Between the mid-century architecture and space-age technology of Pixar’s Incredibles 2, the long-awaited sequel to the 2004 blockbuster The Incredibles, we find the timeless tale of a family struggling in its quest to find work-life balance.
Yes, when it comes to household budgets and raising babies, even superheroes get the blues.
The tale is indeed timeless for several reasons, most notably, there is not a gap in the Incredibles/Parr family’s storyline as it picks up exactly where we left them in the previous film. Additionally, subtle shades of Stepford in Metroville, where conforming to the law of the land, specifically the criminalization of superhero activity, have left a life layered in capri pants and knit shirts. While the retro stylings meeting new math may offer a tease of steampunk spark, the idea of a man being a stay-at-home dad is still met with patronizing pats to assure the patriarchy remains at the head of the table.
Fortunately, our heroes are up to all of the challenges in Incredibles 2.
WARNING: Incredibles 2 spoilers ahead
When Elastigirl, the Incredibles matriarch (voiced by Holly Hunter), is offered an opportunity to become the face of a movement intent on the legalization of superheroes, a paid advocate who must break the law in order to change the law (and also protect other laws in the process — it’s complicated), it puts their “real” life Parr family in unfamiliar territory. They are broke, forced by the government to stash their super suits and permanently accept their secret identities as Parr for the course: Helen (Hunter) and Bob (Craig T. Nelson), respectively.
The job offer would require Helen to enter the workplace, something she is already considering, and subsequently call for Mr. Incredible to become merely human Bob, the primary caregiver of their three children (Violet, Dash and Jack-Jack). Despite his jealousy of his wife’s new position and a tiptoe around traditional gender roles, Bob supportively(-ish) accepts.
Mr. Incredible is NOT Mr. Mom 2.0
Being a stay-at-home dad does not come as easily to Bob as punching bad guys, but he is a quick, if not exhausted, learner.
From the get-go, he is faced with the landmines of a teenager’s love life, the aforementioned battle with new math and a bouncing baby boy who would rather wrestle raccoons than sleep. However, once Bob gets around his own ego he learns it is OK to admit he doesn’t have all the answers, that there is no shame in asking for help, and that you can’t solve every problem with your biceps.
He also makes a pretty mean waffle.
The story of stay-at-home Bob, despite the animated medium and superpower element, is incredibly realistic, accurate and relatable, especially for those still in the shallows of a new transition from working man to man running the household. This isn’t, thankfully, “Mr. Incredible becomes Mr. Mom,” but rather a man redefining his understanding of modern fatherhood in real-time.
Whereas Mr. Mom is a bumbling idiot trope hamming it up for laughs, Mr. Incredible is a man with very traditional views on masculinity suddenly confronted by his own ignorance and shortcomings, plus the fear thereof (and fear is not a thing he feels often). Yes, he stumbles and struggles, and grows frustrated, not because he is above such things or views them as “unmanly,” but because he never knew what he didn’t know. It is an awaking, in more ways than one, and he takes immediate strides to be a better parent. Is he perfect? No, not yet, but he’s willing to put in the time and the work, and that is a start.
So, too, Helen’s confident success and breaking of barriers, the impact of her own empowerment upon other characters in the film (and, presumably, the audience), suggest that the antiquated societal norms of gender, once thought timeless only a few scenes (and paragraphs) before, are anything but. It’s powerful, positive stuff, none of which is lost on the Parr children and the heroes of tomorrow, the benefits of which are, and I’m sorry about this, incredible.
We will let you know when Bob starts a City Dads Group in Metroville.
Disney/Pixar’s “Incredibles 2” opens June 15 and is rated PG. Film screening and all images provided by Disney/Pixar.