Incredibles 2 has all the things you'd expect from a superhero sequel: more scintillating civilian rescues, new heroes with an array of powers, and a menacing new supervillain. But Incredibles 2 also keeps the spirit of the original film by focusing on the understated heroics and tribulations of parenting, a job that, in the sequel, is mostly being assumed by Mr. Incredible/Bob Parr.
Whereas the first Incredibles saw Bob take a mysterious, fancy new job—note to Bob: maybe do some digging on your new employer's ethics after you see the lava meeting room—and leaving Elastigirl/Helen to take care of the kids, the sequel flips their parental roles. Now Elastigirl is leading a new venture that could allow superheroes and their crime-fighting prowess to be legalized by the government, which leaves Bob at home to take care of the kids. What could go wrong? Well: Violet's high school crush had his mind wiped, Men in Black-style, though she thinks he's just ignoring her because he's a shitty boy (very plausible, to be honest), exacerbating her teen angst; Jack-Jack is exhibiting a ton of superpowers that can reasonably be described as safety hazards; and Dash has to do math homework.
For Bob, being a stay-at-home dad is, in a word, rough. The domestic challenges of three totally different superpowered children keep him on his toes, as he goes through an exhausting, sleep-deprived gantlet that had me thinking two things: One, I'm terrified to ever become a parent, and two, is Bob still a good dad in spite of this familial chaos? To help answer that question, I'll be breaking down some of Mr. Incredible's seemingly dubious parenting techniques with the help of one of The Ringer's resident dads, and a Dairy Queen enthusiast, Rob Harvilla.
Dad Technique No. 1: Cookie Bribery
I forgot that despite the fact the audience already knows Jack-Jack has powers, the Parr family does not. Bob is, in other words, completely unprepared for his infant child to self-combust, turn invisible, teleport to another dimension, and shoot laser beams out of his eyes. Bob does discover a way to lure Jack-Jack back into his normal baby state, and that is by feeding him copious amounts of "num num cookies." It's an effective technique, though it's also one that includes a huge caloric intake for a tiny baby. My biggest concern here is that it'll be a Pavlov's dog situation in which Jack-Jack will be conditioned to think "doing superpowers" equals "getting num nums," and in short time he'll end up destroying the house … or at least developing diabetes at an alarmingly early age. Then again, I did not adhere to the best diet growing up—dinner was always a prelude to dessert, specifically a giant piece of chocolate cake—and I'd like to think I turned out OK. I also never self-combusted, however.
Harvilla's Verdict: If the alternative is the baby slicing a minivan in half with his laser eyes or whatever, then give him the damn num num cookies. Queasy Bargaining is a crucial part of the parenting experience, and diabetes concerns aside, plying the kid with sweets is likely better for his health long-term than giving him more dreaded "screen time," especially if he's just gonna watch something as traumatic as Toy Story 3.
Dad Technique No. 2: New Math Homework
In the quasi-futuristic version of the 1960s in which The Incredibles and its sequel take place, grade schools are implementing New Math, introducing more complicated curricula to younger grades, spurred by American fear of the technology gap between the U.S. and the Soviet Union after the Soviets launched the first Sputnik satellite into space. (No, seriously.)
So when Bob is tasked with helping Dash do his math homework, he has a (somewhat understandable) mental breakdown, culminating in Bob shouting, "WHY WOULD THEY CHANGE MATH?! MATH IS MATH! MATH IS MATH!" This is a crappy situation if there ever was one—math, in any form, is truly demonic—but having an existential crisis in front of your kid is not going to help him solve any of those equations before the big math quiz. Though again, it's hard to blame Bob. WHY WOULD THEY CHANGE MATH?!
Harvilla's Verdict: As a proud magazine journalism major, I am all too happy to tell you that I can't do math for shit and never could, and my children are likely already aware of this, somehow, despite their having only the vaguest awareness of math itself. Rather, the last existential crisis I had in front of my kids involved my frustrations in being unable to beat the "Darkest Side of the Moon" level in Super Mario Odyssey. (This screen time was likely the result of some Queasy Bargain I made with them, maybe to get them to eat more of their spaghetti.) (I beat the level after they went to bed.)
Dad Technique No. 3: A Fifth-Wheel Dinner Date
Tony Rydinger, a.k.a. the turtleneck-wearing boy at school Violet has a crush on, is back in the sequel, though his mind is wiped at the very beginning of the movie because he sees Violet using her powers without her mask on. Violet isn't aware of this, however, so she thinks Tony is seriously ghosting her and pretending to not know who she is when they had a date night scheduled. This would be upsetting under any circumstances; now picture being a moody teen.
