Is there a ghost in "The Incredibles"?

Menu_03OK, do the math. Let’s say that a president wins a second ticket to the White House with the help of a “values vote” coalition built, in part, on people that have very old-fashioned beliefs on issues of morality, family, marriage and the existence of eternal, transcendent moral truths.

Then, before you can say KAPOW!, WHAM! and NEOCON!, there is a movie in multiplexes in which characters are heard claiming that the demise of a marriage is a fate worse than death and that “doubt is a luxury that we cannot afford anymore.”

The Bush army praises strength, marriage and family values. This hit movie praises strength, marriage and family values. Oh my. Could it be?

That’s right. There are people out there in medialand that are quietly worried that “The Incredibles” is a right-wing recruiting device. I mean, the folks at Focus on the Family even like this movie.

Pixar can’t seem to make even a single mistake when it comes to elevating the artistry of animation. Likewise, while illustrating the value of an intact family or the beauty of individuality or the negative results of pride, The Incredibles is, well, incredible.

Needless to say, this is not going to fly over in the pages of The Nation, where Stuart Klawans is not amused by the political — theological? — implications of the Parr family. Part of the problem is that, according to writer-director Brad Bird:

… (The) Parrs’ strange talents are rooted in normal family traits. Fathers are supposed to be strong, so Bob can bench-press a freight engine. Mothers are always being pulled ten ways at once, so Helen is elastic. Young Violet can become invisible, as teenage girls sometimes want to do, and Dash is just a wonderfully energetic little boy, ratcheted up to 200 mph.

Bird’s biggest achievement in The Incredibles is to have inflated family stereotypes to parade-balloon size. His failing is that, in so doing, he also confirmed these stereotypes, and worse. Helen mouths one or two semi-feminist wisecracks but readily gives up her career for a house and kids; women are like that. Bob’s buddy Frozone, the main nonwhite character in the movie, can instantly create ice; black people are cool. The superheroes are in hiding because greedy trial lawyers sued them into retirement; and, while concealed, they chafe at their confinement, like Ayn Rand railing against enforced mediocrity.

The family is the foundation of our society. Freedom is on the march.

And that just cannot be good for America and the world, now can it? Things get even more complex over at the New York Observer, where writers Suzy Hansen and Sheelah Kolhatkar let loose under the cheerfully paranoid headline, “It’s Super Bush!” While it’s clear that they like the film quite a bit and believe that it might even cheer up gloomy blue-zone liberals, they conclude:

While The Incredibles’ battle against conformity and mediocrity screams anti-oppression to some, it’s obviously Randian to others. In that sense, the film is being touted as the latest proof that, on top of everything else, the right wing has even wit and creativity on its side these days: This is a world turned upside-down!

And even as James Carville threw in the white towel in The New York Times on Nov. 9, admitting that he’d finally got the message that the Democrats were nothing but an opposition party, the conservatives were raking in millions of potential philosophical converts at the movies, the way the liberals used to during the Easy Rider-Graduate days of the 1960s, when the right wing couldn’t catch a break in the culture. … It’s very much in the eye of the beholder, but at the moment, to the butt-kicked, discouraged liberal team, the Pixar-built shiny, muscle-bound cartoon characters seem to come very much from the other team.

Ah, but as we like to note from time to time here at GetReligion.org, not all political conservatives are moral and cultural conservates and, for sure, the tensions between the Libertarians and the religious right are only going to increase in the months ahead.

So, is there a “religion” ghost in this blockbuster hit or not? Is the mere fact that a film promotes a traditional view of marriage and family now evidence that its creators are in-the-closet Christian neo-fundamentalists?

What about it? Has anyone out there in readerland seen any reviews or articles about “The Incredibles” directly linking the film to theocrats? Was the Iron Giant a Christ symbol?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://talkingdonkey.worldmagblog.com/talkingdonkey/ Tim

    Now the left is not only conspiratorial, they’re paranoid as well. (Although you have to love it when they’re even railing against positive things in _cartoons_.)

    Tim

  • David

    Just saw the movie earlier today. GO SEE IT!

    This is what I call the “why are all supersonic planes the same” syndrome. Why did the fighter jets built in the USA, and by the now defunct Soviet Union, look pretty much the same? Because if you want to build a flying machine that can go really fast, and is highly maneuverable, then the laws of physics and aerodynamics dictate one basic shape.

    The same is true is if you want to create a piece of entertainment that is appeals to the family. It will obey certain moral laws: fathers are strong, women fight to keep their men faithful, parents try to encourage their children to develop their potential. There is no conspiracy here. Pixar wanted to create a family film; since it is very good at what it does, it created a film that encourages and expresses the “laws” of family life.

    BTW, an irony is that the head of Pixar, Steve Jobs is a confirmed Democratic supporter, and actually had Bill Clinton in his house several times! But making great art trumps politics! Bravo!

