The Incredibles is a fun and frantic family adventure which focuses on the quest for self-worth of Mr. Incredible (see my post on it here), but it also has a subtle message about young boys, as shown in the character of Dash.
There are two children (of speaking age) in The Incredibles, Dash and Violet, each with their own sub-plot. Violet’s is about her own self-esteem and her courage to be more open and forward.
Dash’s, on the other hand, is more buried in the main plot but is also more complex. He is endowed with the power of super-speed, and with it apparently came super-competitiveness. However, his parents (or at least his mother, depending on Bob’s mood) will not let him go out for school sports because of his lack of control.
What this represents, or at least can represent, more than overly controlling parents is the trend in American education to suppress the natural behaviors of boys in favor of a more conformist and often feminine system of behavior.
American schools are full of examples of boys being forced into learning environments which are not suited to them, and this includes often blatant disdain for the naturally physical nature of male competitiveness. Sports are the last place of release for boys, but even this is obstructed in some cases, and the Incredibles shows an example of how a boy can be left with no outlet.
In the end, Dash is given the chance to go out for the track team and he does well and stays in control.
The resolution is subtle, I didn’t even notice it until recently, but it clearly states the idea that boys need to be allowed to compete and that they shouldn’t be held back. It recognizes the societal blocks placed against boys and shows that these blocks can and should be knocked down, allowing the young man to express himself as a young man, even when that means being different.
Really, the stories of Dash and Violet show an interesting reflection of our world. Violet is held back by herself, while Dash is held back by society.
Simple subplots, or truth in fiction?
At its core, Incredibles is a family story which centers on the father of that family, Mr. Incredible (I’ll call him Bob for short).
As so many men do (and as so many films portray), Bob is going through a mid-life crisis. The only problem is that he is a retired superhero, so he naturally wants to get back in the hero game.
The hero motif allows Incredibles to really dig into some of the issues of a man’s mid-life crisis in ways which less fanciful movies can’t. The major theme is Bob’s quest for ‘strength’, metaphorically shown through his urge to be a literally-Strong superhero once more.
However, as the film goes on it becomes clear that this is much more about inner-strength.
Bob needs to prove to himself that he is still worth something, that he can still be a hero for his family. What it really comes down to is self-esteem, a topic not often discussed in regards to men. While some men have a mid-life crisis mostly for themselves, Bob’s is really more about his family. Although he is suspected of it, he never cheats on his wife and he does genuinely love his family. He is seeking to be worth something to his family, not just to himself.
Toward the end of the movie Bob shows a nicely emotional side, undergoing great distress when he thinks his family has been killed. He wrestles with grief and rage, until he is finally and lovingly reunited with his family. He finally gets to see them as heroes too as they all work together to overcome the challenges before them, the love between all the family members deepened because of it.
Men are often taught to try to do everything themselves, and Incredibles touches on this in its conclusion, but not in a critical way. Bob tries to protect his family from all harm, possibly at the cost of his own life, because he cannot bear to ‘lose them again’. However, his family stands by him and his wife insists that they face all the dangers together, as a family. Bob isn’t criticized for wanting to fight alone, he is just lovingly offered help.
The Incredibles is a fun family adventure about a superhero’s struggles for identity and self-esteem. It shows a sincere, believable and loving family who stand by each other, including a wife who truly loves her husband and is determined to stay with him and a husband who must grapple with his own self-image as he tries to be there for his family.