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All right, let's acknowledge the elephant in the room. (No, not Francine.) This movie has one of the most unfortunate cases Accidental Aesop I've ever seen: "If everybody is special, then nobody is — so if you're not among the lucky who are born special, you have no right to try and better yourself."
Of course that wasn't the intended message. The intended message was probably about family and how working together is better than trying to go at it alone.
But the problem is that those stated words — even though they're said respectively by a little kid and the movie's villain — are never actually contradicted, and furthermore they keep being underlined by the movie itself:
All the heroes have "natural" superpowers, all the villains are tech-based. And, as if to really point out how special and much better the supers are, all the civilians are either useless or in some way antagonistic.
If the movie had just included one scene where the incredible tech was shown to have a positive effect... or one scene where the civilians came together and aided the supers in some way... or, hell, even just one line of dialogue from Bob refuting Syndrome's villain speech, it would have changed everything,
"Buddy, you've made all these amazing machines. You could have helped so many people with them. You would have been celebrated and cheered. Instead... what have you accomplished? Killing off superheroes just so you can pretend to be one yourself? That doesn't make you special, that makes you a psycopath."
Okay, maybe a little Anvilicious, but I think it would have been better than the big wad of nothing we actually got.
That said... The Incredibles is by no means a bad film. It's actually a very good film — it has a solid plot, good characters, nice visuals and really great action scenes —it's just a very good film that gets soured for many by an unfortunate Accidental Aesop.
...And perhaps because it thinks it's a little more innovative and groundbreaking than it really is. Looking at some of the behind-the-scenes interviews and commentary, they're talking as if "superpowers that reflect the characters' personalities" and "superheroics contra personal lives" were some new and revolutionary ideas for superhero stories. Come on, The Fantastic Four and Spider-Man were doing this in the 1960s.
People have named The Incredibles as "the best Fantastic Four movie in existence" and... well, that's a pretty good sum-up, actually.
I'll say this - it's not as good as The Iron Giant or Ratatouille, two other Brad Bird productions.
Of course, Bird was intending to say some people are more talented than others, deal with it. But the message may have been muddled. I felt the same way about the overall aesop of Ratatouille...
Bird's done this in many of his films, but it's not limited to him, also to Pixar in Monsters University. However, I think they had a more nuanced take on it. Mike discovers that he's simply not suited for scaring, but discovers his real talent in being a fantastic coach (and comedian.) Sully has the natural talent suited to being a scarer, but at higher levels it stops letting him coast by until he actually buckles down and and puts real work into training himself. So it's a dual message that natural talents do exist, but hard work is needed to really harness them.
I still say that Monsters University, while teaching a very similar message to The incredibles does so in a far superior way. In fact, Munsters University in many ways feels like an apology for the poorly-handled Accidental Aesop of The Incredibles.
The difference, I think, is that with Mike's story in Monsters University, while he's clearly not "special," he's not presented as being in the wrong for trying. Since the movie is from his point of view, the sympathy is with him when he finds he just doesn't have what it takes. Contrast The Incredibles, where the sympathy is with the "special" people all the way, and the one who tries to reach to their level is the villain.
Both movies say "Look, some people are plain better than others and there's nothing you can do about that." But where Monsters University then goes on to say "while it sucks to know you'll never be as good at those others, that doesn't mean you should give up, because you still have something worthwhile to contribute" — The Incredibles goes on to say "so don't try to better yourself, because that would mean those who are better than you would be less so, and how could you do that to them, you selfish villain!"
"So don't try to better yourself, because that would mean those who are better than you would be less so, and how could you do'' that to them, you selfish villain!"
A.K.A. Objectivism? I know Bird has denied it, but...well, I'm no fan of Ayn Rand, but I don't think everything she said was invalid. Maybe Bird agrees with some of her philosophy, but not its entirety?
More like Objectivism as interpreted by a conceited primadonna. If anything, actual Objectivism revolves around the opposite - not trying to limit other people\'s social and financial development - and it mostly concerns regulations by government higher-ups rather than criticism of tall poppy syndrome among those considered lower in the hierarchy.
Instead, Brad Bird\'s philosophy seems to be entirely about how his projected gratification fantasies are speshuler than anyone else, and it\'s people\'s own fault for not immediately admiring and appreciating their pursuit of their personal interests. This was interesting in Ratatouille, where Remy\'s designated purpose of keeping everyone alive could still be played as limiting to his own aspirations which could still benefit his kin even more. In this film, however, superheroics are treated as existing in spite of public demand, and Bob feels oppressed that he\'s no longer allowed to treat the city as a playground for his personal expression. He defines himself by his power, rather than whether what he does with it is actually useful to society. Consequently, he\'s afraid of obsolescence in the face of technology that would allow anyone to match said power with next to no effort - which is how he got it in the first place. He can\'t refute Buddy because that\'s what his own ambitions amount to - getting cheered and celebrated for what he does for fun anyway. Y\'know, like a movie writer...
