Like Marvel's Captain America: Civil War, The Incredibles revolves around laws that regulate superheroes. In many ways, however, the Parrs have it even worse than the Avengers—they aren't just forced to register with the government, but to never use their powers again.
And there's no one else to blame but Mr. Incredible himself. There are two key incidents at the beginning of the film that change things forever. Check it:
Kinda silly, right? Despite the fact that Mr. Incredible saves lives in both of these situations, he—and every other superhero on the planet—is punished for it. Someone call Alanis Morissette and tell her a great example of irony over here.
The result? Superheroes must now renounce their costumes and blend in with the rest of the humanity, forever forbidden from using their powers.
Or, in other words:
REPORTER: Under tremendous public pressure, and the crushing financial burden of an ever mounting series of lawsuits, the government quietly initiated the superhero relocation program. The supers will be granted amnesty from responsibility for past actions, in exchange for the promise to never again resume hero work. Where are they now? They are living among us. Average citizens, average heroes. Quietly and anonymously continuing to make the world a better place.
This sets up the conflict that will dominate the rest of the film between the Incredible family's desire to show off their superpowered prowess, and their absolute inability to do so. But who knows? Maybe now that the Incredibles have burst back on the world stage, the government might take another look at the laws on the books.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be? Flight? Invisibility? Telekinesis? Combustible flatulence?
Picked one? Good. We're sorry to say that it doesn't matter what power you chose, however, because in the world of The Incredibles, you are legally forbidden from using it. So enjoy those flaming farts—just don't blast 'em off outside of your bedroom.
This conflict between having incredible power but being prevented from using it is core to The Incredibles. We see it taking a toll most heavily on Bob and his son Dash, both of whom feel under-appreciated in a world where the thing that makes them most special is strictly verboten.
Check out this key interaction between Dash and mom Helen:
DASH: Dad always said our powers were nothing to be ashamed of. Our powers made us special.
HELEN: Everyone's special, Dash.
DASH: Which is another way of saying no one is.
Take that, participation trophies. For Dash, as well as his dad Bob, being prevented from showing off their powers—what makes them special—causes them to feel like they're not allowed to be themselves. And are they wrong?
It's a different but similar story for Dash's older sister Violet. Unlike Dash, Violet isn't amped up to show off her powers. To the contrary, she uses her superpowers to make herself invisible to the world—literally—which reflects a not unusual teenaged lack-of-confidence. This, of course, only makes her feel less confident. It's a vicious cycle.
But that cycle is broken. Here's a key moment, soon after Violet fails to protect the family's jet with one of her patented force fields:
VIOLET: Mom, what happened on the plane. I'm sorry. I wanted to help. I mean, when you asked me to. I'm sorry.
HELEN: It isn't your fault. It wasn't fair for me to suddenly ask so much of you. But things are different now, and doubt is a luxury we can't afford anymore, sweetie. You have more power than you realize. Don't think. And don't worry. If the time comes, you'll know what to do. It's in your blood.
This is Violet's turning point. From here on, she fearlessly uses her formidable powers, fighting baddies alongside her fam and helping them save the day. And this transformation doesn't revert as soon as she returns home, either. At the end of the film, we see her confidently approaching her crush, showing how mastering her superpowers has greatly improved her self-confidence.
Dang. Superpowers would make dating way easier. We're officially jealous.
The clothes may make the person, but does the costume make the superhero? In The Incredibles, our heroes' relationship with their superheroic digs is an important thread that runs throughout the cape...er, we mean film.
After all, it's a huge moment when Mr. Incredible dons his old costume for the first time since the Superhero Relocation Program was enacted. But it's not all sunshine and roses. It actually highlights how long it's been since he's fought crime and how old he's become when he sees the fabric barely holds together to contain his now-ample gut. You into dad bods? You'll go wild for Bob Parr.
So it's quite significant when Bob gets a brand new, sleek costume, courtesy of Edna, former superhero fashion designer. But he doesn't just get one for himself: Edna secretly makes costumes for the whole fam, kids included. Though Bob didn't ask for this, it's a huge turning point, as it opens up the world of superheroes he's been desperately trying to rejoin to the entire family.
Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.
About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)
Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl aren't just super heroes at the top of their game, but an engaged couple about to be wed. Everything's dandy, right? Wrong. Due to legal tomfoolery, superheroes are suddenly banned by the government, forcing our heroes to hang up their costumes for good.
