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Movie Report: The Incredibles

So. Your Humble Blogger saw The Incredibles, and enjoyed it immensely. Anything said below should be held in that context; I thought it was great, and pretty much if you think you’d like it, you will. For one thing, it’s the first new-animation movie I’ve seen that has done humans at all well. I’m seriously creeped out by the moving mannequins in Toy Story and Finding Nemo and the trailer for The Polar Express. Not only are these the most natural and plausible humans I’ve seen in a Pixar movie, they are far more natural and plausible than the humans in SkyCap.

There is, though, something to say about the, um, politics, for want of a better world. It’s awkward. I felt quite defensive at times, as though the writer was attacking beliefs I actually hold. I scarcely am a supporter of giving everybody a medal at track events, nor of graduation ceremonies for rising fourth-graders. Still, when various characters trot out the theme that ‘when everybody is special, nobody is’, it bothered me. That sentiment was so clear, and repeated so often, that even the New York Times published an article by John Tierney (“When Every Child Is Good Enough” Nov. 19) talking about it.

Digression: Why is it that several people, including Mr. Tierney, have written than the villain has a evil plan to give everybody superpowers? Why would he need the battle bot for that? Wouldn’t he just set up a factory? No, Syndrome’s evil plan, clearly and explicitly stated, is to kill all the supers and then set himself up as the world’s only super. He then tosses off what would ordinarily be a throwaway line about how, when he gets bored with that, he’ll sell off his inventions, which would let everybody be super, and thus no-one. That’s a reiteration of the theme, and worth mentioning as part of an analysis of that theme, but it isn’t the point of the evil plan. End Digression.

Where was I? Oh, yes. As much the practice of giving awards to everybody just for existing (and I had, for years, a drawerful of ’em) is silly and distasteful, so too is any sort of supremacist ideology that says that supers count for more just because they can run fast or stretch or make themselves invisible. To the limited extent that Bob Incredible is admirable, it’s his dogged determination to help people, his willingness to risk himself in the attempt, and his pathetic need to be useful that is admirable; his super strength and occasional good idea just assist him in that. Of course, his propensity for violence is pretty nasty. He puts his boss in the hospital because of their differing philosophies (admittedly, his boss is the Most Annoying Man on the Planet) and he tortures a woman into telling him what he didn’t know she already wanted to tell him. But it’s a cartoon, right?

Anyway, the answer, I think, is in a kind of acknowledgement that people are different, one from another, and that although the fast and the strong and the clever are marvelous, the slow and the weak and the dim are lovable as well. In fact, everyone is special, at least in the sense that everyone is unique, everyone is valuable and (at some point in their lives) lovable, which means that everyone is special. It’s worth taking the time to find out how. This idea that everyone’s ‘specialness’ lies in some sort of conformist mediocrity is preposterous, and should be mocked, if only anyone actually held it. But in mocking that particular straw man, I feel as if Mr. Bird is mocking the idea that everyone is valuable, that everyone is holy, and perhaps that is why I felt so defensive.

OK, glad I got it off my chest. Now I can go back to thinking about the interesting things about the movie, such as its pretty clear implication that supers don’t make the world safer or more crime-free, but rather bring out the supervillains. When Bob is a superhero in a crowd of supers, he can’t go a block without coming across somebody to save; when Bob is a claims adjuster, he waits for somebody—anybody—to be in mortal jeopardy. In the fifteen years of the superheroes’ retirement no mad genius destroys the planet or even takes over the city. Syndrome’s psychotic yearning for adulation means that he has to invent and build a threat that will require a superhero to defeat, for no such threat exists. But at the end, when Bob is a superhero again, a supervillain comes out of the ground at his feet.

It’s no Hench, but it’s an interesting point, isn’t it?

Thank you,


Well put. I keep meaning to formulate this for my own blog (and one day i still may), but i am troubled by the false dichotomy between "everyone is exactly the same" and "people are special iff they were born that way." I'm kind of inclined to believe that what people do with their lives makes some sort of difference, somehow. But how is it a big victory that Dash is now allowed to run around on a track with a bunch of NPC kids who he can pound without trying?

I was also (perhaps irrationally) pissed off by the anti-dork sentiment. My world is full of caring and nifty human beings who have, at some point over the time i've known them, said, "If the people i like and want to emulate don't care about what i can contribute, and want to play by rules designed to exclude me, well, screw them." That sentiment is part (not termination) of the protagonist's journey. So i think it jarred me slightly to see it Very Obviously painted on the big screen as part of the villain's journey, without further explanation needed.

You make an excellent point, Chaos, about the "explanation" for the villain. Where does evil come from is a question that our society is having a miserable time answering at the moment.

Some say evil is innate and immutable. Thus those who are evil cannot be changed, and we need to jail, torture, or kill them. And thus the rejection of diplomacy abroad or rehabilitation at home. The softer side, with no better consequences, is a belief that evil is the result of long-ago traumas. In this cult of victimization, we excuse current actions and discourage healing. But we also "explain" evil.

I believe evil is in the choices that people make (as is good). That's the curse of freedom and the onus of free will. But that goes hand in hand with notions of personal responsibility and trying to live more fully aware of and related to the world around us. That's a heavy burden for a movie to shoulder, and why I prefer my movie villains unexplained.

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