Helen Parr: Just Another Sub-par Female Comic Character, or Something Quite Incredible?

After being seriously disappointed in the portrayal of the heroine of the Fantastic Four series, one might find it odd that I chose for my film critique a movie that some, including film critic George Wu of culturevulture.net, believe to be heavily inspired by the Marvel quartet: The Incredibles. It is true that the creators of The Incredibles seem to have shuffled around the powers of the Fantastic Four and redistributed them amongst the Parr family, Bob being comparable to the Thing, Helen to Mr. Fantastic, Violet to Invisible Girl and the baby, Jack-Jack to the Torch. Only Dash seems to have found his inspiration elsewhere, perhaps, as Wu suggests, in DC’s Flash. But what was the purpose of all this borrowing? Is he paying homage? Is it, as Wu suggests, satirical?

This decision and the questions that arose from it only made me more interested in what it was that writer/director Brad Bird was attempting to do with the film. Most interesting to me was the reassignment of Mr. Fantastic’s super power to Helen, otherwise known as Elastigirl.

When the film opens, Elastigirl, by her own admission, is in no hurry to settle down and conform. Yet after the lawsuits break, (1954 Comic Code reference, perhaps?), there is a fifteen year fast forward and we are reintroduced to Helen as Mrs. Parr, a very normal, very settled housewife. She has no characteristics of Invisible Girl as far as superpowers go, that is left to daughter Violet, but like the Invisible Girl she is obsessed with her marriage, her children, and the domestic space in general, and as a result she is adamantly against Bob and her son Dash’s desires to be anything more than normal citizens, for fear this will disrupt their family life.

In George Wu’s review, he discusses the fact that Stan Lee was the first to add this “ingredient of real-life banality” that Invisible Girl of the Fantastic Four contributed to her super-group, and which Helen Parr herself seems to now be completely immersed in. Though it is true as Wu states that in The Incredibles the heroes are no longer involved in anything but the humdrum of “normal” life, none of them appear particularly happy about that fact. Helen is not the beacon of conformity that he paints her as in his review, and she is also far from a meek and mild manner domestic partner a la 1960s Marvel female character. She accepts their current lot in life because she is fiercely protective of her family and believes she is doing what is best for them. They are stuck in a world that discriminates against the superhero, therefore Helen’s message of compliance, though perhaps misguided, is well intentioned and certainly not passive in nature.

This is why it is Helen, not Bob who is thrust into the position of team leader when Bob’s impulsiveness and desire to relive his glory days in secret gets him into trouble. She proves herself to be just as strong, just as able, just as super as her big, strong husband, perhaps even more so. It is she who pushes the kids into action, it is she who talks her husband into allowing them to work as a team which enables them to overcome the threat of Syndrome. She stretches, and it is this elasticity, pardon the pun, which allows her family to bend rather than break when they face adversity.

As George Wu points out, The Incredibles isn’t perfect. It does have some clichéd elements, which are probably in place to pull in the younger audience more than anything else. But by viewing it through the critical lens of an apprentice comic book “scholar,” a new light is shone upon the classic Pixar tale. And through this lens one is able to see that The Incredibles succeeds in an area in which many products of the comic book / superhero genre have failed, in giving a decidedly human face to the extraordinary. And additionally, it creates a likable, admirable hero out of a female, wife and mother. That is a feat that was long overdue and is, in fact, quite super.

Works Cited

The Incredibles. Dir. Brad Bird. Perf. Helen Hunt, Craig T. Nelson. Pixar, 2004. DVD.

Wu, George. “The Incredibles.” Culture Vulture. 2004. Web. 29 Oct. 2010. <http://www.culturevulture.net/Movies/Incredibles.htm&gt;. Web.

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About tristap

I am just a girl, trying to find her footing in a Super Hero world. Be gentle...
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One Response to Helen Parr: Just Another Sub-par Female Comic Character, or Something Quite Incredible?

  1. Check out James Sturm and Guy Davis’s graphic novel Unstable Molecules, a realistic re-envisioning of the Fantastic Four’s origins, for pointed commentary on Susan’s enforced domesticity. The GN is set in the fifties and clearly criticizes middle-class domestic conformism, and sexism.

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