How The Incredibles Was Ahead Of Its Time

The Incredibles Ahead Of Its Time - Cover
(Photo: Pixar Animation Studios)

The Incredibles 2 premiered this weekend and is making very big waves. It has a notable 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is matched both by audience reactions and a whopping $18.5 million box office on its Thursday night premiere, setting a record for animated films. Even for a Pixar film, The Incredibles 2 is doing quite well for itself. That shouldn’t come as any surprise though considering it waited long enough, an entire 14 years, to land right at the current pinnacle of the superhero craze in Hollywood. In the same year that Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War are setting records of their own, it shouldn’t be a surprise that this sequel to a favorite animated superhero film was primed for a comeback.

This also contrasts the year when its predecessor arrived. The Incredibles premiered on November 5, 2004 in the United States and was very well received, riding the coattails of Finding Nemo and capturing the family movie market just before the holidays. It also came at a time when superhero movies only came out once or twice a year. The most notable modern franchises were Spider-Man and the X-Men, with Spider-Man 2 arriving a few months earlier and X2 the previous year. It was a time when each superhero franchise was considered a unique concept, one generally lumped into the action blockbusters of the day. They also still carried the tone of the retired Superman movies and recent Batman flops, as campy fare with little room for serious themes.

When The Incredibles was released it was just under a year before Batman Begins would restart the DC Comics movies and over 3 years before Iron Man would reinvent the superhero movie altogether. Looking at what those specific movies launched and where superhero movies are today, it’s clear that The Incredibles was ahead of its time. It stands now as a film that understood what the superhero genre needed to become on the big screen in order to become the major global success story that The Incredibles 2 just joined.

The Incredibles Ahead Of Its Time - Continuity
(Photo: Pixar Animation Studios)

Building A Big World

The most obvious element to set The Incredibles apart was its shared superhero universe. While the movie focuses on the family of Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl, plus family friend Frozone, it is set in a world absolutely filled with superheroes. In order to keep the focus on The Incredibles, the film has established an arrangement where superheroes have been rebuked by the public and asked to retire, like some sort of family friendly form of Watchmen. There are still constant references to the good old days and a world packed with other super powered individuals. One of the best sequences in the movie features a series of cape-wearing heroes dying in incredibly embarrassing fashion due to their sense of style.

There are more relevant inclusions of an expanded universe as well. Syndrome’s plan centers on the elimination of every prior superhero so he can become a singular savior for society. An entire list of retired heroes is found, each eliminated by Syndrome’s increasingly deadly machines. However The Incredibles 2 chooses to handle the loss of so many prior superheroes, the original knew that audiences wanted a world with more than a single good guy. Even when focused on a handful of characters, there’s a joy to knowing that the world is filled with more powers and adventures. That is the key to the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, one that wouldn’t be unlocked until the end credits of Iron Man in 2008.

The Incredibles Ahead Of Its Time - Comedy
(Photo: Pixar Animation Studios)

Comedy Accompanies Action

The introduction of a shared universe filled with superheroes was a big obvious change, but The Incredibles is just as notable for its more subtle shifts as well. If you haven’t seen the movie in a while, it’s worth rewatching to remember just how big the stakes are. In addition to the standard threats to a city and a villain fooling the public, the lives of children are regularly put at risk. Syndrome reveals himself to be a truly irredeemable heel when he dispatches of Mr. Incredible’s wife and two oldest children without a second of hesitation. They get away of course, but it’s a stone cold moment that leaves Mr. Incredible distraught at what he believes to be the loss of his family. This is important to remember because it shows just how skillful the tonal shifts to fun, adventure, and comedy in the movie really are.

The Incredibles is packed with jokes and often jumps from a stirring moment of familial reconciliation or heartstopping threat to hilarious verbal and visual gags. Brad Bird’s writing acknowledges that the superhero genre cannot be pinned to a single mood and that it’s just as important to smile as it is to shiver or scream. When you rewatch other superhero movies from the period they are usually devoted primarily to drama or comedy, with the other either failing to emerge or only working as a rare counterpoint. The Incredibles embraced laughter and fun as being every bit as important as the high stakes adventure, something that every Marvel Studios film has used to build the most successful superhero franchise on the planet.

The Incredibles Ahead Of Its Time - Family
(Photo: Pixar Animation Studios)

Characters Come First

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While this isn’t something The Incredibles invented, it’s what makes both Superman: The Movie and Spider-Man 2 enduring successes, the film’s emphasis on character from start to finish was something that the superhero genre was still figuring out when it premiered. We can call The Incredibles a superhero movie, but it isn’t a movie about superheroes. It’s a movie about family and how we use our unique gifts to change the world. You could potentially rewrite it as a spy film and wind up with a story that is every bit as moving. The latest installments of the Batman franchise and first entries in the X-Men had been pure action movies about superheroes, and while they might be entertaining, they were anything but enduring. The Incredibles, on the other hand, holds up very well 14 years after its premiere.

In this way it showed that what makes The Incredibles work isn’t so different from what makes every other Pixar film work. It has a story driven by relatable characters focused on universal themes. In addition to all of the powers and evil plots and fireworks, it possesses a heart that any moviegoer can connect with. That is something that many of the most recent Marvel Studios movies and other success stories like Wonder Woman have finally figured out. No matter how powerful the bad guy or immense the scope, people keep coming back to the theater because they love heroes who inspire them in their own lives. Rewatching The Incredibles save the day after 14 years and revisiting them in The Incredibles 2, it’s clear that what they really do best is lift us up for the days ahead.