I’ve been thinking a lot about The Incredibles 2 since I saw it. Now that we have two entries in the series, we can make some statements about what subjects the franchise as a whole addresses—at least if we’re comfortable extrapolating a line from two points. I’m comfortable with doing that and so I’d like to talk about some of those topics and how I’d like to see them developed in a theoretical third movie: The Incredibles 3.
Expect spoilers for The Incredibles and The Incredibles 2 below. Not a ton, but still.
Also, I’m doing a somewhat feminist reading of the franchise and below I’m going to lightly touch on racism and situations where men emotionally manipulate women. I won’t go into detail, but if you feel like you don’t want to deal with either of those right now, this is your chance to bail on reading this post. I mean—you can actually bail any time. I can’t stop you from closing the browser window whenever you want. I’m not your real dad. And he can’t stop you either, probably.
Two Brief Tangents
Before we get into my thoughts, I wanted to mention some things about The Incredibles 2 that sort of indirectly relate to my reading. Other people brought them up to me and I feel like they bear mentioning.
First, The Incredibles 2 has several extended scenes with lots of flashing lights. Upon initial release, there wasn’t an epilepsy warning before the movie, which is a bummer. I feel like folks making visual media should be more aware of that. Heck, most video games have epilepsy warnings at the front and I don’t know that I’ve ever played a game with as much flashing as this movie. I’m sure it was an oversight, not malice, but still. In case you’re curious, a brief bit of internet research led me to the understanding that about 1.5 million people worldwide have the kinds of epilepsy where flashing lights might cause a seizure.
The second point is about the character Brick. She was the super strong and big lady who was part of the sort of… second-tier group of supers that Helen (Elastigirl) is introduced to by the Deavor siblings. Some folks read her as an unflattering portrayal of how society sees trans women. I can’t speak to whether that was anything like the creators’ intent, but I’m not about to tell someone that that reading or their feelings about it are invalid.
I just wanted, at the outset, to mention those elements because I think it’s important to be critical and acknowledge the shortcomings of the media we discuss and love.
The Incredibles & the Role of Masculinity in Society
Boom! You thought this was just some blog post about a cartoon, didn’t you? I mean—it is, but… ahem.
So across the first two movies, one common thread is that they interrogate the role of masculinity in society and societal expectations of men. In the first film, we see Bob (Mr. Incredible) struggling under the expectation that he be the “provider” of his family. He feels trapped in a job he hates both in a tactical, moment-by-moment way and in a strategic, effects-on-the-world way. Then he goes into full-on mid-life-crisis mode and gets the new job (which he hides from his wife) and gets the new car, etc. His narrative is basically exemplary of very traditional male gender roles in America.
In the second film, we see him grapple with the other side of these expectations. It is his wife who gets the awesome new job and he clearly feels emasculated by that. He wants to still help his family, so he sort of swaps spots with her and takes on child rearing duties full time. But he is awful at it probably because he previously saw it as outside his purview. So he’s outside his comfort zone in how he’s relating to his family and he’s really bad at this important task, so it drives a huge amount of stress for him. Which he, again, hides from his wife.
I think you could do some worthwhile (if not particularly novel) analysis of these two plot arcs and come away with conclusions about how men fit into American society today and the damage that that does to many of us. The problem with that, and the direction I’d like to see this subject developed, is that all of this is from Bob’s perspective. Notice that I could easily give the synopses above without even using Helen’s name. I didn’t even need to refer to Violet directly at all. It’s also a solidly white and upper middle class perspective.
The Plot of The Incredibles 3
This movie really centers around Violet and how she relates to the rest of her family and society. At the outset of the movie, we see that several years have passed. Violet is now in high school. Maybe she’s a sophmore or junior. As with most people at this age, she’s trying to figure out who she is and who her friends are and who she wants them to be and how to turn into the adult version of herself.
Specifically, she’s struggling with changes to her body, societal beauty standards and a desire to be seen as attractive by boys she’s interested in. She’s also trying to work out independence from her parents, but isn’t sure what that means, if she’s ready for it or how to go about actually getting it. So, you know, she’s a teenager.
There are two boys in school important to our narrative. I’ll give them names so we can refer to them, but I haven’t done a ton of thinking about them. The first is Peter. He’s a sort of jock type: strong jaw, broad shoulders, confident demeanor, blond hair, white, wealth cultural signals, everybody loves him. The second is Khaled. He is considered a bit weird by his peers. He’s not socially awkward, but he’s sort of frozen out and has adopted some loner tendencies as a result. Maybe he wears a lot of black or whatever. Peter seems desireable yet unattainable to Violet, and Khaled seems like he might be interested in her, but she doesn’t want to spend the social capital to give him the time of day, so she’s casually cruel to him.