Brad Bird claims that he never intended any sort of Objectivist message with The Incredibles, and I see no reason to doubt his word here: if this had been a purposefully Objectivist film, it would not have played out the way it does — though it does have the ever-present theme of \"poor special superior people who are not allowed to be their special superior selves because the Muggles won\'t let them.\"
I\'m all for tolerance and understanding, and I think letting people with special gifts and talents be allowed to use them is a good thing. Exceptional individuals should be allowed to spread their wings (metaphorical or not). But, problem is, this film presents exceptional people as an elite; they\'re better than everyone else because they were born that way, and the movie constantly beats it over our head how wrong it is for anyone else to even try.
So Objectivist? No. Elitist? Definitely.
If anything, the film is as anti-Objectivist as it gets. From an economic perspective, Objectivism is about government not interfering in the relationship between businessmen and their profitable clients. The film however - assuming we can interpret the people in need of saving as clients - apparently bears the message that it\'s everyone else\'s fault if your services aren\'t in demand, and it\'s government protection programs that are most helpful in keeping you afloat over past accomplishments. Apparently, superheroes need a nanny state.
The bigger problem is that for quite a while now, superhero abilities have been over-analysed for their own sake, with no actual function. Using your talents is all well and good, but not every talent inherently translates to unwanted vigilantism. Unless the nature of superheroics as an activity is also thoroughly reviewed, superheroes themselves might soon burst in a bubble quite a long time coming.
^^ You say elitism like it's a bad thing. Given the lowbrow state of modern pop culture, I am all for more elitist entertainment.
I don\'t think you quite understand what \"elitism\" means. It has nothing to do with being high-class or intelligent, and it certainly has nothing to do with the quality of entertainment. Elitism is the idea that one class or group of people is simply BETTER than everyone else by nature and should therefore have special positions of privilege and power. If you don\'t belong to this class, you\'re a lesser being. That is the message that the movie unwittingly preaches, and that, in my book, is a bad thing.
Well, we\'ll have to agree to disagree since I don\'t see what\'s so bad about that.
You don't see what's so bad about treating fellow humans as lesser beings because they don't have your talents or privileges?!
For that matter, the more obvious elitism espoused in the film - and the superhero concept in general - is only half the problem here. The matter that is just as unwholesome is that, evidently, nobody wanted superheroes operating in the first place. The problem with Bob is that, no matter how special and powerful he believes himself to be, his particular skill-set was simply not in demand, only for him to blame other people for not wanting his services. This is another form of elitism in itself - claiming to know better than other people about what they need and what they should want. If that is a philosophy worth seriously discussing, you might as well abolish democracy and just put the already richest and most self-aggrandizing person in ch- oh, wait, that actually happened. And not exactly working out as envisioned, I imagine.
Elitism is pure right-winged capitalism in a nutshell.
\"Right-winged capitalism\", eh? Hilariously politicizing children\'s movies, tonight on TV Tropes!
Uh, I\'d never looked at it that way, OP. Good point !
I think the key is that the supers are frustrated not because they\'re being suppressed as supers, but because they can\'t be heroes anymore, because they can\'t help out like they used to. There\'s a big downside to heroes proposed in the two films, that of the Destructive Savior, and it shows that these superpowered people have to learn about their own abilities to be effective and accepted. They have an advantage, and they want to use it for the greater good. One background hero, Gamma Jack was written in the bonus files as potentially dangerous because he viewed supers as a superior race. In the story, there is a demand for superheroes, and the films say they should be allowed to fill it if they can make the situation better.
I\'ve heard other people point that out about other Brad Bird works, too. Like Tomorrowland. Even Ratatouille does it.
Talent may come from anyone, anywhere, and those with talent deserve to be recognized. But you still have to be born with it. Those ideas seem to be a foundation of a lot of his works.
I think the issue was that at heart the movie had a rather cynical Humans Are Bastards premise to it that isn't really lightened much in any way, if anything it's worsened by Syndrone's introduction. The very minimal amount of developed sympathetic characters that aren't superheroes plays into that.
While the townspeople are impressed in the end, that means little since they liked being saved by them before whenever their greedy impulses didn't take over. Your aforementioned solution of having some townspeople step in and help could have resolved both issues, showing not only other humans can still be remarkable in their own way, but that ultimately the world is still full of good, selfless people and the likes of Syndrome or the greedy schmucks who exploited rescues to sue for an extra bit of money are merely the bad eggs of the crowd. (Though I suppose it's shrewdly implied, given the world didn't exactly go to pot with the supers gone).
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