If you’re a fan of animated films (and not just those produced in Hollywood), then you can deeply appreciate Brad Bird’s recent online rebuttal that animation films are not kid movies. In responding to a fan on social media who asserted their concern over the “cuss words” in Incredibles 2, the director himself responded and his response is perfect.
Just think of Bird’s own Iron Giant (1999), a Cold War set film about an alien robot who forms an unlikely friendship with a small town boy all while paranoid McCarthy-esque government officials living in a deep fear of the “other” are determined to destroy the friendly otherworldly being. Or, within the Pixar vault, there are countless adult centric stories; from Andy moving onto college in Toy Story 3 (2010) or connecting with the dead and understanding the trauma of family in Coco (2017), animation’s magic and cultural reach isn’t lessened by its form and style but is rather heightened; shaping worlds accessible to children through colour and sound that encourages, or rather, demands active conversation. This speaks to the shared experience of watching these films with your children or young people in general ; the need to be active participants who are critically literate. Going to the movies must be about more than popcorn and candy but the cultural conversation that stems from narrative, time and place.
It’s with this that Incredibles 2 challenges us parents to actually parent; do look deep into our family milieu and not be afraid of what we discover. From the potential roles that exist within our households or the recognition that we and our children may be too plugged into technology, the film although entertaining, is not escapist. Like all of Brad Bird’s works, there is so much more to the spectacle on the screen.
Here’s a parent cheat sheet on how to engage in a post Incredibles 2 conversation with your kids. These are the conversations I readily have with my 7 and 5 year olds after visiting the movies or watching at home. The idea is to provoke reflection and make connections to what they know, have experienced or wonder. Plus, it provides an opportunity to build critical literacy; nurturing students to grow in their cognitive ability to read and understand text through a personal and cultural lens.
- Ask your child what was interesting about Elastigirl being the hero called to action and Mr. Incredible being at stay at home dad. Ask them to think about how heroes are typically represented in movies and popular culture – how are the heroes typically? Challenge your child to make critical connections about gender at their level and speak about issues of today such as the Times Up and Me Too Movement. This is not to say to go in detail about sexual harassment but rather the overall theme of dignity, respect and equity.
- Ask your child what weapon Screenslaver is using? How is the villain controlling people? Make a critical connection between technology and the everyday world; the film is hyper critical of tech-induced media consumption without critical empathy; thus us becoming slaves to the tech that we plug into. The is reinforced by the World Health Organizations recent assertion that chronic gaming is an addiction. The villain recognizes people’s dependence on tech, acknowledges it as an cultural curse and uses it as a weapon to destroy superheroes. As a parent this should challenge your thinking around technology. How is it used in your home? How much time do your children spend on technological devices? When on the tech, are they consuming or creating?
- Ask your child why the Screenslaver dislikes heroes so much. Make a critical connection between her father’s dependence on heroes; an idealism generated by his consumed understanding of heroes. The father, lacked a critical literacy to call the police to help him. Rather he waited for “superheroes.”
- Ask your child what’s interesting about the kids in the film; the incredible children. What do they challenge their parents to do (primarily their father)? The children aren’t passive bystanders; they’re active participants in the family. They teach their father about who they are; challenge him as does Elastigirl, not be be self consumed with a role society and culture dictate; one that connects masculinity to heroism and not the home. The children challenge their father to embrace his evolved role; dad first and hero second.
The power of Incredibles 2 rests within its relationship with technology and the family; its a film about the evolution of a family, changed roles and expectations all while reminding us that human connectivity is of paramount importance and not the tech that we allow in our homes so willingly and without potential critical discourse – one that truly understands the consequences of us being slaves to the screens that we bring into our homes. It with all of this that Brad Bird is right – it’s not a kids movie. Its for adults to watch with their children and guide a conversation – hence the PG.