Fragile Masculinity in Incredibles 2

This article contains Incredibles 2 spoilers.

Father’s day is meant to celebrate the males in your upbringing; to honor the special gift of fatherhood and the many life lessons and laughs it brings throughout. These Hallmark holidays are typically warm, sunny excuses to bond with family members and take an afternoon to unwind and smile outside the stresses of every day life.

Which is exactly why we chose to treat my dad to a showing of the sequel to our long-time family-favorite: Incredibles 2. What could be more wholesome? The original Incredibles was a hit for many reasons; the splendor and innocence of a Disney superhero family layered masterfully with adult humor and perspective– in other words, an instant classic. We were practically gnawing our nails in excitement to see the follow-up this Sunday afternoon.

I found Incredibles 2 to teach a valuable lesson in stamina to other animated films of recent years, particularly to sequels and further franchise installments. Fourteen years is a strenuous wait in regard to staying relevant; Incredibles 2 had to come back swinging in order to appease its very anxious (very large) audience. It was with stamina and exuberance that Incredibles 2 picked right back up where we left off.

In the same gorgeous, era-ambigious animation, Incredibles 2 finds Elastigirl, Helen Parr, stepping up to the plate as the city hero. Employed by telecommunications company supportive of Supers, Helen must act as the breadwinner for her family and leaves Bob, Mr. Incredible, to take care of their three super children. Promoting Helen to the film’s main action hero certainly proved Elastigirl worthy of the newfound attention. With a signature Kim Kardashian build, electric red thigh-high boots and biting voice work from the incomparable Holly Hunter, Elastigirl really hits her super stride in Incredibles 2.

One of the more complex character arcs of the film is that of Mr. Incredible himself. While Helen fights villains in their city, Bob Parr is tasked with staying home to take care of the Incredi-kids, Violet, Dash and Jack-Jack. This storyline, which follows a switch of traditional parental gender roles, evolves with grace and awareness on writer and director Brad Bird’s part. I was surprised to find that Incredibles 2 successfully discusses fatherhood and marriage all under the issue of Bob Parr’s crisis of masculinity.

When Mr. and Mrs. Parr are approached by DEVTECH to represent the company’s new media movement for Supers, Bob immediately assumes he will be the first Super representative for the company. In disbelief that DEVTECH would rather Elastigirl be their first choice, company owner Winston Deavor explains to Bob that Mr. Incredible comes with too many liabilities. He’s too much of a crusher when the world needs a stretcher– flexibility over brawn, compassionate justice over testosterone.

Elastigirl
Fandango

With today’s dialogue concerning our mania over superhero films and their fascist implications, I found Bob’s reaction to his wife cutting in as the lead perfectly calculated. Presently, female perspectives and storylines are introduced to keep those of males in check; inviting women to lead differently than the men before them. Bob’s self esteem enters full crisis when Helen calls to gush about the train full of people she saved on her assignment. Mr. Incredible is then incredibly jealous– angry that, for once, he is not the hero.

This sequence irritated me. How could Mr. Incredible be so selfish? Was Bob’s masculinity so fragile he couldn’t be happy for his wife? And immediately resent her success? Surely Pixar would not boil down their once brilliantly formulated family dynamic to a discouraging pity-party for the once great Mr. Incredible. From this, I was worried Bob’s stay-at-home experience would enter trope territory. I didn’t want Bob’s bitterness to hinder all the good that had originally come from their family.

But then, something marvelous happened. Through dirty diapers, school lunches and general home-making, Bob had a teachable experience. It became clear that his jealousy of Helen was in her success as both a superhero and mother. While Bob exceeded at being strong and valiant for the greater good, he was frustrated that his abilities as a father may be mediocre. As much as he didn’t want to let the world down, he knew letting his wife and kids down meant just as much.

The most beautiful, nuanced sequence of Bob’s self-discovery as a father was when he tossed and turned in bed, griping and grumbling to himself about his inability to help Dash with his math homework. What I thought began as only grumpy dad humor flourished into a quiet, important moment when Bob went back downstairs, put on a pot of coffee and committed to learning Dash’s math homework. In the most simple way, we were able to see how a grown man could swallow his pride for his family and ultimately understand the super strength in parenting.

The Parr Family
iamag

Among all the other awesome occurrences in Incredibles 2, we journey with the Parr’s as a unit, navigating how they can become closer by being out as Supers. For Bob specifically, we see how fragile masculinity can be confronted and deconstructed in the institution of family. Though it is likely none of our fathers have superhuman abilities, this Disney Pixar film showed an audience of all ages that our dads have it in them to be compassionate, hardworking parents and reliable spouses when they allow compromise in their gender roles.

When Bob and Helen worked together, accepting their change in dynamic as a superhero family, they empowered their kids with bravery in their own powers. And to me, that’s pretty incredible.

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