I don’t know how I missed seeing The Incredibles earlier, but it is now my all-time favorite Pixar film. Overall, it is a clever, imaginative, and fun take on the super-hero genre. On top of that, it really shines when it comes to the female characters.
First of all, let me introduce one of my new favorite movie characters: Edna Mode.
Have you ever wondered where super-heroes get those fabulous costumes? Well, wonder no more! They’re designed by Edna Mode.
Edna is brilliant, clever, powerful, and — surprisingly for a movie — not particularly glamorous. As I’ve said before, I don’t object to female characters being beautiful, glamorous, sexy, etc. What I don’t like is that in movie-land practically all sympathetic female characters have to be beautiful. It gives a weird message that women don’t count for anything (or don’t exist) unless they’re pretty, whereas males can be any size shape or form. I love that Edna’s own personal glamor is a non-issue because it’s overshadowed by how amusingly eccentric she is. She’s the sort of “funny little character” that the typical screenwriter-on-autopilot would have made male by default.
But as a mom, I love the mom (Elastigirl) even more. I think the character gives a positive and (crazily enough) realistic portrait of a successful woman making typical sacrifices (expected of women) when raising a family.
I particularly like the scene where Elastigirl is flying a plane (where she has discovered two of her kids have stowed away) and suddenly finds the plane under attack. Obviously this specific scenario doesn’t happen much in real life, and yet it was a great portrait of what maternal multi-tasking is like in a moment of danger: dealing with the danger itself with one hand while dealing with the frightened children with the other.
I’ve become so jaded by all of these kids’ films with the disposable mom character that it was absolutely thrilling for me to finally see a kids’-movie scene where the mom takes control in a time of crisis, and saves her kids and herself.
This is probably my favorite line in the movie:
My kids love to watch all of the extra material on the DVD (deleted scenes, etc.), and the transformation of this film provided a fascinating contrast with the transformation of the Jungle Book II. As you may recall, in the Jungle Book II, they started with a potentially interesting female character who was systematically reduced to the point where there was no danger of her distracting the audience from the all-important male character. Surprisingly, the transformation of The Incredibles went the other way. Originally, the flight-under-attack scene had a male pilot flying the plane for Elastigirl and the kids. He was axed because introducing (and killing) his character added irrelevant complexity. I’m glad because the final version of the scene is a lot more dramatic than the original (unused) version.
The other bit that mercifully got the axe was a scene where a mean, bitchy career woman disses Elastigirl for being a stay-at-home-mom, and they get into a fight. Here’s what the director says about it:
This is based on a thing that my wife has had to go through. She worked in film editing, and when we first had our kids there was a decision about whether or not she should continue working (because she made good money) and I said that as long as we can bring in enough money, it would be great to have a mother around all the time. And we made it work, but one thing she noticed was that when you’re talking about work, everyone could connect with that, everyone got it, everyone was like “Hey, you’re another working person, isn’t this difficult and all that?” Once she said that she was a mother and worked in the house, their eyes glazed over and they kind of dismissed what she did.
I hate to have to explain what’s wrong with this. It’s not that he’s evil or deliberately sexist or anything like that. It’s that he has obviously never been in a position where he has to choose between career success and the needs of his kids — and, really, has no empathy for what it’s like to have to make such choices. I totally relate to the invisible woman hidden in his comment. Juggling career and family typically entails a lot of sacrifices for women (and regrets, regardless of which choices/sacrifices they make). It’s infuriating to see a man who has asked his wife to sacrifice her career turn around and glibly pin the resulting stress on his fantasy bitchy career women who (supposedly) just don’t value motherhood enough.
The other thing that jumps out at me about his comment is his definition of the word “everyone.” If you happen to be talking to a group of stay-at-home-moms, then you absolutely will not get the reaction he describes above! So his definition of “everyone” doesn’t include SAHMs. Wow, way to stand up for moms!
After watching this deleted scene, I’m actually surprised that the character of Elastigirl was portrayed so well.
Then there’s the other exceptional scene that makes this film pass the Bechdel test with flying colors:
Violet: Mom! What happened on the plane, I’m sorry. I mean, when you asked me to… I’m sorry…
Elastigirl: 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.
A mom acting as a mentor, giving her daughter advice on how to succeed and build her talents. Again, this is the sort of thing that shouldn’t be unusual in movies, but it is.
Of course this film has plenty of all-male buddy-buddy and hero-villain action. Despite what I’ve said so far, the star of the film really is Mr. Incredible. I’m just glad to finally see a big-budget kids’ film where the female characters are really characters, not just props and scenery.