Bob has a very terrible idea to make it up to Violet: He finds out where Tony works part-time as a waiter—down to what section of the restaurant he serves!—and brings all the kids there for a meal. When Tony approaches the table, Violet freaks out and a bunch of water shoots out of her nose. So, not only did Tony already think Violet was really weird for being like, "Yo! Ready for our date?" when he had no recollection of ever speaking to her, but now he thinks she anxiously nose-spits water at the sight of him.
Bob might've been trying to do the right thing, but he just made things worse. (If Incredibles 2 took place in the early aughts, Violet would be cranking Fall Out Boy and writing very detailed Tumblr posts.) Frankly, I don't think there's any situation in which a parent can try to help their children's dating lives without it ending in disaster. Am I wrong, Rob?
Harvilla's Verdict: My sons are 7 and 4—we've only very recently been able to take them to a restaurant under any circumstances—so forgive me if I'm unwilling to even imagine a universe in which I have to deal with their dating misadventures in any vaguely parental sort of way. My hand still hurts from the handshake I received from the father of my junior-year homecoming date; no idea what the "father of sons" equivalent is, and I'm in no hurry to find out.
Dad Technique No. 4: Edna Mode's Babysitting
The toll of Jack-Jack's powers—and the fact he's still a baby who is constantly waking up at odd hours of the night and pooping in his diaper—turns Bob into a sleep-deprived mess. (Again, not really blaming him here!)
Bob visits superhero fashionista Edna Mode, and he's able to kill two birds with one stone. Edna is intrigued by Jack-Jack's litany of powers and the challenge of making a suit for the little guy, so she's more than willing to take Jack-Jack off Bob's hands for the night. Great! Now Bob can sleep, and he does—for 17 straight hours!
But was Edna Mode really the best person to leave an infant with? She tells him, "I am not a baby person, I am an artist!" She certainly doesn't have babysitting experience. (Granted, she said this before she found out Jack-Jack also had powers.) Edna might be a longtime family friend, but it doesn't seem like Bob did enough vetting of the person who would be taking care of his infant child for almost an entire day. Maybe I'm thinking too hard about what makes a capable babysitter?
Harvilla's Verdict: Do not fuck with young parents who just want to go out on a date, or need 15 consecutive minutes of sleep. At various points in my oldest son's toddler days, I would've left him in the care of a pack of wolverines if they were reachable by cellphone.
Dad Technique No. 5: Avoid Telling Helen About Jack-Jack
Bob is the first member of the Parr family to find out about Jack-Jack's powers—it doesn't take long for Violet and Dash to figure it out as well, and then Edna Mode and Frozone are brought into the mix. So who's missing? How about Jack-Jack's mom?!
Bob decides not to tell Helen about what's going on with Jack-Jack—partially because he wants to let her focus on that crime-fighting job that might allow for the return of Mr. Incredible, but also because he wants her to think he can handle the kids by himself. Choosing not to tell Helen isn't necessarily lying, but it certainly isn't telling the truth.
Being married and having a kid, you've got to tell your partner about important kid stuff, right? I think "Exhibiting More Than a Dozen Superpowers and Beating Up a Raccoon in the Backyard" qualifies as important.
Harvilla's Verdict: Antagonizing Elastigirl in any way strikes me as profoundly unwise; in matters of child-rearing as in all things, the one phrase you don't want to hear from your significant other is, "You didn't tell me that." I'd love to take my wife to this movie to see what this raccoon business is all about, but we've got nobody to watch the kids now that the wolverines are no longer returning my calls.
Dad Technique No. 6: Fixing Things
We've been a bit hard on Bob—he does make amends for all of his mistakes. He pulls an all-nighter trying to understand Dash's math homework; he apologizes to Violet for royally messing things up with her high school crush; Edna Mode's night of babysitting results in a suit for Jack-Jack that helps manage his powers—and also cuts down the number of cookies needed as bribes. All told, Bob begins to be a pretty functional stay-at-home dad—at least until the Screenslaver starts brainwashing people and the whole family gets called into action.
These were far from normal parenting circumstances, and Bob learned that raising the kids might be just as daunting as stopping a supervillain. So Rob, what grade would you give Bob here, and how do you think you'd fare in his shoes?
Harvilla's Verdict: To be totally honest, in both fictional and nonfictional situations, I'm usually rooting for other dads to screw up (in mildly embarrassing, non-catastrophic ways) just so I feel marginally better about my own suspect parenting, so frankly I find his competence irritating. D+.