When I was eight years old, my cinema experiences involved attending a reasonably clapped out West London screen – still with ashtrays built into the seat backs – and being permanently scarred by Who Framed Roger Rabbit? It led to a lifelong love of films all the same. My daughter just attended her first film premiere, alongside Holly Hunter and Samuel L. Jackson, weeks after being given the opportunity to draw alongside an absolute animation hero of mine.The universe likes its little surprises. But that’s parenthood for you.
Fourteen years after Mr Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) and their family hit the big screen for the first time, the Parrs are back for a new adventure – although narratively they’re picking up exactly where they left off. And where The Incredibles was a wonderful, visually spectacular examination of family archetypes and challenges (just think about why each member of the family has the exact powers they do) as well as a prescient look at toxic fandom culture, Incredibles 2 dives further under the surface to specifically examine parental dynamics. How do you retain your own personality and shine your light in the face of raising kids? It’s something absolutely every parent, and especially every mother, has asked themselves. Gender dynamics, already referenced in the first film – “leave saving the world to the men? I don’t think so” – are further explored as Elastigirl takes centre stage to work with a pair of extraordinary billionaire siblings (Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener) in their mission to make superheroes legal again.
There’s a lot going on. Elastigirl’s mission is complicated by the emergence of a new supervillain, Dash and Violet need to adjust to the realities of life after superheroics, Bob is struggling desperately with taking a supporting role and Jack Jack still hasn’t revealed the powers that the audience knew about to his own parents. Sometimes the storytelling gets a little overcomplicated, but it’s never less than exhilarating, warm and frequently hilarious.
Bob’s acceptance of his new role is particularly interesting, because for once the script resists buffooning the dad – he’s not initially failing at striking the right notes at home because he’s a man, but because family life is complicated and can be hard. He learns the new maths, hamfistedly intervenes in the teen relationship drama, changes the nappies and wrangles the raccoon wrestling (you’ll see) but in the end is committed to his family and determined to keep the mess out of his wife’s eye-line. Maybe it’s a little bit selfish, since if she succeeds, it works out well for him. But he’s learning appreciation as he goes, and he rises to the challenge.
For Elastigirl, the arc is less dramatic, since she was never exactly a pushover; her excitement at finally being allowed to venture out of the domestic sphere to stretch her hero muscles again is infectiously charming, and speaks particularly to any mum who has had to reconcile being a very different person at work than she is at home. Another great female character, Violet (Sarah Vowell) also significantly steps into the limelight, gradually leaving off her frequent invisibility in favour of pulling out her defensive force-field powers more, and more creatively. Watching her grow into her own understanding of her place in the new world is a painfully familiar metaphor for anyone who remembers what it’s like to be a teenager.
Together with the short film Bao, which made me weep like a baby, what you get under the wrapper of adventure is a deeply heartfelt story about the things we do for love of others. Brad Bird (who wrote and directed my very favourite Pixar film, Ratatouille, as well as the deeply under-appreciated Tomorrowland) has been accused of favouring exceptionalism in an elitist way. This strikes me as a very limited reading of his work. He’s certainly defended youthful individualism and his films do focus on the special few, but all of Bird’s heroes use their individual strengths for the collective good; the whole point of The Incredibles and its sequel (and Ratatouille and Tomorrowland) is to look at the consequences of being prevented from being the best version of ourselves that we can be. It’s a radical message for kids to hear: not just be yourself, but be yourself in a community. Not just that, but give the best of yourself to the group at every opportunity, because it’s the right thing to do. In this political climate more than ever, that’s a powerful statement.
The almost-8yos verdict: It was incredible! Really funny and my favourite bits were Jack Jack using his powers. I’m glad that Edna and Frozone were in it again. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone in my class. I’d rather eat courgette than watch Bao again, though. [Ed’s note: My little dumpling is being a touch salty, but it really is made more for adults than kids!]
Note to adults: This is a PG film with plenty of punch-ups, and the odd ‘crap’ thrown in. Personally, I’d recommend age 6+, but your mileage may vary. If anyone planning to see the film has a condition that responds to flashing / strobe lights (such as photosensitive epilepsy), please be aware there is a scene that could affect this.
As mentioned, we were also lucky enough to get in the room where it happens with Brad Bird himself, and two of his regular producing partners, John Walker and Nicole Paradis Grindle a few weeks ago. As well as getting an up-close demonstration of how to draw Jack Jack, Ramona and four other children – including my lovely pal Vicki’s beautiful boys – got a chance to draw their own version and get notes and a high five from Bird. They also had a chance to ask some questions, which included Ramona’s query about the first character he ever drew. And Nicole spotted the Tomorrowland pin Ramona had borrowed from me and complimented her on it, which made us both delighted (and yes, I was nerdy enough to wear my It’s a Small World one to match). We’ve got some brilliant video of the session to share as soon as this working mum has a chance to do some trimming (I’m not a natural video editor), so do watch this space! In the meantime, head to Honest Mum to see her video of the day too.
Incredibles 2 is on general release in the UK from Friday 13th July (luckily for everyone).
Our thanks for Disney and Organic PR for inviting us to the masterclass and the UK premiere (our thoughts were our own, however).