The amount of ink spilled analyzing the feminist messages of the new Disney/Pixar movie Incredibles 2 is, well, incredible. From the shape of Elastigirl’s backside to the “Mr. Mom” routine by Mr. Incredible, the long-awaited sequel seems made for our current cultural moment. But the movie doesn’t seem to be as much of an ideological crusade as it is an accurate representation of modern day gender dynamics.
The concept of the new movie is clever enough: The superheroes in hiding are offered the chance to spearhead the effort to make superheroism legal again. (The past destruction they have wrought, not to mention the attending lawsuits, led governments around the world to determine that the heroes’ death-defying feats simply weren’t worth it anymore.) But the mogul launching this new legalization effort thinks that Elastigirl, not Mr. Incredible, would make a better face for the campaign.
And, frankly, he is right. Mr. Incredible has his heart in the right place but he makes big messes and doesn’t always think about the consequences of his actions. Elastigirl, though, takes on this assignment only reluctantly. She has three kids at home—an adolescent girl, a boy struggling with school, and a baby who is not even talking yet. Like most mothers of young children, Elastigirl is happy to work part time. She can fight crime and still help the kids with their homework, spend time with the baby during the day, and make a nice family dinner each evening.
But the new offer is something much more time-consuming. She has to leave her family, go stay in a hotel room, and be on call from morning until night. There is, of course, the initial rush that comes for any mother who suddenly gets to focus on only one task when she’s been at home juggling too many different tasks when she gets to focus on only one—and get a good night’s sleep. The evening that Helen Parr calls her husband to tell him about all the excitement of her day is also realistic. But for her husband, who has longed for nothing in recent years as much as the chance to be a superhero—all the while engaged in dreary jobs at insurance companies and the like—the jealousy is palpable. One senses that she could be perfectly happy settling down to a normal family life, but he would never get enough fulfillment out of it.
Which is not to say that Mr. Incredible is some kind of a throwback to a 1950s dad. He enjoys his children and encourages them. He is involved in their lives without being involved in all of the logistical details. But he has always been a family man. The most heart-wrenching scene of the first installment was when Mr. Incredible was trapped and he thought that his family had been killed. Never has a cartoon character gone from full strength to total deflation faster.
That brings us to his stint taking care of the kids. Though it’s true the film’s producers make Bob Parr seem overwhelmed by his new role, it is perfectly reasonable that he would be. In addition to having a baby who doesn’t sleep, imagine one who pops into other dimensions and cries himself into a state of self-immolation. Fathers are not usually the people that teen daughters want to talk to during a romantic crisis, but what if the guy your daughter liked had all his memories of her wiped out by a secret government agent? And then there is the math. Poor Bob is left to contend with his son’s math homework—doing it the way the teacher wants it done instead of the way he knows how to do it. We all know how that ends.
So, give the guy a break. Even the most competent stay-at-home mother might lose it in the midst of all this. Like most couples, the Incredibles have a division of labor. Not everything is split down the middle but frankly, it would be impractical if it were.
The final dose of realism with regard to gender dynamics comes at the end when they are finally almost done fighting the bad guys, and Helen finds out she has missed the baby’s first signs of superhero powers. She is disappointed and angry. She cannot wait to grab the baby back from her husband and tell him it’s his turn to go off and fight. It’s hard to imagine a movie where the husband makes a similar gesture.
Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and a columnist for the New York Post. Her latest book is Be the Parent, Please: Stop Banning Seesaws and Start Banning Snapchat (Templeton Press).
*Photo credit: Disney/Pixar