“We’re superheroes. What can happen to us?”
– Elastigirl [Helen Parr]
It’s unusual for a movie to create as much controversy as The Incredibles did after its November 2004 release. Brad Bird’s defiant cri de coeur on behalf of promoting excellence instead of mediocrity has led to heated debate about the role of education in society. Bird has even been accused of supporting Ayn Rand’s theory that the gifted elite should rule for the benefit of all. However, this viewer thought that Bird’s influences weren’t Randian – but Churchillian.
Rand wouldn’t have liked The Incredibles. Bob Parr and his family didn’t want to rule non-supers. Bob’s meeting with Mr. Huph, in which he is punished for helping the powerless deal with overweening bureaucracy – and infuriated at being prevented from helping a mugging victim – represents Bob’s feelings about his role in life. Bob spends most of his life in utter frustration, being forced to watch others suffer when he could be doing so much to help them. Bob represents us all at our idealistic best.
Despite what he and the Parr family have to offer, they must do as everyone else does – no matter what the cost to the Parrs individually or the loss to society as a whole.
Obviously, the historical leader who would’ve empathized with Bob Parr, his frustrations and his feelings wouldn’t be Ayn Rand – it would be Winston Churchill.
Review Churchill’s life, beliefs and experiences. Doesn’t it seem as if Brad Bird might have been inspired by all of them while he was writing the screenplay?
Examples are easy to find. Look, first of all, at Bob Parr’s career. He starts off as a great hero, becoming the greatest and most inspirational of the ‘supers’; then, he is brought down by tragedy not entirely of his own making – doing his best to help the people despite the incompetence of others – and forced to give up his power and his reason for being. Bob then spends years in the wilderness, watching others abuse their power by failing to protect those in need, while doing his best to support his family – and to help when he can. Only when the people are in great peril, and those who have dismissed him have failed, can he resume his career as Mr. Incredible – and bring Elastigirl, Frozone and his children back with him.
Eerily familiar to Churchill’s career, is it not? Think of Churchill’s early career in government and his dismissal from power in 1929. Only in 1939, after a decade in the wilderness and in Britain’s hour of greatest peril, is Churchill recalled to power – inspiring his people with the power of his idealistic vision of Britain’s cause in the Second World War.
Let’s be careful in drawing comparisons here – the plot of The Incredibles is in many ways a standard movie plot in which the protagonist first suffers, then eventually triumphs. It’s a great formula when done well. It’s only the rare individual, such as Churchill, whose life puts fiction to shame.
All the same, it’s fun to imagine Churchill’s reaction were he to see this movie – and he was an inveterate movie buff. He was among the first to have access to movies at home – as early as the 1920’s, when MGM and other studios began renting prints of movies to those who could afford it. Churchill was a lachrymose viewer; he would repeatedly watch – and sob – over sentimental movies that drove his aides mad. His favourite movies were generally, to use today’s term, mainstream.
The debate over The Incredibles’ messages would have interested him as well. Churchill would have applauded Mr. Incredible’s commitment to helping others despite the cost to himself. That was how Churchill saw the world: people had the right to work hard, to rise as far as their abilities would take them; that, after all, was what Churchill had done. Those who could not rise, for whatever reason, were to be protected by the strong: “[i]n our view, the strong should help the weak.”
Churchill would likely have agreed with Dash Parr when he replies to Violet’s assertion that “everybody is special” means “nobody’s special.” And he would likely have enjoyed and heartily approved the movie’s denouement, in which the Incredibles are allowed to do what they do best – for the benefit of all humanity.
Rational societies, The Incredibles and Bird argue, try to promote excellence as well as equality; one supports the other. Government exists to serve the people; but regulating all aspects of their lives in order to ‘serve’ them may stifle the actions and innovations that make the lives of the average person better – and do more harm than good. One can see Churchill nodding in agreement at Bird’s criticisms of a society that promotes mediocrity at the expense of its own future.
Let’s imagine what life would be like without the contributions of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Florence Nightingale, Philo Farnsworth, Steven Wozniak, Nellie McClung – and Winston Churchill. No electric light, no cars, no hospitals as we know them, no televisions, no computers, no female rights, and a world in which Nazism holds sway is not a world in which any of us would want to live. The world is different because these people were allowed – despite often facing deep initial derision – to follow their visions. Bird – and Churchill – argue in favour of excellence and its benefits for all humanity.
An animated movie with Churchillian overtones! Incredibly, fifty years after his death, Winston Churchill’s ideas can still cause controversy and engender inspiration.
Maybe Bob Parr is the second Mr. Incredible …
Author: Paul Keery
Paul Keery has been a teacher and manager in his career, but has been a writer since childhood. While employed full-time, he wrote about business, education, history, information technology, law and politics, including two books, and has worked with podcasts and video. Paul is currently completing a post-graduate certificate in Professional Writing and Communications at Humber College to upgrade his skills, including writing for social media.