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The Incredibles: Flip-side of ordinary 4 min read

The Incredibles: Flip-side of ordinary

Pixar's first film to focus on a fully realized family unit reminds us of the incredible beauty of the ordinary and comforting ordinariness of the incredible.

By Cary Littlejohn
The Incredibles: Flip-side of ordinary Post image

As promised, this begins The Pixar Project, where I’m going to review all of the Pixar films in the run-up to the Dec. 25 release of Soul. If you know a friend or relative or Pixar aficionado who’d enjoy this project, please pass it along.

Truly a family film in every sense, The Incredibles expands on the explicit familial bonds present in Finding Nemo. It was a small family unit there — a father and his son — and the Parrs, as we know them in this film, a family of superheroes — father, mother, son, daughter, and baby — could stand a minivan to make things easier.

The Incredibles is arguably the first of the Pixar films that was made primarily for parents and secondarily for the kids they’d bring to watch it. (Though, to be fair, Finding Nemo may compete for this title with its distinct appeals to parenthood.) The argument for the adult-centeredness of The Incredibles is rooted in the painfully ordinary existence of middle class adulthood. Bob is 15 years retired from his do-gooder days as Mr. Incredible and working in the claims department of an insurance company where his prime directive is to deny as many claims as possible. He’s gained a ton of weight since his playing days, he drags himself through life, emotionally unavailable and distracted from his wife and kids, and he’s clearly unfulfilled in his life without the stimulation of crime-fighting.

The scene at the dinner table where the kids are fighting, his wife is scolding, the baby is babying, and Bob is numb to it all. While possibly recognizable to kids in the audience as something resembling what their homes look like, they aren’t expected to understand the drudgery that can befall the day-in, day-out existence of adulthood. It is not an insignificant part of the film; it’s integral to understanding the motivations of Bob, whose actions force the hands of his wife, Helen (ElastiGirl), and their kids, Violet and Dash, later in the film.

The film presents an interesting juxtaposition of the incredible and the ordinary. It serves as a reminder that even the best of us, the most incredible, can still be bored out of their minds by drudgery. Every day isn’t incredible, even for the Incredibles; many days can be quite ordinary. But the flip side of that is what convinces me that this movie was aimed at parents (and adults) first, and the kiddies second. Ordinary days aren’t always something to bemoan; oftentimes, the ordinary can be incredible, if we just adjust our perspective.

Mr. Incredible is not a role model, despite all of his goodness. He sees his family obligations as smothering, too much at times, and seemingly not what he signed up for. While not heroic, Mr. Incredible’s feelings are relatable. Whether it’s during those early months of sleepless nights to stay up with restless newborns to the Terrible Twos to the unpredictability of hormone-stricken teens to the 25-year-olds who never call, parents, good and bad, new and old, have probably felt they’d been sold a bill of goods at some point in parenthood. Life in those moments does not feel glamorous or exciting; it’s something to be endured and survived.

There are plenty of intermediate steps for those of us adults who aren’t parents to feel the same way. That new job that was supposed to be our salvation, our greener grass on the other side, somehow sucks our soul in no time. That relationship that was rock-solid, full of good times and laughter, suddenly seems strained and another day passes that barely registers at all. The rescue dog from the shelter that was going to be a new best friend and make everything else feel better is more work than you realized, constantly needing to go outside despite the weather and prone to chewing up your favorite things.

The heartwarming bits of this film are never what Mr. Incredible does on his own. Sure, it might be endearing on some level,  and we might root for the good guy to get his groove back, but what he’s doing on his own is not presented as inherently virtuous. He’s lying to his family to pursue a selfish fulfillment. The heartwarming bits are when Mr. Incredible realizes the most incredible thing in his superhero life is inclusion of his superhero family. Suddenly, the same stuff he sees daily in his home, at his dinner table, when now viewed at scale, is what he’s been searching for his whole adult life.

This is perfectly encapsulated when the family returns to the city to face the big bad robot. Even after his family helps him prepare to fight and is game to fight alongside him, Mr. Incredible is still slow to accept that his family, the very definition of ordinary to him, is the crime-fighting superhero team he’s dreamed of for so long. Once he accepts the reality that’s been staring him in the face for so long, he not only defeats the robot (and later, the evil and annoying Buddy) but also revives his family. Every member realizes a fuller, more honest version of himself or herself.  Though the time is compressed in the last few minutes of the film, we can tell that Violet has come out of her shell, Dash is happy to be participating in athletics for school, and the family unit is stronger than ever as they watch and cheer him on. This is all good news because before they reach their car in the parking lot, there’s another super villain they need to defeat, and it’s easy to see that, this time, they’re going to tackle it together from the start.

For the rest of us, we’ll have to settle for our very human existences, sans superpowers. But it never hurts to have a reminder for the wonders in our lives. For those parents, maybe it’s the way their young baby holds onto their fingers or her toothless grin. For those exasperated workers, maybe it’s that last student loan payment, paid for by a paycheck from the very job they now question. For those couples in strained relationships, maybe it’s the date nights that recreate the first they ever had. For those weary dog owners, maybe it’s the way the pup finally doses off to sleep with her chin resting in their lap.

Whatever our circumstances, we can rest assured that life is a mixed bag with highs and lows; some days the incredible will be muted by the ordinary, and on others, the ordinary will sing with the incredible.

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