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11/11/2004 Archived Entry: "The Incredibles and Ayn Rand"

An interesting post by David M. Brown on the LFB.com blog, discussing the relationship between the new animation "The Incredibles" and Ayn Rand. David writes,

When the animated feature "The Iron Giant" came out in 1999, some libertarians saw a theme of man or robot versus the state, because the movie depicts the government, in the person of a repressive bureaucrat, trying to destroy an innocent and good giant robot.

The Pixar production "The Incredibles," directed by "Iron Giant" director Brad Bird, boasts not only more sophisticated animation than "Giant" but perhaps a more sophisticated theme as well. At any rate, more than one reviewer is finding the footprint of Ayn Rand.

Says Newsday's John Anderson:

Ever wonder what a collaboration between Tex Avery and Ayn Rand might have uncorked? Wonder no more. "The Incredibles"...is a fun-filled foray into animated action, fantasy and adventure. And Objectivism. And tort reform....

Far more intriguing, however, are the movie's points of view. Balking at attending his son's "graduation" (from fourth to fifth grade), the mothballed Bob lets it all hang out: "They're constantly finding ways to celebrate mediocrity, while someone who's truly exceptional...." When he later balances a globe-shaped robot on his shoulders, should we be thinking Atlas Shrugged?

Meanwhile, over at the New York Times, A. O. Scott -- who was wrong about "The Hulk," by the way -- also finds Ayn Rand to be an easily discernible, if feverishly tapped, influence:

"The Incredibles," written and directed by Brad Bird and released under the mighty Pixar brand, is not subtle in announcing its central theme. Some people have powers that others do not, and to deny them the right to exercise those powers, or the privileges that accompany them, is misguided, cruel and socially destructive.... The intensity with which "The Incredibles" advances its central idea -- it suggests a thorough, feverish immersion in both the history of American comic books and the philosophy of Ayn Rand -- is startling. At last, a computer-animated family picture worth arguing with, and about! Luckily, though, Mr. Bird's disdain for mediocrity is not simply ventriloquized through his characters, but is manifest in his meticulous, fiercely coherent approach to animation.

Yes, let's argue with that. Or about it. (Scott, too, quotes the line about celebrating mediocrity, though he remembers it differently: "They keep finding new ways to celebrate mediocrity." Somebody needs to brush up on the shorthand.)

At a certain point conventional wisdom takes over and you start hearing echoes of reviews in other reviews. But there's also this from another early review of the film, by John C. Snider at the scifidimensions web site:

"The Incredibles" is, well, incredible! Writer/director Brad Bird ("The Iron Giant") has delivered a fresh, entertaining and shockingly philosophical parody of the superhero genre. This film is chock-full of homages to various classic franchises. The Parr family are obviously cut from the same template as Marvel Comics' Silver Age Fantastic Four and X-Men.... There's even an Ayn Rand undercurrent (and maybe a little "Harrison Bergeron") criticizing our society's tendency to encourage mediocrity and beat down self-esteem and personal excellence.

The most amazing thing about "The Incredibles" is the extent to which it is not aimed a children; in fact, most toddlers and elementary schoolers will be bored by its less-than-frenetic pace and sobering depiction of suburban drudgery. The social commentary and gradual character-building pays off in the end....

This is obviously a movie that requires you to first read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged if you hope to truly appreciate it. Fortunately we've got stock of both. Read feverishly.

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