Finding Nemo, one of the movies from the famed filmmakers at Pixar, is an aquatic adventure story set in the depths around Australia. It is a touching story of a widower and his only son, although both happen to be fish.
However, the cold blooded nature of the stars does not subtract one bit from the warmth of this family film which beautifully portrays the relationship between a father and son, as well as all their growth.
The namesake of the film, Nemo, is a young fish who never knew his mother. Since Nemo has a damaged fin, his father is very protective of him. Over protectiveness seems to be a common trait among parents, especially fathers, and this is the source of the conflict Nemo has with his father, Marlin.
Marlin, a widower before his children were even born (hatched), is a fantastic father figure. At first he is over protective, but that’s not entirely a bad thing, and once Nemo goes missing he sets out on his quest to find his son. Marlin demonstrates amazing dedication to his child, never wavering in his determination to find Nemo, no matter where in the ocean he may be. He faces all perils and all challenges to find his boy. Anyone who says men like to abandon their children should pay close attention to Marlin. They could learn a thing from this fish.
Beside Marlin, the importance of fathers is also praised in Finding Nemo by the character Bruce, the great white shark. A reformed carnivore, Bruce laments at the fact that he ‘never knew his father *sobs*’, further reaffirming the importance of fathers to children.
Come to think of it, Crush the turtle is also a good father figure. Something of a foil to Marlin, he allows his son to be very independent, letting him seek his own boundaries while also always being there when needed and encouraging his son in his exploration.
Through the movie, Nemo and Marlin both grow tremendously, Marlin as a father and Nemo toward his…well, ‘manhood’, if only in the fish sense.
Marlin must come to grips with the fact every parent must face, that their children are growing up. However, I greatly prefer how Finding Nemo shows this to many other portrayals. Often the analogy of children ‘leaving the nest’ is used, signifying the children separating from the parents. However, Marlin simply comes to understand what Nemo is capable of and to trust his judgment. There is none of the forced separation which is so common in American families.
It is not so much letting go as coming to be mutually holding on to each other.
Nemo also has to grow, to find his own limits and confidence. Being the impetuous youth, Nemo does not lack guts in the start, but he does have to find his self-belief, overcoming his fears to be able to do his best, taking a step toward being a good adult.
Through the whole movie, Marlin and Nemo show a deep bond which never wavers, even when they get angry with one another. Marlin never stops looking for his son and Nemo never stops trying to find a way to return to his father. It is a heart warming depiction of father and son which will remind anyone of how dedicated fathers are.
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.
Up is the latest release from acclaimed Pixar Animation Studios. In many ways it is one of Pixar’s most unique films, being quite different from most of their other movies. One such way is that it’s the first to feature an absent father as a plot element. That also makes it the first to unfairly portray an absent father.
Up is about the adventures of the aged man Carl and the young boy Russell. Just as any boy would, Russell loves his father and longs for time with him and approval from him. That is a good message, but where Pixar goes wrong is in their portrayal of the father himself.
Or rather, the non-portrayal.
What is unfair about Up is that this absent father is truly and absolutely absent. He never makes an appearance, not in dream, photo, flash-back or heartwarming closing montage. He never even gets named.
All we know from Russell is that his father is busy and misses out on doing things with Russell. We are never told why the father is not there, only that he isn’t.
Now, the feelings of children are important. If they feel neglected, their parents should try to be there for them more, but we also know that children do not always understand the world. Many absent parents are such because of conditions outside their control. The most common is obviously work. Many men, and also many women, work long and hard, far from home, all to provide a good life for their family. This can leave children feeling unloved, but wouldn’t it be unfair to dump shame and blame on this hard working parent?
Only if it’s a mother.
Just as in Up, the media tends to show hard-working fathers as nothing but absent bums, never there and never useful when they are there.
However, many movies conclude this problem by showing the parent reducing their long hours so they can spend more time with their family (see my post on Hook for how that can turn out).
Not Up, I’m afraid. The movie ends with Russell’s dad once more absent, so Carl takes his place, to the approval of Russell and his mom. Carl steps in as Russell’s father figure, but without any information about the real father having ever been shared.
Apparently being absent is totally unacceptable for a parent (or at least a father), no matter the reason for the absence.
I guess that’s reasonable. After all, some offenses are always wrong and deserve punishment/imprisonment…like assault with a deadly weapon, right?
But with all that in mind, what message does Up leave us with?
If dad ain’t there, get a new one.
The strange thing is that Russell’s dad got about the same treatment as a deceased father would (missed > replaced > forgotten).
What does that say about our media’s opinion of working dads?