This past weekend, I made a trip to the cinema that I'd been waiting for for 14 years - to see the sequel to one of my favourite childhood films, the Incredibles 2. Myself and himself sat amongst a sea of under-fives, ecstatic at seeing our favourite super family back on the big screen, but quietly seething that the mini-audience weren't paying the film the attention it deserved. I would not have done well as a parent in that situation - what do you mean you have to go to the toilet again? Frozone is on the screen for God's sake!
But while I would have been perfectly content at two hours of just Edna Mode on the screen ("no capes!"), I was struck by something else throughout the movie. The Incredibles 2 was not there just to feed our need for Pixar magic. It added something that's often missing from kid's movies - an important lesson on modern life.
I'm not talking about the generalised lessons on 'how to be a good person' that all kids' movies teach - don't judge a book by its cover, good triumphs over evil, etc. Nor am I diminishing the good that these lessons do - a child absorbs a lot from the media around them and learning these lessons as early as possible is tremendously important. But in today's world, the problems we face are a bit more subtle. Issues like sexism, fake news, social media and gender roles are more realistic, but also more likely to trip you up. These are the issues that The Incredibles 2 dealt with so beautifully.
Let's dive right in - Mrs Incredible. Taking over as the protagonist of the movie, Helen/ Elastigirl is nominated by new employers DevTech to spearhead the campaign of regaining a positive public image for superheroes; much to the shock of her husband, Bob, who assumed he would be the go-to hero. But Helen has a better track record, is better equipped to take on the job and ends up doing amazingly well. Even though her husband is initially sour about it, it's refreshing to see a woman being properly recognised for her strengths and taking on the role of the leader in a superhero cartoon. It's a positive message to send to children - women, and especially mothers, can work and be the hero, while dads can do an amazing job of being a stay-at-home parent too - even if it takes them a while to strike a balance, as Mr Incredible did. Parental gender roles are outdated and the Incredibles 2 is one of the first cartoons to take that seriously.
It should also be noted that the whole undercurrent to why Helen gets hired in the first place is to do with fake news. DevTech wants to change the perception of superheroes for the public, who currently view them as criminals. DevTech owner Winston makes an interesting speech about how people only see what the media (and often, the powers that be) want them to see. In order to change perceptions, the public have to be provided with the full story from every side, so that they can make an informed decision about where their opinions lie. It lets kids know that sometimes the story you hear isn't necessarily the whole story - it's up to us to seek out information ourselves, and not to follow the crowd.
Then there's the case of the villain. The way in which Screenslaver terrorises the city is another important lesson for kids. In a monologue that plays in the background, Screenslaver raises a lot of important points about how the digital-focused way we live our lives is damaging us:
“Superheroes are part of your brainless desire to replace true experience with simulation. You don't talk, you watch talk shows. You don't play games, you watch game shows. Travel, relationships, risk - every meaningful experience must be packaged and delivered to you to watch at a distance, so that you can remain ever-sheltered, ever-passive, ever-ravenous consumers, who can't free themselves to rise from their couches to break a sweat, never anticipate new life."
Granted, this probably flew over the heads of the kids in the cinema, but its message is still crucial. Children nowadays are growing up on screens. They're used to living their lives through a lens, experiencing everything second-hand. Or worse, living vicariously through someone else's Instagram pages, thinking that it's the equivalent of going out and experiencing things themselves. This lesson is more for the parents - encourage your kids to get out there and live life as it happens, and don't confine yourself to second-hand life through a screen.
There are so many reasons why Incredibles 2 is a great watch, but if you're doing your best to raise a 'woke' kid in today's largely 'unwoke' world, a cinema visit should be at the top of your to-do list.