Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Incredibles

Directed by Brad Bird

Many chuckles into Disney’s amusing assault on political correctness, a line in this superhero cartoon yanks the viewer out of his suspension of disbelief. In the heat of battle with the forces of evil, the flexible Elastigirl scares her already frightened children by telling them, “Remember the bad guys on those shows you used to watch Saturday mornings? Well, these guys are not like those guys. They won’t exercise restraint because you are children. They will kill you if they get a chance.” Since this is a cartoon show, Elastimom’s sobering out-of-bounds statement spoils the sense of immersion in this otherwise totally Disney plot. How did this blooper get past the director? In the light of the post 9-11 effort to align public opinion with the Bush administration policy, and the morally dubious invasion of Iraq, this intrusion into the viewer’s reality no longer looks like a slip. It is an artistic sacrifice in order to hit the viewer on the head with the movie’s message: As a superpower America has a moral obligation to destroy evil in the world.

After this revelation, the movie’s lampooning of political correctness seems like a cover for its war rallying. But it is a humorous and witty camouflage with strong metaphorical connections with the movie’s deeper anger-rousing purpose. The super tough Mr. Incredible, his wife Elastigirl and other super heroes fighting for justice have been forced into retirement by a litigious public. The very people whose lives were saved by Mr. Incredible file suit against him for the minor injuries they suffered during their rescue. Despite hurt feelings, the gentle giant still has room in his heart for patience and forgiveness. But to the viewer there is frustration in seeing someone as powerful as Mr. Incredible subjecting himself to the laws of ungrateful mortals. He must find a way to break loose.

To our delight the world hasn't quite succeeded in shackling Mr. Incredible. On “bowling nights” he and a friend from the superhero days sneak away on incognito rescue missions. The CIA’s overthrow of Iran’s democracy, the agency’s actions in Chile, Southeast Asia and Afghanistan are real-life examples of covert actions reflecting America’s desire to flex its underutilized muscle. Unfortunately, sneak rescues don’t quite satisfy. Heroes must fight evil in the open

Mr. Incredible’s moral destiny is fulfilled by his defeat of the villain, Syndrome. This annoying and immature character is merely a superhero wannabe. Unlike Mr. Incredible and family, the evil Syndrome was not born with superpowers. He is a threat by virtue of his obsession with gadgets, not because Fate has privileged him with any special capacities. Destiny has made him a loser. In contrast, our hero’s God given powers, his moral rectitude and emotional maturity, symbolically assert the American Empire's divine right to supremacy. The understated humility of this astonishing claim delivered through the gentle Mr. Incredible is far more effective than any grandstanding proclamations. Projecting power through humility is a uniquely American contribution to political craftsmanship. Nations that boast openly against America are made to look like fools in comparison.

Encouraging America's return to action on a World War II scale, The Incredibles enumerates the rewards: youth, beauty, wealth, and a sense of being special, the core incentives of any advertising campaign. Before he got sued out of his superhero career, Mr. Incredible was a dapper youth who drove a stylish James Bond quality car. After his fall, he grew a beer belly and drove an economy car he couldn’t fit in. Once he resolved that his talents were too valuable to waste, he pumped iron and reclaimed his handsome and youthful figure. The scenes with the pathetic car are replaced with action scenes where the hero's wife and kids fly to his rescue in a private jet. To the viewer who is slowly losing the advantages of his American Dollar, the Incredibles promises a better life in the New Empire.

And for those of us who still shrink from our manifest destiny there is Violet Incredible’s testimonial. She is the shy, shrinking super-daughter with confidence issues that keep her from flowering. Violet’s journey of self discovery opens to a new vista when during a crucial battle she unwittingly activates her amazing force field, protecting her family. If there are still Violets in the audience who don’t like war, director Brad Bird lets them know that the least they can do is support and protect those who do.

1 comment:

Linda C. McCabe said...

I looked at that movie with a much different lens than you. No metaphorical approaches, just what kind of message is this movie sending as entertainment for children?

And my reaction to the appropriateness of this movie is much different than any reviewer's comments I have ever read anywhere.

I love Pixar. I used to own stock in Pixar. I sold it when The Mouse bought out the studio.

The thing is, I have troubles with the moral values in this movie and I had no real warning about it prior to watching it in the movie theater with my son on opening night.

The problem I have is that the villain is not only a serial murderer, but a mass murderer as well. This isn't like the Joker doing weird gags on Gotham City, no we see the bones of a dead "super" and the bios of others that Syndrome lured to their deaths.

Nice, huh?

Then you do have the goon squad who actively tried to kill Dash and Violet. They sprayed bullets in the water where she was hiding, and only due to her forcefield was she able to survive.

Ewwww. I mean, these aren't the BIFF, POW, ZOWIE punches I grew up watching the lame-oh Adam West/Burt Ward version of Batman and Robin. The campy styled superhero stuff is what I expected, not the reality based animated movie where the kids could really have died.

I waived off a friend of mine to take her (at that time) four year old daughter to watch the movie. Karen adored Finding Nemo but I felt this would be far too intense for her, and I told my friend my objections towards the movie. As far as I know, she hasn't shown the movie yet to Karen.

I mean, my son loves the movie, but he's just identifying with there being a boy about his age who is super-fast and Ian thinks that's cool. Most of the other stuff just goes right past him.

And that is a good thing.