The Incredibles (A)

Ayn Rand’s philosophy might be simplistic and morally bankrupt, but it makes a terrific kid movie.   The Incredibles (2004) is one of Pixar’s best.  It offers kids a colorful, inventive story, and it gives adults a chance to bicker about ideas they may have mothballed since college.

The Plot.  The movie focuses on middle-aged, married superheroes Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) and Elastigirl (Holly Hunter).  Forced into early retirement by overly litigious Americans, the “supers” live like regular shmoes.  Mr. Incredible spends his days stuffed behind a tiny desk at an insurance company while Elastigirl stays at home with their three kids.  Mr. Incredible resents his dull, middle-class existence while Elastigirl struggles to keep their superhero kids from outing themselves: young Dash has super-speed and sister Violet can turn invisible.  The action starts when Mr. Incredible gets jolted out of retirement by a super-villain named Syndrome (Jason Scott Lee).

The Incredibles is a hugely entertaining film for kids and adults alike.  The script, authored by director Brad Bird (Ratatouille and The Iron Giant), is witty, and the performances are pitch-perfect (Bird puts in a cameo as a tiny, formidable fashion maven).  Beautifully animated, the film has a 1960’s aesthetic, one that works well with Syndrome’s hyper-mechanized, Bond-villain lair on a lush, tropical island.  Kids will love seeing kid super-heroes, Dash and Violet, learn to use their powers (warning: be ready for your kid to start practicing his pompous, hands-on-hips superhero walk for weeks after seeing this movie).  And adults can easily identify with the midlife crisis part of the film.

Okay, so back to Ayn Rand.  When Incredibles came out, Rand followers loved it because it glorified individual merit (Nietzsche’s super man as “Super Man”) over conformity and mediocrity.  To be fair, the Rand-pack was not off base.  Bird’s script hammers this home.  The supers go into hiding because mediocre, regular folks can’t stomach the notion of anyone being superior.  The message is not subtle: mediocrities (us muggles) have forced the stars to go dim.  Evil genius Syndrome represents the envious Salieri in all of us, not “super” but specially positioned to bring Mozart down.  So Rand fans loved the movie, up until it “sold out” by having The Incredibles use their powers again while still remaining in hiding.

My take?  The Rand folks should calm down; this is NOT their movie!  Rand and hardcore objectivists view individual merit as a trump card; the rest of us just have to get out of the way and let the “greats” go at it.  This movie doesn’t embrace that stance.  The “supers” are not compelling just because they’re talented.  Heck, Syndome is talented too (he kills a bunch of supers with his inventions), but we don’t root for him at all.  No, the reason we root for the heroes is that they are talented AND good.  They fight for good, not just for glory.  This movie offers a rare chance to talk to your kids about merit, conformity, personal expression and “the greater good.”  Have at it.

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