    (Jobs is also the head of Apple Computer, my favorite computer company. Forbes Magazine, among others, has editoralized that Disney ought to appoint Jobs as CEO when Eisner retires next year. May we so fortunate.)

  • Molly

    Are you serious? Okay, I’ll admit to ony reading the first couple lined of your post before rushing to the comments to unleash, so take this with a grain of salt. Let me finish reading……

    Yay to Steve Jobs! And Apple! ANd the underdog!

    I haven’t seen the movie yet but plan to with my family because Pixar has proved itself to be excellent at story telling. Period. If the story happens to reinforce a worldview of the importance of family, then this is one liberal who applauds loud and long and reminds her neighbors that family is found everywhere – especially in the church.

    By the way, the family in Toy Story was a single mother with two children and no father in sight, Finding Nemo was a single dad raising a child after the tragic death of his wife, and A Bug’s Life was a family of circus misfits and a colony of ants. So, it’s time for the traditional nukular family to have its moment in the spotlight.

    Also, it takes a few YEARS for these movies to go from idea to the screen, so to stake claim the theological/political/moral values of the day is silly.

  • David

    Molly:

    I’m not sure what triggered your apparent animus. You read me as “stak[ing] claim [to the] the theological/political/moral values of the day”. I thought my point was quite the opposite: The reason the movie works is because it was shaped by what are finally unchanging, unavoidable values [in exactly the same way the laws that guide the creation of a plane are unchanging]–a law rooted in the human heart, NOT the “values of the day,” which (by my definition at least) are temporary and momentary.

    My points about Jobs, Apple, etc. were pointing out ironies rooted precisely in shifting sands of our present political attachments.

    Peace!

    David

  • http://suburbanbanshee.blogspot.com Maureen

    What I found interesting was the way people reacted in reviews to the “try hard and be special” theme of the movie. It was obvious from the plot that this meant pretty much “be yourself” and “cooperate and share with each other, just not in a watered-down way”. The unspoken contrast between how it was to work at the insurance company and how it is to work at a good company (like, say, Pixar) was also blindingly obvious. The Mystery Employer actually seemed sort of like a late slap at dotcom madness….

    Anyway, I suppose you could find some sort of religion ghost in the traditional comparison between the heroic virtue of saints and superheroes, especially since saints tend to be very different from each other in everything except the heroic virtue part. But I’m fairly sure the Pixar folks had absolutely nothing like that in mind. Still, it’s made fairly clear in this movie that burying your talents is a danger to yourself and others, as well as no fun at all.

    However, I did think it was a pity that nobody pointed out this weekend during our parish’s patron saint’s day that our patron saint (St. Albert the Great) is in fact a Super Genius, having been scientist, tinkerer, bishop, teacher, and theologian all in one. Eat your heart out, Reed Richards and Professor X!

  • Cathy

    My daughter saw the movie with her father, and thought it was fantastic. Pixar has never made a movie she didn’t like. She is the next generation Christian liberal, she and her fiends will be are saving grace. She questions everything and gets very angry at injustice and values other people. She is a cynic and can think Critically, more so then most adults. And she comes from a non traditional family…

    And she just plain liked the movie…

  • http://jeffthebaptist.blogspot.com Jeff the Baptist

    The Incredibles is a great movie and I really enjoyed it. I particularly enjoyed the backlash against legislated mediocrity. But to call it a Christian movie is a bit much. Its more a movie about being who you are, but still trying to be considerate of others.

  • http://gayspirituality.typepad.com/ Joe Perez

    Well, I found THIS review interesting, however it didn’t link the film to theocrats as much as to … well, you’ll see. ;-)

    http://www.landoverbaptist.org/news1104/incredibles.html

  • http://cinecon.blogspot.com Victor Morton

    There was also this review … http://www.moviemartyr.com/2004/incredibles.htm … by a friend of mine taking a similar tack. I have not seen the movie myself yet … I never go to blockbusters, particularly kid-friendly ones, for the first week or two.

  • http://www.computerate.net Bernie

    Theocratic ties …

    The London Times lends credence to your theory Terry.

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2089-1357497,00.html

  • http://cinecon.blogspot.com Victor Morton

    For anmybody who has any doubts that Mr. Perez’s link is to a parody site — look to this page http://www.landoverbaptist.org/staff/

    Good on ya, Joe. The Religious Left literally has to remake Its opponents in Its own image.

  • http://god-of-small-things.blogspot.com Bob Smietana

    There’s a ghost in the Incredibles because comic books are full of religion ghosts.

  • Molly

    I’m not sure what you are talking about David because I was not addressing you.

    I think we are basically on the same page but whatever….

  • mizznicole

    I’ve heard from insiders that Pixar’s creative team _are_ Christians. Perhaps this is not widely known outside of the industry?

  • Alan

    OK, we are way over thinking this. This was a superhero movie based on the superhero modle of the old DC comics days when super heros were, well, super. They were not complex people. (Look what they have turned Superman into these days…he is now vunerable). As such this movie hit on all the cylanders.

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