Mr. Incredible is now known as Bob Parr, and he lives with wife Helen—the former Elastigirl—and their super-powered children, Dash and Violet, as well as one not super-powered baby, Jack-Jack. Bob works as an insurance adjuster, but secretly pines for his old life as a wannabe Avenger, even going out on late night superhero runs with an old buddy to scratch the itch. On one of these fateful nights, their work is watched closely by mysterious figure with silver hair…
After a fight with Helen over these late night runs, Bob goes into work grumpier than ever. But don't you worry—he gets even grumpier when his boss Mr. Huph calls him to his office for a smackdown. Bob's crime? Actually helping customers. The horror. During their shouting match, Bob peeps a mugging outside the window, but to his own shame doesn't do anything to stop it. He does, however, throw Mr. Huph through several walls, which really isn't a smart move for someone trying to hide their superpowers.
Bob is fired, of course, and through a government agent we learn that this has happened quite a few times since the superhero ban, and each time the family is relocated and forced to start anew. Not so, this time—the Parrs are on their own. As he unpacks his belongings back home, Bob finds a tablet that plays a message from the silver-haired woman, who introduces herself as Mirage. She offers him the opportunity of a lifetime: a rogue robot has run roughshod over a secret government facility, and they need Mr. Incredible to to save the day.
His midlife crisis fantasy fulfilled, Bob lies to Helen, telling that he's been promoted at work and chosen to attend a high-falutin' insurance conference. Instead, he rides a fancy jet to an island in the middle of the Pacific, meets Mirage, and handily defeats the supposedly fearsome Omnidroid. His pockets now flush with cash from a job well done, Bob returns to home happy and fulfilled.
And we mean fulfilled. He becomes a good husband and father. He gets back in shape. He buys a sports car. He even commissions a brand spankin' new costume from Edna, former fashion designer to the superhero elite. Life is good. It's less good for Helen, who's grown suspicious of her hubby. Her suspicions are confirmed when she hears Bob talking on the phone to Mirage about another job, though from her perspective it sounds like he's having an affair.
Regardless, Bob takes this second job and returns to the mysterious island, where Mirage promises that Bob will meet the secret benefactor behind his missions. During a fight with the new-and-improved Omnidroid, this benefactor is revealed to be a super villain named Syndrome. Syndrome was once Buddy Pine, Mr. Incredible's biggest fanboy, but turned evil after the hero rejected him. After learning about Buddy's secret plan to launch the Omnidroid into New York City to wreak havoc, only to pretend to be a superhero and "save" the day himself, Bob is captured and locked up in Syndrome's diabolical lair.
Helen follows a trail of clues to Edna, who tells her what Bob's been up to. Thanks Edna. She also helps by designing the whole fam new costumes, which are pretty sweet. Tracking Bob's location using a homing device built into his suit, Helen flies to the island in a government jet, while unbeknownst to her she has two stowaways: Dash and Violet. The jet is taken down by Syndrome as it approaches the island, however, leaving Bob believing that his whole family is dead. Not so. They survived and snuck onto the island in the dead of night.
Helen leaves the kids to rescue Bob, giving them the opportunity to use their superpowers for the first time in their lives, battling baddies like they're in the Justice League. Thanks to a last-minute switcheroo courtesy of Mirage, the family reunites and gets ready to rumble with Syndrome. Unfortunately, his evil plan is already underway, so they race back to the mainland as the Omnidroid starts laying waste to the city.
Syndrome attempts to deactivate the Omnidroid as planned, but he's quickly bested by his own creation. Luckily, the Incredibles arrive in the nick of time, defeat the Omnidroid alongside some old superhero pals, and enjoy some healthy family bonding. The day is saved...right?
Not quite. On the way home, the family learns that Syndrome has kidnapped Jack-Jack, and when they arrive, they find the villain flying away with the youngest Incredible. Conveniently, little Jack-Jack decides that this is the moment to show off his superpowers, transforming into a sequence of fearsome forms that cause Syndrome to drop him back to the safety of his family. Syndrome, on the other hand, gets chopped up into a billion bits by an airplane rotor. Ouchie. Okay, now the day is really saved.
The entire family seems way happier now that they're somewhat allowed to use their superpowers, with young Dash even allowed to join the track team despite his super speed. As the family is leaving one of his track meets, a giant drill bursts from the concrete, revealing a new super villain: the fearsome Underminer. Well, not fearsome, maybe. He's like a gerbil. Anyway, the family has already changed into their costumes, revealing that their superhero soiree was no one-time lark. They're a team now.
The world of The Incredibles isn't all that different from ours, with one little difference: superheroes. Yeah, no biggie.
We only see a tiny glimpse of the time when superheroes are still active, however. In the intro, Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl are at the top of their game, kicking copious bad guy booty and getting home in time for The Tonight Show. This world is your classic comic book wonderland, with outlandish villains, invincible heroes, and at least one bomb-obsessed mime.