Violet is also, you might remember, a super hero. She’s going out on her own, despite her parents’ forbidding it. She decides she doesn’t like her red, family-themed costume—she wants something sexier because she’s trying to be (and be seen as) a woman, not a girl. She goes to some designer who is not Edna to get a new one. Maybe it has a boob window or a super high-cut bikini bottom or something. It doesn’t really matter what, as long as it’s ridiculous and plays into tropes of “sexy” costumes dumped on female super heroes.
Helen, of course, isn’t happy with any of this. Maybe she even criticizes Violet’s new costume on feminist grounds, but Violet can throw her mom’s past right back in her face: “Elastigirl, mom?!? Way to lean right into the infantilization!”
While out at night, Violet meets another super. He’s strong and confident. His powers are sort of similar to Mr. Incredible’s. She doesn’t know it right off, but it’s Peter. They start to work together and bond. They share their identities with each other and start to hang out in both their super and their civilian lives.
They come across a shadowy figure doing illegal things. He’s breaking into police evidence rooms and corporate server farms or whatever; stealing things. It starts to feel like the leg-work portion of a serious super villain plot. They don’t know it, but it’s Khaled. I don’t know if he has powers or if he’s more of the Syndrome/Batman/Iron Man type with gadgets and such.
As they investigate this mysterious (to them) villain guy, a sexual tension develops between Violet and Peter. They start to date and Violet is really pleased with her life. She continues to have arguments with her parents about how much autonomy she is and should be exercising, but she sees her current situation as vindication that she is right and they’ll never understand her.
Over time, though, Peter starts to get… pushy. Not physically, but he pressures Violet to do things in both their romantic and heroic relationships that she isn’t comfortable with. She feels pressured to capitulate, though, because of the role she understands him to play in society and her desire to, well, be accepted by this popular hot guy. Importantly, he doesn’t pressure her to do anything illegal. He just doesn’t respect any boundary setting she tries to do.
As we near the climax of the plot, Violet and Peter confront Khaled (in super villain form) in an attempt to stop his latest heist. During this confrontation, they learn his identity, but also that Khaled has been investigating a mystery of his own. He’s been breaking the law, yes, but in pursuit of uncovering some conspiracy. Since they’re all kids, I feel like this shouldn’t be, like, a national or international level conspiracy, but maybe that would be OK. I don’t want to blow the top off the setting, though.
When they surface this revelation Peter doesn’t assimilate it well. He has a pretty absolutist moral model where if you’ve broken the law, you’re a Bad Guy™ and have to be stopped and punished. He also, you know, doesn’t value Khaled as much as his other peers at school, so it’s easy for him to over-punish him and still feel good about himself. Peter tries to manipulate Violet into seeing things his way and maybe beating the hell out of Khaled.
Violet, for the first time, sees what Peter is doing clearly and rejects it. She ends the encounter, but nothing is resolved. Khaled is in the wind and she and Peter are clearly done, but it isn’t clear what the next thing is. She feels lost. Ideally, too, there’s some school-related parallel, here. Some deadline or big event that I just haven’t worked out (yet?). In the best tradition of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Veronica Mars, the “hero” plot should be paralleld by a “normal adolescent” plot.
Feeling uncertain and not sure where to turn, she goes to visit Edna. Mostly this is just because I love Edna as a character and I want her to appear at least a couple times in this plot, but also because I feel like teenagers tend to listen to advice better from adults who are not their parents.
Anyway, Edna gives Violet advice and validates her creeped-out feelings about Peter. She also advises Violet on verifying the merit of Khaled’s claim about a conspiracy. Violet does some self-actualization and as a visual parallel, Edna gives her a new costume (and, it is revealed, had already been designing it for her, “Because a woman must stand on her own, dahling.”). The new costume isn’t the red/black/yellow Incredibles theme, but is it’s own thing. It should reference the family design in a small way so as to symbolize her being her own person but not entirely separated from her family.
So, in her new costume, Violet goes out and finds Khaled. Khaled shows her his evidence so far and they team up to get the last bit of evidence they need to prove and defang the conspiracy. When they get there, of course, Peter also arrives and they have it out verbally and then physically.
During the fight there’s a crucial moment where Khaled suggests to Violet that she do something she doesn’t feel comfortable with; something that Peter had previously gotten her to do. She declines and he responds with something like, “Oh. Of course. You’re right,” and they figure out another way to achieve their goals. This shows that Khaled respects Violet’s boundaries in contrast to Peter’s earlier behavior and provides an alternative, less toxic model for audiences. Eventually they overcome Peter, despite his strength, get the evidence and, you know, win the day or whatever.
Importantly, Violet and Khaled do not begin a romantic relationship; just a friendship and a partnership. There might even be dialog where Violet tells Khaled that this doesn’t mean she’ll date him and him to reply something like, “Oh! Oh, no. I wasn’t mooning around after you! Haha. Nonono. I was mooning after Peter! But I am pretty much extremely over that now.”
