Pixar can play my tear ducts like a fiddle. I mean, to be fair, most forms of media can play me like a fiddle. I’m very much a person who wears my heart on my sleeve, and tend to cry at films. But Pixar has a way to get at me on a consistent basis. Toy Story 2 had Sarah McLachlan tearing me apart years before I listened to her sing a song over video of very sad looking puppies. Thanks to Monster’s, Inc., I can’t hear someone exclaim “Kitty!” without having to quickly gain my composure. Up tells a better, more heartbreaking love story in its opening ten minutes than I’ve seen in any other romantic film. I cried over the idea that a group of plastic toys accepted their own fates, only to cry again as a teenager engages with his childhood one last time, while allowing a young girl to experience that same joy at the end of Toy Story 3. Inside Out celebrates the important role that the feeling of sadness has on our everyday life (more than just “it helps you appreciate the happy times”), all while making me get upset when an imaginary pink elephant that cries jelly beans and makes dolphin sounds disappears from existence. Coco demands you to do everything you can to keep the memory of your ancestors alive. Cars 2, Cars 3, and The Good Dinosaur exist. Pixar just knows what it takes to bring me to my emotionally lowest point.
I don’t remember much from the first Incredibles movie. I can’t remember how that movie played my emotions, but I’m sure that it did. I saw the sequel on its first full day in theaters, and there isn’t really a moment that gets me at my emotional core on the same level any of the moments listed above do. That’s not to say that it didn’t play my emotions in a really satisfying way. There’s one quick scene, between only two characters, which got at a very real fear of mine, and it showed me how Pixar can still impress me with how well it can subvert a trope.
So for those of you who don’t know what this movie is about, which I’m guessing is none of you, The Incredibles 2 is the immediate successor to Pixar’s 2004 film, despite the 14 year difference in release dates (something the cast and crew kind of apologize for before the film, which, k). After the quest to stop The Underminer goes less well than they had hoped, the entire Parr family (Craig T. Nelson’s super-strong Bob/Mr. Incredible, Holly Hunter’s stretchy Helen/Elastigirl, Sarah Vowell’s invisible Violet, Huck Milner’s super-speedy Dash, and literal infant Jack-Jack, voiced by Eli Fucile) is briefly detained, as the world still has illegalized superheroes. Shortly after the arrest, a businessman (Bob Odenkirk) and his technologically savvy sister (Catherine Keener) present the adult Parrs and Samuel L. Jackson’s Frozone with an opportunity to show the world the truly heroic side of those with superpowers, instead of just the destruction that the media and politicians tend to focus on, an opportunity that will hopefully open minds and end the criminalization of superpowers. The opportunity, they explain, should lie with Elastigirl, as evidence has shown that she is the least likely to leave any kind of destruction as she saves the day. From there, the movie splits into two plots: one, Elastigirl goes off and does her superheroine thing, fighting to save the day from the mysterious Screenslaver, a villain who uses the screens that people are so obsessed with against them (which, in a movie, always plays as funny to me), while Bob stays home and does the Mr. Dad thing.
I’m going to let you know now, that this topic is about to focus on Bob’s portion of this story, which even I kind of realize isn’t the really powerful side of this movie. Elastigirl getting to have her moment in the spotlight and getting to be a role model to little girls everywhere that they don’t have to be defined by their gender and can go out and do amazing things in the world is an important plotline and one that should be celebrated. But I would argue that little boys getting to see that being supportive of your loved one while staying home and taking care of the family and home can be satisfying is also an important story to tell, and I’m so over-the-moon happy with how this movie executes that story.
I’ll admit, I was concerned about how the movie would do the dad stays at home plot, especially since the trailers really seemed to hone in on him having some fairly over-the-top issues like a daughter storming off after trying to blend her costume, Bob yelling as his son tells him that he’s doing math incorrectly, and a disappearing monster baby. You know, the big three. But this is where the movie caught me off-guard, which is more on me for not trusting Brad Bird. Bob doesn’t put off the job or treat it as unimportant. It’s not what he ever imagined when he put the superhero suit back on, that he would be at home while Helen was off saving the world, but that’s where he is and he’ll do what he has to do in that role. From the very start, he knows that he has to be there for his kids and does what he can to be there. Sure, he has his missteps, because super-powered or not, he’s a human being, which means that he has flaws. He gets frustrated with Dash and his math homework, but then he stays up all night with the textbooks and learns this “new math” so that he can sit with his son the next morning and make sure that he understands it before his big test. He upsets his daughter by having her love interest’s memory of her erased, but he tries to mend that in a small way, which shows that he doesn’t quite understand teenaged girls. He tries his best, and sometimes even his best blows up in his face. But it isn’t in some over-the-top, he has no idea what he’s doing kind of way. He does it in a kind-hearted way that just catches Violet off-guard and things go poorly from there. He tries. He might not succeed every time, but God love him, he tries.
