly confused about which of her mother's orders she should obey. (The teenager thinking for herself is out of the question.) Violet is both dumb and subservient: just the way ageist adults like 'em.

When the plane blows up, mom uses her powers to rescue the kids. This is the first of many, many scenes in which the super powered youths must be rescued by one or the other parent.

We soon get more scenes of mom verbally abusing her children, followed by an apology. No, mom doesn't apologize to her children. Violet apologizes to mom for failing to promptly obey mom's order about creating the force field.

In an earlier scene, Mr. Incredible is asked to solve a problem involving a robot with highly developed artificial intelligence. "Let me guess," says Mr. Incredible. "It got smart enough to wonder why it had to take orders." Too bad the filmmakers never imagined a teenager could get that smart.

Mom Said

In the danger zone, mom soon leaves her children hidden in a cave as she ventures out to catch her sneaky husband. The adultery allegory comes nearly to the surface: when mom finds Mr. Incredible, he is in the arms of another woman (Mirage - the same woman he strangled after she saved him). Jealous mom uses her stretch power to deck from a distance the other woman. She does not attack her lying husband; he physically assaults her, grabbing her stretched arm like a rope to pull her against her will. (Another sexist cliché: a woman's "No!", we see, is meant to be ignored.) This act of aggression is portrayed as a romantic gesture; after he drags his resistant woman to him, he forces a kiss on her and assures her she was silly to ever distrust him.

  Mr. Incredible assaults his wife
Some Time with The Mrs.

And she melts in his arms.

The abused other woman is now forgotten, by the couple and by the filmmakers. Once again we get the message that the solution to any problem is physical force wielded by an adult man.

If mom is dad's doormat to step on, then the super children are the doormat's doormats.

While mom is gone, the children continue to obey her instructions, not because the youths agree with those instructions, but because they are unable to think for themselves. When Violet believes her brother, Dash, is about to leave the cave, she reminds him, "Mom said to stay hidden." Dash assures her he has no plans to disobey their almighty mom.

Later, when bad guys corner our young non-heroes, Violet tells Dash, "Remember what mom said." This saves them because their mom had earlier spelled out a strategy they should pursue if they ever got cornered by bad guys: "Run." Had Violet simply told Dash to run, the audience might think teenagers have brains of their own. So Violet's dialogue is carefully crafted to remind viewers it was an adult who thought up the "run" strategy.

Super, but Inferior

These two super youths run from the bad guys. None of the bad guys has super powers, so egalitarian viewers might think the youths would have an advantage. But in an ageist movie, youths can never best adults regardless of the demands of logic.

child punched out  
Bad Guy Wins Again

We get a fight scene between Dash and a bad guy. Dash uses his super speed to duck the bad guy's punches, but the fight ends when the bad guy still manages to sock Dash in the face. (And this is a bad guy so incompetent he manages to kill himself an instant later by accident!)

Then we see Violet use her invisibility while fighting another bad guy. This bad guy, too, lacks super powers; but being an adult, he floors the invisible girl easily.

This is followed by yet another fight scene in which Dash, still using his super speed, ducks only a few punches before once again getting punched in the head hard enough to send him flying back several feet.

Some adults are threatened by the idea of a powerful youth. To comfort those adults, filmmakers undermine good story-telling to assure us that even a youth with super powers could never defeat any adult. They don't care about the feelings of viewers who are young.

The Incredibles is so eager to insult youth and pack in ageist clichés that, even though the film is set in 2004, we have children and teenagers needlessly use the word "totally" as a substitute for "very." We have a scene in which our two super children are scolded and promptly point fingers of blame at each other. And of course when the super family travels to the scene of the film's climax, one of the children asks, "Are we there yet?" Had The Incredibles been released in 1974, these lampoons of youth might at least have had some freshness. By 2004, filmmakers should have moved beyond these clichés. Aren't we there yet?

In the film's epilogue, Dash praises his parents for their "cool" heroism in defeating the bad guys. This brings the film full circle as Mr. Incredible once again enjoys a young person idolizing him.

The video box advertises The Incredibles as a "family-friendly" film "from the Academy Award-winning creators of Finding Nemo." The second part of that statement is as misleading as the first. By "creators of Finding Nemo," they mean one of the financiers, not the writers or the director who made Finding Nemo a youth-friendly classic. The Incredibles is friendly to bad fathers, but not to entire families. Only where "family" is a codeword for "patriarchy" can The Incredibles be called "family-friendly."

It is painfully ironic that the Motion Picture Association of America gave The Incredibles a PG rating while declaring youth-friendly films such as RoboCop 2 and I Know What You Did Last Summer inappropriate for youth. The MPAA panders to bad parents as much as these filmmakers do.

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