Everything changes with the Superhero Relocation Program, a law passed after Mr. Incredible is hit with several lawsuits. This law forbids superheroes from using their powers and demands that they anonymously integrate back into society. Suddenly, without warning, this wonderous world of heroes and villains becomes...boring.
This is reflected in the settings where we find Bob and Helen after the Superhero Relocation Program is enacted. Their main stage is their suburban home, which reflects how family life has filled in the space where crime-fighting used to be. Bob also spends a lot of time working in that great cubicle maze known as an insurance agency. It's hard to think of a better setting to illustrate his fall from grace than that.
Syndrome's evil island lair is the one piece of the old superhero world still around. Complete with rocket pads, lava walls, and all sorts of other bad guy goodies, this thing looks like where Lex Luthor would chill if he was a Bond villain. Although it's obviously a nasty place, it actually invigorates Bob, reminding him of his past glories as Mr. Incredible. Now, if only the suit wasn't so snug these days...
The Incredibles is a children's movie about superheroes, so don't expect any Christopher Nolan style narrative insanity. This ain't Memento. It's Pixar.
It goes a little like this: Superhero meets bad guy. Superhero gets captured by bad guy. Superhero is freed and kicks bad guy butt.
If you've seen a superhero movie, then you've seen some variation of this story before—and that's not even a diss. Superhero fiction is its own genre with its own set of narrative conventions and techniques, so we shouldn't be surprised that The Incredibles so snugly fits the mold.
The one bit of narrative fun being played is giving the family different sets of information leading up to their encounter with Syndrome. Helen thinks Bob is cheating on her. Bob thinks the family is dead. And the kids don't even know what's to think. By keeping each of the characters in the dark, in some way, the film manages to build tension in an otherwise straightforward narrative.
The Incredibles isn't just any cartoon: it's a Pixar cartoon. That's a genre of its own.
With humor and fun for the kids, and heart and thoughtfulness for the parents, Pixar takes animation, a genre typically associated with children, and makes it something everyone in the family can enjoy. That's a whole lot better than making a movie kids love but makes the parents want to pull their hair out. We're looking at you Air Bud.
But make no mistake: The Incredibles is a kids' movie through-and-through. The villain is one-dimensional. The violence is cartoony and blood-free. The characters and conflicts are easy-to-digest. Although the conflict between Bob and Helen might go over some kids' heads, the rest of the movie is built just for them.
The final ingredient in The Incredibles' genre souffle is the current ruler of the box office: superhero movies. The film embraces its superhero roots, making fun of common motifs like the bad guy monologue or impractical superhero cape, and even touching on ideas about government regulation of superheroes seeded by Marvel's iconic Civil War series. That being said, The Incredibles was released years before the modern superhero boom, meaning that it set as many genre standards as it borrowed within the film landscape.
There's this superhero by the name of Mr. Incredible, see. He has some kids, see. A whole family, see. So all of 'em are Incredible, see?
Whoa. Why did we turn into a 1940's gangster all of the sudden? That was weird.
Anyway, it ain't rocket science: The Incredibles is about a superhero named Mr. Incredible and his equally Incredible family. Pixar isn't exactly known for their far-out titles. After all, they once made a story about toys...and called it Toy Story. Yeah.
The Incredibles' climax sees its titular family doing battle with the upgraded Omnidroid in the middle of city streets. It's almost like they're real superheroes now.
Naturally, they handily defeat the baddie. More important than this victory, however, is that the family is now united in a way they haven't been in a long time.
Here's a telling exchange between Bob and Helen:
BOB: I can't lose you again. I can't. Not again. I'm not strong enough.
HELEN: If we work together, you won't have to be.
Finally (finally), Bob realizes that he can't just abandon his family in favor of his superhero fantasies. Even more than that, however, he realizes that he's way stronger with them than he ever was alone.
Day saved, right? Not quite. Syndrome, it turns out, fled the scene and kidnapped baby Jack-Jack in an attempt to turn him into his new villain sidekick. Fortunately, Jack-Jack suddenly reveals himself to have superpowers, transforming himself into a variety of volatile forms and causing Syndrome to drop him. This is a shock to the family, as they had believed that Jack-Jack was the only family member to not have powers.
And yeah, Syndrome then gets chopped to bits by an airplane rotor, but that's not the important part. The important part is that the family is now happy and united: a welcome change from their usual emo nature.
This change is most evident in the kids. Dash is now happily taking part in track meets, though he's careful to not go overboard with the super speed. Violet, on the other hand, has gained so much self-confidence that she macks on her crush like a true player.
Plus, who knows? Maybe this isn't the last time the Parr family will don their costumes. Hint hint.
Like all Pixar movies, The Incredibles is a totally family-friendly affair. With its decidedly cartoony violence being the only thing pushing it higher than a "G" rating, it's probably a safe watch for everyone in the house.