Which brings me to the one scene that really played my emotions. Bob has just gotten home from dropping Jack-Jack off at the super-mansion of superhero costumer Edna (voiced by Bird), who is excited by the difficult prospect of creating a constantly adapting costume for a baby whose powers constantly change. He is sitting in the family living room, exhausted. Violet creeps down the stairs, and seeing her father sitting in the dark, a look of sad exhaustion on his face, sits down next to him on the couch. He apologizes for how everything has gone down with her would-be boyfriend, and, by extension, for everything that he has done since he took over as the main caregiver for the family. He’s trying his best, and he fears that his best isn’t good enough and that he’s letting his kids down. That fear breaks his heart, and having to admit it to his daughter is almost more than he can take. He just wants to be a good dad. Nelson does some really good work here, as he mixes exhaustion and fear and sadness in his voice, without every leaning into full on sobs. Vowell counters with her own impressive work, as she comforts her super-strong father as he is feeling at his absolute weakest, letting him know that he isn’t just a good dad. She hugs him, telling him that he’s a super dad. The last words aren’t heard, as his exhaustion has finally overtaken him, but the effect her words has are clear. The next day, after he wakes up, and Violet is helping take care of Dash, giving her dad some rest, he smiles, feeling reinvigorated and like maybe he is actually being the father these kids deserve. In total, these moments take maybe 90 seconds of screen time, but it’s enough. I smiled away tears as the film continued.
I’m not yet a father, but plan/hope to be one someday. But this moment gets at very real concerns that I have. Fatherhood/motherhood/parenthood is an exciting prospect, getting to care for kids and help mold them into wonderful people in a world that increasingly seems like it needs all the wonderful people it can get. Alternatively, fatherhood/motherhood/parenthood is a horrifying prospect, because you have to care for these small humans and try to balance everything you have to balance before children, and then all of a sudden try to mold them into non-monsters in a world that increasingly has monsters popping up behind every corner. It’s daunting. And, knowing myself, who admittedly doesn’t handle stress/failure well, and constantly has an internal locus of control when it comes to failure (it’s not the world/people around me that cause me to fail. It’s me), I’m concerned about what kind of father I will be. I can try my best, but what if I fail? What if I disappoint my kids? Will the best really matter if it doesn’t work? How can it be that I’m a good father if I keep making mistakes? But in 90 seconds, Brad Bird provides me a comfort. It’s not a new comfort: it’s one that I constantly hear, that mistakes will happen, but my best will be enough, and my kids will (hopefully) appreciate that. It’s one that I experienced in real life, knowing that my parents are indeed human and that despite trying their best every day of their lives trying to raise me and my siblings (no easy task), that there were probably missteps along the way. But I’m eternally grateful for everything that they did for me, everything that they sacrificed so that I could have the life that I have. I know that they tried their best, and their best was pretty super. Seeing it play out onscreen is just an easy reminder of what I’ve had in life and a reminder that if I genuinely try my best with my kids, that will be enough.
The Incredibles 2 is a really fun movie, and another strong release from Pixar, even if it fell into one of its own tropes (uh oh, that good person you trust isn’t really a good person) and even if the villain’s motivation never really clicked for me. However, the issues I have with the movie are more than made up for in its striking animation (there’s a strobe light fight unlike anything I’ve seen in an animated movie). More than anything though, this film subverted the “dad fails wildly at being a dad” trope by showing a father genuinely try his best for his kids and falling short in very real, very human ways, all while having the children understand and appreciate everything that he’s doing. And just like that, Pixar played my emotions again, and for that, I am wildly grateful.
References The Incredibles 2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incredibles_2 Photo Credit Cover Photo https://image-cdn.hypb.st/https%3A%2F%2Fhypebeast.com%2Fimage%2F2018%2F06%2Fincredibles-2-poster-01.jpg?q=75&w=800&fit=max Bob with Jack-Jack https://static.gamespot.com/uploads/screen_kubrick/1197/11970954/3352676-theincrediblestrailer-promo3.jpg