The Incredibles – Plane Scene
We need to preface this analysis by admitting that The Incredibles is our favourite movie. The script is flawless and deep, the animation is great, the soundtrack is stunning, and it’s just a whole lot of fun. If you haven’t rewatched The Incredibles in a while, do yourself a favour.
The themes of The Incredibles are: family, trust, letting others’ strengths make up for your weaknesses, self-acceptance and confidence, and accepting change. The film contrasts the difference between superheroes and everyday moments repeatedly, even from the very first shot: Mr Incredible struggling to put on his lapel microphone.
There are plenty of essays online discussing why The Incredibles is great (here and here). So we wanted to pick just one scene. Dash running from deadly enemies through the jungle then accidentally running on water? Edna Mode and her rant about “NO CAPES!”? Bob sneaking home late and arguing with Helen because he knocked down a building? Or when the family finally get to fight together for the first time? All fantastic scenes.
But our favourite scene – the plane scene – starts innocently enough. Helen Parr (Elastigirl) is suspicious of her husband, so she borrows a private jet to investigate (who wouldn’t?). “He’s either in trouble, or he’s going to be.” She changes into her new super suit and discovers that her kids, Violet and Dash, have stowed aboard.
Let’s start with the comedy here. If you have siblings (or children), you know that Violet and Dash talking over each other is spot-on. Their dialogue overlaps, but their lines and motives are so clear. Helen calls the babysitter to chat about their youngest Jack Jack. Not only does this add more comedy, it shows Helen’s aversion to risk and her fixed ways – something her character needs to overcome.
The comedy is interrupted by beeping from the cockpit and tense music. We love this high to low moment. One second we’re laughing, the next we’re silent and tense. Michael Giacchino’s score throughout this scene – and the rest of the film – amplifies the intensity. Helen jumps into action, spouting technical aviation jargon. She clicks on the FASTEN SEAT BELT sign – another everyday moment. She releases flares and expertly avoids the missiles – she’s done this before.
Mr Incredible (Bob Parr) can hear Helen’s radio transmissions. “Call off the missiles, I’ll do anything!” We already know that Bob’s most valuable asset is his family – you could say it’s his biggest weakness. It’s here we also see the enemy Syndrome’s real nature: “It’s too late. Fifteen years too late.” His petty revenge for being rejected by Mr Incredible as a boy is not petty anymore.
Back on the plane and running low on fuel, the missiles are closing in. Helen tells Violet she needs to put a force field around the plane. She’s out of options, so she’s calling on her kids for help. Violet’s arc is one of self confidence, and she repeats her mother’s advice from earlier to not use their powers. “I know what I said, listen to what I’m saying now!” Her mother is calling on her now and she needs to step up.
Dash looks out the window at the missiles and his “Mum?” is perfect and heart-wrenching. He doesn’t know what to do and he’s scared. Helen continues to plead on the radio for their attackers to call off the missiles – they’re close now. Mr Incredible hears the worst thing possible: “Abort. Abort. There are children aboard. I say again there are children aboard this plane.” (Goosebumps every time.) There’s nothing he can do to help but he cries out anyway.
Helen screams at Violet, “Put a field around us now!” Violet knows she can’t do it. She can’t help. Helen is out of options now except repeating “Abort abort abort!”
The editing and tension is perfect here. Other action films should take note – each shot gets tighter than the last. The missiles get closer, the camera closes in on Helen and the kids and the cuts get faster and faster. The power of editing is an under-appreciated art in filmmaking and it could be the greatest strength of this scene.
It’s too late – Helen throws off her headset and launches herself to protect her children. Her flexible body wraps around the kids as the plane explodes around them. This shot is pivotal to the scene and could only be created in computer animation. It’s demonstrated earlier with Edna that Helen’s super suit is virtually indestructible (but it breathes like Egyptian cotton).
The trio fall from the sky as plane parts rain down around them. Helen regains consciousness to see her two children screaming in terror as they fall. She instinctively grabs them and comically stretches into a parachute shape. These are the first times we’re seeing Elastigirl’s true flexibility and to have her transform so strangely is both absurd and awesome. It also foreshadows the ending where she catches Jack Jack in mid-air.
They hit the water and Helen tries to calm her kids. If you notice, she looks down and sees the reflection of the fuselage falling above them. She pushes Dash and Violet under the water and watches the plane sink. She surfaces and the kids are freaking out – rightfully so. She splashes them – another everyday moment – and demands that they get a grip or she will ground them for a month. The water animation here is gorgeous (thanks to Finding Nemo). Helen flexes into a boat shape and Dash kicks rapidly to drive them toward land.
This scene is impactful on every viewing. There are few film moments like this that never lose their power. Helen’s desperation, the precise editing and perfect dialogue and voice acting. The animation and action is flawless and beautiful. One of the best scenes from one of the best films.
We look forward to seeing the Parr family return in 2018 with The Incredibles 2. We also look forward to analysing other memorable scenes from our favourite films.