So one major theme is how girls and boys are socialized to think about their roles as men and women from, well, a girl’s point of view. I’d ideally want audiences younger than Violet to see this movie and become aware of the toxic behavior pattern Peter exhibits and learn to recognize and avoid people who do it or not to do it themselves. Never having been an adolescent girl my own self, if this ever got to a stage to be fleshed out more it would obviously benefit from a genderally… diverse … poly-gendered…? Genderifically diverse? A writing team diverse in gender, anyway.
Another theme is Khaled’s being a person of color. I didn’t call it out explicitly above because I’d kind of expect it to be conveyed most strongly visually. Historically, the cast of The Incredibles movies has been overwhelmingly white. I wouldn’t change that here, but rather than let it be an unexamined by-product of a white-dominated industry, I want to make a point with it. Part of Khaled’s social struggles are because there aren’t many people in his school who look like him. This also contributes to Violet’s and Peter’s reading of him as a villain initially (even though they don’t know it’s Khaled specifically). I want to undermine (Eh? Eh?) and challenge those initial reactions and uses of stereotypes. As with the previous theme, a racially diverse writing team would be important if this were to be further developed.
A third theme is about how anything that seems too good to be true probably is. I didn’t put this in here on my own, but it’s a major factor in the plots of the first two films, so it felt appropriate to have an ally-to-villain reversal like the first two films and permute it by also having a villain-to-ally reversal.
Lastly, there’s the point about what is just and what is legal and how we should interrogate our system of laws to try to always make them more just. I am 0% interested in Violet and Khaled at the end of the movie working with the cops or anything. They should give their evidence to a journalist or something. Peter is definitely the type to work with the cops. Maybe his dad even is a cop.
I already alluded to it, but one thing that’s missing is any kind of plot arc that makes school matter. If there’s going to be time spent with Peter, Violet and Khaled not in costume, something has to be going on at school that’s interesting enough to make audiences care about that side of their lives. I guess it should probably tie into the conspiracy Khaled’s uncovered, but I have literally no ideas on this front.
Also, uh, Dash doesn’t appear? Let alone Jack-jack (who by this point would be a full-on kid and probably just going by “Jack” or “John” or something). In fact the whole rest of the family is firmly in the background, which is a stark contrast to the other two films. I think Violet is super interesting, but it feels like at least a bit of a miss not to work them in somehow. My friend Matt wondered if the heteronormative and patriarchal “family with children aspect of the movies” made it hard to work them into a story that’s trying to challenge those aspects of society. And I’m not sure, but that sounds plausible.
Also, uh, you might have noticed that I just sort of stopped talking about Peter after Violet ditches him and teams up with Khaled. I have no idea what to do with Peter at the end. I feel like he should get some kind of comeuppance, but I would really like it if we could at least hint that he’s on a path to learning better and becoming less of a douche. I don’t really want to present a narrative where if someone sees themselves in Peter I end up telling them, “You are like this awful character and therefore are irrideemable and evil.” I think that discourages people from trying to be better on the one hand and on the other gives people an excuse to disregard that part of the message.
Brad Bird, Please Steal This
I know there is only an infintesimal chance that this document would get in front of Brad Bird’s eyes. But if it does, or even if it doesn’t and someone at Pixar has ideas that look in any way similar to the above and it gets made into a movie (preferrably before 2032), I will be overjoyed and swear I will not sue. The posts on this blog are implicitly copyrighted by me if my understanding of US copyright law is correct, but this one Pixar can have. I am willing to sign a legal document to that effect.
However, I don’t see Disney in general and Pixar specifically ever making a film like this. For one thing, I think they’re too conservative and risk-averse. This story makes some concrete political statements about which there isn’t unified, broad consensus in the general public. They would deal with a major right-wing, internet-based backlash if they did this.
Also, the themes of gaslighting and emotional manipulation brought up with Peter and Violet’s relationship are often considered “mature” topics. Part of why I like using The Incredibles to tell this story is, as I said above, to catch kids before they find themselves at a party in high school dealing with a pushy, boundary disrespecting dude like Peter. But The Incredibles is a children’s franchise (despite the fact that people who were born the year The Incredibles came out were roughly Violet’s age by the time The Incredibles 2 came out). I don’t see Pixar ever wanting to let Violet grow up and physically mature enough to make a ridiculous boob window meaningful. I think they’d aggressively protect Violet’s innocence, as it were.
The Incredibles 4
Also I think The Incredibles 4 is about Dash figuring out that he’s gay or bi or something. I don’t know. This Violet plotline sprang almost fully formed into my head and I haven’t thought as much about Dash.
Thanks to Matt Dauman and Joshua Semar for helping edit this post.
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