Superheroes with Mid-Life Crises

It may not be officially part of my Disney animation project, but since I watched The Incredibles this weekend in conjunction with my pastor’s sermon series drawing on animated films, I thought I might as well talk about it.

I love this movie, from the twists on the superhero genre to the cool midcentury modern/space age aesthetic. One thing that occurred to me while watching is how often the Pixar films are told from the adult perspective. They may be kid-friendly, but to a large extent they’re grown-up movies told from the perspective of the adult or parent, and this is one of those.

It’s essentially a movie about a mid-life crisis, about feeling unfulfilled, reaching what should be the peak of adulthood and realizing that there’s something important missing, like you didn’t really reach your goals or achieve your dreams. Even a happy marriage and a family isn’t enough to make up for the drudgery of a job he doesn’t believe in and a life in which he can’t have a job doing the thing he’s good at. This is all cleverly woven into a whiz-bang superhero story full of cool gadgets and with kids who get to help save the day, so the kids in the audience don’t necessarily see it as a story about a midlife crisis. I don’t think this story would work on those two levels in live action. There’s something about animation that makes it larger than life in a way that doesn’t make the midlife crisis story feel like a drudge. It’s some sort of alchemy. Even more realistic animation wouldn’t have worked. Looking so cartoony in a space age world makes it work.

From a structure perspective, it’s interesting that Bob doesn’t really have a specific story goal until nearly the end of the movie. It’s more of a personal goal. He wants his superhero life back, so he takes on the secret mission, then gets himself in shape in preparation for more missions. Only after that, when he learns who he’s really working for, does he develop the goal of stopping that bad guy, and that comes more than halfway through the movie. This one isn’t a musical, but if it had an “I Want” song, it would probably have something to do with wanting to be a hero again or wanting not having to hide that he’s a hero. He’d be dancing around doing feats of strength while singing about how he’s not allowed to do that openly anymore.

Another interesting thing is that the hero doesn’t really save the day. He has to be rescued, and then it takes the teamwork of the whole family to win, which is one of the lessons of the movie, that he can’t just do it alone, and it takes all the various superpowers working together to succeed.

That was the gist of my pastor’s sermon. He used the passage about spiritual gifts and talked about how unfulfilled Bob and his family were when they weren’t using their gifts, and how it took all of them together to prevail. Super strength alone couldn’t get the job done, and each of the gifts ended up being necessary. Ironically, he delivered this sermon while wearing a superhero cape, defying the “No capes!” edict. It was a tie-in to Vacation Bible School, which has a superhero theme, and the capes are part of the VBS gear.

I don’t yet know what next week’s movie will be. As far as I’ve seen, they haven’t put out a schedule for the whole summer. But I also watched Cinderella this weekend, and that will be covered in my next post.

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