Fourteen years ago, a superhero movie was released and has been one of the best family superhero movies to date - The Incredibles. While the film is very much centered on Mr. Incredible's journey, there is also an element in the film that may be overlooked- that of female roles. Despite being written by a man and coming out in 2004, The Incredibles is very much a woman-centric film. Let’s dig in a bit.
One of the main issues this movie tackles is gender equality and it does this better than most animated movies. At the start of the movie we see Mrs. Incredible, aka Elastigirl, as a superhero in her own right. The movie demonstrates that it is possible for her keep her own identity even while wearing additional hats as a wife and mother - she never allows those hats to overtake who she was in the opening of the film- they simply add to who she is. This can be a tough thing for women, as it is so easy to put your family’s needs before your own (even down to the simple act of not putting makeup on to leave the house because the kids/the schedule won’t allow you to). We see that Mrs. Incredible keeps the family together - the kids are taken care of, the house is unpacked and cleaned, and she even tries to make sure her husband is involved in the kids’ lives. You get the impression that if Mrs. Incredible were out of the picture, the family would crumble into chaos (which makes the premise for Incredibles 2 very interesting). She is the epitome of the strength that Mr. Incredible is so fearful of not having enough of, which makes his fear of losing his family or having them injured so crippling to his actions. Mrs. Incredible only has one moment of vulnerability, which she is quickly snapped out of by her friend Edna Mode (a true girlfriend indeed). While the situation of tracking down her husband (and having her children stow away on the plane heading into danger) would typically be one to send many of us into a panic attack with anxiety up the wazoo, she is calm and collected. The writers don’t put her into the “typical” woman mold - thankfully. Instead, she is shown that she was, in fact, stronger than her husband - demonstrating that physical strength will not always be enough.
The movie also addresses other themes facing girls/women, including being confident in yourself, as we learn from Violet. She is like many females, especially young teens, who don’t necessarily like who they are and/or are not comfortable with who they are because they don’t fit a certain mold (the pretty popular type). Of course once she accepts who she is, she excels as both a superhero, a sister, a daughter, and even a teenager (date with Tony). While this is not necessarily a theme only for the modern age, it is quite appropriate for the modern female. It seems that only recently have girls been encouraged to be themselves, whether this pertains to body shape/appearance or being comfortable pursuing a career or a family. Violet is shown that it is important to love herself and embrace her “flaws” as these are not necessarily things to hide, but things to embrace. Once she allows herself to do this, she is free to just be herself, which is more than good enough.
Additionally, the movie has your typical woman side-kick in Mirage, but she does not stay in that "typical" role for very long. While she initially does what Syndrome wants, at the first turn where he shows his true colors, she is willing to give up on him and side with The Incredibles. The film does not let this woman become another dumb female, made stupid by her feelings towards a man in power. This small, simple role shows the greater depths of how a female character can be better written and better handled.
So as you can see, while The Incredibles has many themes, many of them that are focused on strong women embracing themselves and their choices - which is very interesting as this movie was written by a man. This same man is the force behind the sequel. Interestingly, the sequel also has many female leads and themes centered around these female characters. I want to briefly discuss The Incredibles 2 here- I’ll try to avoid major spoilers but if you haven’t seen it, you should do that first.
The Incredibles 2 begins where the first one left off, so the audience doesn’t have to spend time playing catch up in our characters’ lives- which also means that the characters haven’t had time to grow/change without the viewer knowing. This movie, as shown in previews, focuses on Mrs. Incredible, or as she is more frequently called throughout the movie - Elastigirl - and her own dealings of being a working mother. While the movie plays on many parenting tropes, we see how things were handled quite well by Mrs. Incredible. Now, I’m sure I will hear the comment that, well, she didn’t have to deal with Jack Jack’s emerging powers as well. However, she was able to handle Dash’s school issues (a bit more since he was a more of a troublemaker in the first movie), Violet’s constant insecurity, and Jack Jack, who was younger, thus needing more attention. She also had to contend with the issue of her husband’s possible infidelity/secretive nature. I think it’s fair to say that both parents had their stay-at-home parenting job equally as difficult; yet, Mrs. Incredible never seemed as ruined as Mr. Incredible does in this movie. Once again we are shown Mrs. Incredible’s extraordinary inner strength- in the first movie, it was her ability to handle the switch from superhero to stay at home mom; now it’s from stay at home mom back to superhero, but one with a family to think of and worry about while she is out on her missions. The movie once again emphasizes how well Mrs. Incredible can handle multiple responsibilities.
Another component to this movie is Edna Mode. She embodies those women who focus on career over family - something she clearly indicates is her own decision. However, we are also given the glimpse into her life where she is able to have her chance to babysit Jack Jack. Despite having little-to-no maternal instincts, she is able to succeed in both competently taking care of the baby, as well as designing a very unique supersuit for him (in one night as she emphasizes). Here we are given the character who is able to enjoy her career life, as well as some of the mothering that is inherent in every woman. She is not simply a character for quippy phrases and humor - she is an example of how a woman can pursue her career without feeling that she lost something because she decided not to become a mother.
We can't discuss this movie without going back to Violet. Just a moment before this movie, she had grown so much and developed into a, somewhat, confident teenager. Yet, much of that is tossed into the wind once the second movie starts and she is back to being this awkward girl trying to find her place in the world. What makes Violet's character great is that she does not revert back to being the shy wall-flower, but now has to grow even more. I find she is one of the most relatable characters because she has so much thrown at her, yet she does not back down and retreat. She continues to stand up and face the world, as crazy as it is. Perhaps this is because of who her mother is and the qualities she has learned from watching Helen throughout her life.
Speaking of watching Helen, we also get introduced to another female character Voyd. And while we don't get to know much about her beyond her superpowers, we do get the glimpse into what happens when females have strong, powerful females to look up to. Voyd was in a similar situation as Violet- she has powers but cannot use them for fear of being called out as a super. Having Elastigirl once again come forward and show how great being a super can be gives Voyd the confidence to be her true self. I feel like this character is there not only for women, but for anyone out there who is uncomfortable in their own skin and only becomes confident once they see someone else like them become successful and loved. Again, not something solely for the females in the audience, but something they can connect with very deeply.
Overall, these movies are superb. I think the closer you look at them, the more it becomes spectacular that they are able to say so much about society, particularly about women, despite the fact that they were both written by a man. Fourteen years is quite a long time for a sequel, but it was worth the wait as we are able to continue this journey with our favorite superheroes - especially our favorite super mom.