Accusations of sexism at Pixar undermine Incredibles 2’s feminist message, writes MacDara Conroy
It’s not a great time for Pixar, to say the least. In the wake of division head John Lasseter being outed by way of the #MeToo movement over years of ’inappropriate behaviour’, a former employee of the Disney animation studio added to the dumpster fire. Her description of a depressingly sexist work environment suggests Lasseter was just the tip (pun intended) of a misogynistic dickberg (a dickberg is an iceberg made of dicks).
But I’m supposed to be reviewing the new Pixar movie here, not a corporate culture, even if said movie is a product of said culture and deserves to be evaluated in that very context. How seriously, after all, are we to take Incredibles 2’s patina of progressivism when we have a better (or worse) idea of what some of those who brought it to the screen are actually like?
It’s easier to compartmentalise when we’re talking most Hollywood movies (for all the things they might represent to the audience, they’re still made by rich white suits) since who cares what studio put out this or that? Things get a little trickier when it comes to a brand like Pixar, a marque more akin to that of an indie record label as a signal of quality, a symbol of substance. You will never hear people say ‘Oh I just love Universal movies’ but it’s quite the opposite with Pixar, which has built so much goodwill on its essentially handcrafted digital productions, despite the studio trading by and large on long-past glories (the good Toy Story movies were 20 years ago, people) and lashings of emotional manipulation (Up, in hindsight, was the beginning of a desperate trend).
How much the Pixar brand will be tarnished by what’s come to light remains to be seen. How much it tarnishes Pixar’s latest effort is clear enough already: it undermines anything its story might have to say about female empowerment. It even feels churlish at this stage to bring up the notion of the Incredibles franchise (two movies make a franchise, right?) as an expression of writer-director Brad Bird’s libertarian fantasism (the other being the far more overt and problematic Tomorrowland).
Strictly as a piece of entertainment, though, Incredibles 2 is a worthy successor to the original. Not that it’s in any way original itself. The set-up nicks from the recent Marvel/DC playbook in recognising the collateral damage of superheroism, as the titular crime-fighting family’s instincts clash with exasperated authorities footing the bill for their excess. Enter an exuberant tech exec (voiced by Bob Odenkirk) and his sister-slash-brains of the operation (Catherine Keener) with a plan to rehabilitate the image of masked crusaders in the public consciousness, by making Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) the poster girl for the cause.
Cultural climate notwithstanding, and questioning how deep its commitment goes, it’s a wise move to push that ‘mom’ character to the fore as a capable hero, someone who can do all the physical stuff and solve the inevitable mystery on her own — up to a point, of course, as the story must find a way to get the family back together for the big climax. That doesn’t feel too forced, however, and the screwball subplot that sees dad (Craig T Nelson) and the kids (Sarah Vowell, Huck Millner) clean up after the baby Incredible — who’s just come into a ridiculous array of powers — balances the darker, Batman-esque side of the story.
Where Incredibles 2 really works, however, is in its thrilling, creative action set pieces (bar one, which should come with a strobe warning) and breezy pacing, making it feel a great deal shorter than its two-hour running time. Tolerance for callbacks and retreading old ground isn’t tested to the limit. It’s an above-par sequel that doesn’t take away from the original, even if it was never really asked for. Which in itself might ease your decision whether to embrace it or shun it, all things considered.
Incredibles 2 opens nationwide on Friday July 13th
Also published on Medium.