That Moment In ‘The Incredibles’ (2004): Things Are Different Now
A closer look at a crucial moment in this beloved Pixar animated movie.
When excessive collateral damage caused by superhumans turns public opinion against them, ‘Supers’ are shut down and relocated into civilian lifestyles. Fifteen years later, Bob (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) and Ellen (voiced by Holly Hunter) Parr live with their children Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (Spencer Fox) and infant Jack Jack. Bob, who has great strength and was once known as Mr. Incredible and Ellen, formerly ElastiGirl, are settled in suburbia, concealing that their children also have incredible powers, with Violet able to generate force fields and become invisible and Dash able to move at super speeds.
All is well and good as to be expected though Bob misses the old days and secretly, along with friend Lucius Best (Samuel L. Jackson), formerly known as Frozone, go out at night as vigilantes. He is then contacted by a mysterious woman named Mirage (Elizabeth Peña) to fight a giant robot on a remote island, which he does and takes to the work with gusto, even getting a new suit, which by circumstances, gets made for all the family members. Still keeping it a secret from Ellen, he discovers too late that he’s actually helping to construct a super robot that can kill all Supers, getting captured in the process.
That Moment In
Meanwhile, Ell suspects something is going on with Bob and ends up visiting Edna Mode (voiced by director Brad Bird), the fashion designer and costumer of Supers. Locating Bob via a transponder woven into his suit, he’s located by Ellen (which causes him to be captured). Ellen calls in a big favor and gets hold of a superfast plane, thinking she will fly to the island where Bob is at, not knowing that it is in fact a dangerous place to go. Also unknowing, both Violet and Dash have snuck aboard the small plane.
When she nears the island, still thinking it’s safe, she gets suspicious when no one from the radio tower answers, but nonetheless, slips on the powersuit Mode made for her just in case, and it’s here when she discovers that her kids are with her. And that’s when the real trouble begins.
From the island, missiles are launched directly at her. It is a madman named Syndrome (Jason Lee) who is behind the whole project and he doesn’t care that Ellen is unsuspecting or that she has her kids with her. He’s looking to blow that plane out of the sky.
Panic grips Ellen as she desperately tries to explain to anyone listening that she is friendly and all attacking measures should be aborted, but only more missiles come. Averting the first wave, she scrambles to keep the plane in the air, yelling back to Violet to make a forcefield to protect the family, but there’s another problem. Ellen had always told the kids to never use their powers, something they have grown up with and the sudden conflicting demand confuses the child.
Still, Violet tires but is too frightened and upset, and when the missiles strike, Ellen has no choice by to envelope her children in an elastic ball and take the force of the explosion. This temporarily knocks her out, but as they free fall to the fast approaching water, wakes up to find Violet and Dash screaming in terror beside her. Quickly, she takes them in her arms and forms a giant parachute with her body and they float to the waves.
From there, she then tells the kids they must go to find their father and so using Dash’s fast feet like a motorboat propeller, she makes herself into the shape of a dinghy and carries the kids to the island under cover of dark. In a cave, they make a fire, and she explains that their father is in danger and she must go help him, that they need to stay hidden and if anything comes near, they are to use their powers. Dash is excited by the opportunity by Violet is still reeling and it takes a bit more from her mother to assure. “Things are different now,” Ellen comforts. “When the times comes, you’ll know what to do.”
WHY IT MATTERS
How great is this moment? First of all, to have the man in trouble and a woman coming to rescue is already a refreshing hook, but to keep the children in the loop, in the face of danger is a big step. This is where The Incredibles really sets itself apart. There is a key sequence in the caves on the island before Ellen heads off where she explains to her kids that this is not like those Saturday morning shows they watch where bad guys are dumb and don’t hurt children. Here and now, this is real and if given the chance, the bad guys on this island will try to kill them. That’s a huge moment considering the theme and audience of the movie.
But let’s think about what Ellen says to Violet, a girl who has struggled the whole film to deal with her differences and her place in a family that lives in a very real sense of hiding. It’s no mistake that the young teen girl’s powers are invisibility and force field, two things many young and people feel in metaphorical ways about trying to fit in. They are either ‘unseen’ by other kids or push them away in ways they can’t control. Or they often wish they were invisible and could keep everyone out.
Dash has a remarkably insightful conversation with his mother about this early in the film about why he is not allowed to try out for sports because surely, he’d win, but what Ellen says is that they must be normal and learn to fit in, and that everybody is special no matter their powers, something Dash instantly recognizes as meaning no one is special.
Both Violet and Dash have been told repeatedly to suppress and not use their powers, to act like ‘normal’ kids, and it has become a way of life, the effect of which the film handles surprisingly well, with Dash becoming troublesome and Violet shrinking within herself. When on the island though, things are different, and Ellen realizes she needs to let her children be who they are, reversing her earlier demands. This is the core message of the story, that while we are indeed all special, we are also very different and to deny that and try and fit in simply because that is expected is wrong.
It’s a wonderful and touching little moment when Ellen brushes aside her daughter’s hair and assures her that she will know what to do, that she should not worry, that it’s in her blood, all words that encourage identity, something that just moments before she voiced as being their most valuable commodity. Who we are is what we are and that is just incredible.