There are a hundred ways to measure what makes a great movie, but nothing speaks more highly about a film than how closely you can read it. In his new feature, Deadshirt Editor-In-Chief Dylan Roth explores one of his favorite films by demonstrating just how much there is to talk about, writing at length about Every Five Minutes of runtime.
Written and Directed by Brad Bird
(c) 2004 Disney/Pixar
We first meet Violet Parr (voice of Sarah Vowell) standing alone by the front steps of Western View Junior High, standing by herself in the shadows, clutching a book, and waiting for her mother to pick her up after school. Her straight black hair falls past her shoulders and hides all but a sliver of her face. She pulls one side of it behind her ear, and it immediately comes loose to cover her up again. She’s alone, but doesn’t look lonely, per se; there’s a contented look on her face, like she’s thinking about something good that happened today.
At least, until the door opens over her shoulder, and her crush Tony Rydinger (voice of the director’s eldest son, Michael Bird) emerges, handsome, confident, instantly recognizable as Big Man on Campus. He’s flanked by two guy friends, and every girl he passes at least glances at him. A female classmate gives him a flirtatious “Hi, Tony,” and Tony’s friends tease him about it. He laughs along with them. He seems a little smug, but approachable to most.
But not to Violet, at least not by her own measurement. She catches his eye as he walks past, but when he turns toward her, she’s gone, so he keeps walking. Except she’s not gone—she’s just turned invisible, her seemingly empty clothes floating just out of sight. When Tony’s back is turned, she reappears, but ducks down into the shadows anyway, smiling and blushing.
Helen’s car pulls up and Dash hollers at her to hurry up and get in, and she runs off past groups of kids hanging out on the lawn and joins her family.
This 45-second sequence is a super efficient introduction to Violet, who spends long stretches of the film being quiet and angsty and at odds with her annoying younger brother. This is a rare glimpse of Violet outside of the context of her family. It’s easy to describe Violet as irritable or depressed, but more than either of those, Violet is private. Like her brother, Violet’s superpower is an extension of her personality: Violet can become invisible, and she can project forcefields—or, in other words, she can put up walls. But while her powers theoretically protect her, they also carry with them the constant fear of being discovered. Nothing gets you noticed like turning invisible.
Mostly, Violet wants to be left alone…though being left alone with Tony Rydinger would be better.
Bob’s Road Rage (16:17-17:09)
We pick up with Bob on the drive home, packed into his impossibly cramped car. There’s a stark contrast between Mr. Incredible weaving between cars in his slick black Incredibile and Bob seething at bumper-to-bumper traffic in his pale blue box. There is no moment in Bob’s life that isn’t stressful and claustrophobic.
Even as he pulls into his driveway, he manages to slip on a derelict skateboard, and puts a dent into his car when bracing his colossal weight against it. Now the car door doesn’t shut properly. It mocks him. He slams it shut, shattering the window. He’s not allowed to use his super-strength for good, so now all it can be is an expensive inconvenience.
Bob loses his temper and hoists the car over his head as if to smash it, before realizing that an awestruck neighbor kid (younger son Nicholas Bird, also the voice of Squirt in Finding Nemo) has witnessed the whole scene. Bob locks eyes with the kid, carefully lowers the car back to the ground, and just walks into the house.
Bob slumps inside, trying to let go of the tremendous frustration of his workday and find some peace at home, with his family. Yeah. Right.
No Ordinary Family (17:10-20:45)
Our family storylines converge at family dinner. Bob is burnt out, reading the paper rather than interacting with his family. Helen goofily feeds baby Jack-Jack, Violet has no appetite, and Dash is literally biting off more than he can chew.
Helen tries to engage Bob in some parenting, bringing up Dash’s recent visit to the principal’s office, but Bob doesn’t seem to care until he finds out that Dash’s mischief was so fast that it couldn’t be caught on camera. Bob’s eyes light right up at the mention of Dash using his powers, and is clearly more proud than Helen is disappointed.
The more one reads into this scene, the more sad Bob seems. Helen is invested in her children’s lives, as every parent should be, but Bob’s just bored. It’s not that he doesn’t love his kids, it’s that he doesn’t care about everyday human life. He’s desperate for adventure, and he’s excited by the prospect of his son exploring his potential and having a small adventure of his own.
But, as usual, this puts Helen and Bob at odds. Bob ends up slouching off to his office to finish dinner alone, leaving Helen to try and converse with the kids. But, of course, they’re not cooperating, either. Violet, ever the private teenager, doesn’t want to talk, and Dash only wants to annoy his big sister, which he does very successfully, as he goads her into a tiny family super-fight.
The tussle plays easily as a slapstick comedy beat, which allows for this violent encounter to feel more heartwarming than disturbing. For all the tense emotions at play here—two siblings at each others’ throats, two frustrated parents—there’s something delightful about these four super-people who have to hide their true nature to the outside world cutting loose in their own home, like a screwed-up enraged family game night. When the doorbell rings, the family all immediately cuts it out and feigns normalcy, all feuds forgotten.
But let’s back up a moment, because while Bob is out of the room we get the first seeds of plot thread straight out of Watchmen:
Today’s paper features a missing persons report, the subject of which is Simon J. Paladino, a.k.a. Gazerbeam. Paladino is seen briefly during the newsreel sequence representing Mr. Incredible in court, and his Cyclops-inspired gear (seen later) implies that he’s equal parts Matt Murdoch and Scott Summers. Now he’s disappeared, which makes Bob a little worried—not just for his friend, but for what a missing superhero could mean for him. It has to be something he’s feared ever since going into hiding: what if an old enemy were to track him down and take revenge? He has so much more to lose now than he did in his superhero days, even if he doesn’t yet see the value in his mundane everyday life.
Speaking of the old days, Lucius Best/Frozone has arrived for he and Bob’s weekly “Bowling night,” so the two of them head out for the evening, and once again, Bob has avoided parenting. Helen resumes disciplining Dash, and Violet gets involved.
That Jack-Jack is believed to have no powers is a plot point, but more than that, it comes with some interesting implications. Jack-Jack is a baby, but because he has yet to display a superpower, he is presumed to be a normal human. That means that, at Jack-Jack’s age of a year old, tops, both Violet and Dash had already manifested their abilities. Can you imagine what a nightmare that must have been for Helen and Bob? Raising a child is scary enough, but how about a baby who can turn invisible or crawl faster than a car?
Jack-Jack’s apparent powerlessness has made him the object of some envy from his older siblings. Wait til they find out what his deal really is…
Next week: the boys are back in town.