Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Pulp Culture
'The Incredibles' entertains while it subverts liberal values

November 18, 2004
By Franklin Harris

Without really trying to be, "The Incredibles" is one of the most subversive films to come out of Hollywood in years. Not that it is subversive in the traditional Hollywood sense. There is no liberal message here. Instead, the movie subverts several decades of liberalism gone awry.

Bob and Helen Parr (the voices of Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter, respectively) used to be the superheroes known as Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl. One day, they were busy saving the world, and the next they were out of a job, having been driven into hiding by ravenous trial lawyers, suing on behalf of everyone who ever got hurt in the crossfire of superheroes and supervillains.

Copyright © Copyright Disney/Pixar
Copyright © Copyright Disney/Pixar
Now Bob and Helen are married. Helen is a stay-at-home mom, a fact that is sure to upset some feminists. She has her hands full raising three children, two of whom are displaying super powers of their own. Violet (Sarah Vowell) is a wallflower, so appropriately she is able to turn invisible and create force fields. Her younger brother, the aptly named Dash (Spencer Fox), can run at super speed. Only the baby, Jack Jack, has yet to display any superhuman talents.

On the way home from school, Helen lectures Dash about the dangers of using his powers, and Dash complains that there is no point to being special if you can't show others that you are special.

"Everyone's special, Dash," Helen says.

"Which is another way of saying that nobody is," Dash responds.

Bob works as a claims adjuster for an insurance agency, struggling each day with the tedium of his job and the smallness of his cubicle. To relieve his boredom, he slips out once a week with his friend Lucius (Samuel L. Jackson), formerly known as the superhero Frozone. Helen thinks Bob and Lucius are out bowling, but they're really listening to a police scanner and looking for wrongs to right and people to rescue.

We sympathize with Dash and Bob, who argues that the whole world has begun to celebrate mediocrity. America was founded on the notion that all people are "created equal." But that means people are equal in the eyes of the law. It doesn't mean everyone is equally talented, no matter what they're teaching in the public schools these days.

Bob's clandestine heroics attract the attention of a mysterious woman named Mirage (Elizabeth Pena), who offers Bob a proposition he can't refuse — a chance to be a superhero again for real. Of course, as her name suggests, Mirage isn't really who she appears to be, and Mr. Incredible soon finds himself facing his greatest enemy, Syndrome (Jason Lee), a would-be sidekick determined to take revenge on the heroes who rejected him while claiming the public's adoration for his own.

Helen, meanwhile, knows her husband is up to something and follows a trail that leads to Edna Mode (Brad Bird), fashion designer to the world's greatest (and not-so-great) superheroes, and eventually to Syndrome's island base.

With Dash and Violet stowing away with Mom, it isn't long before the entire Parr family faces off with the bad guys.

In addition to providing Edna's voice, Bird is the movie's writer and director. His earlier film, "The Iron Giant," uses comic-book heroes as a metaphor, but "The Incredibles" embraces the genre with humor and admiration. The Parr family is a thinly disguised Fantastic Four, with Dash's super speed standing in for the Human Torch's flame powers.

Youngsters will love the heroics, but "The Incredibles" is really for adults. The action stands on its own, while the humor is more wit than slapstick. An early scene, in which Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl bicker flirtatiously over which of them deserves credit for capturing a burglar, sounds a pleasant note that never fades.

Visually, the film comes to life with some of the most impressive computer animation yet produced. Pixar's wizards have created characters who are cartoony yet almost tangible, like the puppets in "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," only with greater expression and mobility.

Forget "Shrek 2." This is the movie to beat for the Academy Award for best animated film.

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