A friend from college still makes fun of me for the night I very loudly proclaimed from the backseat of a car on a long drive back to College Station from Houston after attending a concert that “The Incredibles is true art!” I was, perhaps, a bit over enthusiastic in my praise, but I stand by the sentiment. The Incredibles is a remarkable film, full of artistry on more levels than I knew, at the time, a cartoon could have. As a twenty-year-old movie-lover, The Incredibles was revelatory for me. Better understanding how it accomplished what it accomplished, while remaining so terrifically entertaining, was a key factor in sending me deeper into cinema and theological studies.
Part of me didn’t want a sequel to that film, especially given Pixar’s spotty record of continuing their stories. The Toy Story sequels are stellar, but they’re the exception to the greater pattern. I’ll stand by Finding Dory as a quintessential distillation of Andrew Stanton’s penchant for Rube Goldberg-like narratives, but that’s the only non-Toy Story sequel that works for me on repeat viewing. – until now, that is. The Incredibles 2 comes in well below par (Parr?) for the Pixar sequel course.
The story picks up right where the previous Incredibles movie left off. The Underminer has emerged, and the Parr family deals with the threat. This marks the second public appearance of supers since the world decided to make superhero-ing illegal, and it proves one time too many. The Parr family is forced back into hiding until a wealthy family coaxes Elastigirl out in a scheme to rekindle public acceptance of superhero. So The Incredibles 2 deals more directly with the inciting incident of the first film—the legislation against superheroes—and uses the events to flip the script on the first film by putting Helen Parr to work while Bob stays home with the kids.
This eau de Women’s Lib is perfectly in keeping with the story world of The Incredibles. Among the film’s many “true art” charms, the first film is graced by a circa-1950s “Great Society” aesthetic that contributes overall mood of both societal repression of difference and the strains that puts on the supposedly ideal nuclear family. The sequel then moves into something more akin to the 1970s aesthetic. Think late-Mod and early-disco but without the hippie fringe. It’s a subtle shift but an effective one, and it teases out some familial dynamics latent in the first film.
Those family dynamics are, after all, the real focus of these Incredibles movies. For all their breathless action sequences—and The Incredibles 2 has a doozy or two; Elastigirl’s Elasticycle chase scene showcases Brad Bird’s gift for physical action as well as anything he’s ever done—the Incredibles movies are about the family and how it copes with stresses from all sides. The most harrowing scenes in this film, as in its predecessor, are the ones where Bob and Helen are arguing with each other or when one of them is on the verge of collapse because of the pressures either of them are facing. The quotidian complications are the ones that threaten to break the family apart, not the cataclysmic ones.
And so while it is heartening to see the family pull together when the catastrophe comes, it is more heartening to see each of them recognize when another family member is in a moment of personal crisis, when they see to cushion their own emotional response to each other, to give each other space to feel and think and change as they need. That’s the day-to-day act of caring kindness that faithful love requires. That’s the only thing that carries the Parr family through. We don’t often get movies about that. They’re almost never animated. They don’t have such style. And they are absolutely not about superheroes. I think that makes The Incredibles 2 true art, Leslie.