So, I saw Incredibles 2 the other day. It was fine—sweet, watchable, and amusing. I mean, what else would you expect? But, given how terrific the original was, I’d kind of hoped that—with 14 years to noodle on it—the talented Brad Bird would come up with something phenomenal. And he didn’t. This was especially obvious because the first film was so spot-on when it came to exploring adolescent angst, giftedness, and how parents wrestle with simultaneously protecting their kids and pushing them out into the world.
This time, it seemed like Bird was positioned to go to a similar place in regards to baby Jack-Jack (the youngest Incredible). I’m not giving away any spoilers if I note that Jack-Jack reveals the same suite of powers he showed off at the end of the first movie. Given Bird’s chops and the immense humanity of his characters, there were some dynamics that I think it would’ve been really fun and engaging to see the movie play with—and which would’ve fit readily within the hefty chunks of time devoted to the Incredibles’ domestic travails.
What kinds of dynamics do I have in mind?
1. The impulse to funnel kids into narrow pursuits, based on adult calculations and expectations. There’s a terrific moment when fashionista Edna Mode, a friend and mentor to the Incredibles, observes Jack-Jack’s array of powers and tells Mr. Incredible that many “supers” have their powers winnow over time. I couldn’t help but think of kids getting pushed to specialize in football or basketball at ridiculously young ages. I would’ve loved to see Jack-Jack in a setting where adults are trying to force him to focus on developing just one power.
2. The inevitable temptation for parents to live through our kids, and put our demons on them. This is especially true when we’re feeling like our own dreams haven’t come together the way we hoped. Seeing an exhausted, out-of-work Mr. Incredible’s chest-thumping enthusiasm for Jack-Jack’s gifts brought to mind a raft of ways parents prematurely pressure their kids—like pushing a diapered baby to refine his skills or insisting he’s ready to take on the larger world. It would have been fun to see Bird evoke the ways in which healthy pride can bleed into selfishness.
3. The difference between a parent cultivating and exploiting a child’s talent. Parents push tiny kids into beauty pageants and try to get them cast in commercials. You can rationalize any of this, if you try, but it’s also pretty obvious that a lot of it is about what parents want and the material rewards they can reap. It would’ve been intriguing to see the motel-dwelling Incredibles trying to cash in on Jack-Jack, out of necessity—or convenience. If anything, when two older Incredible siblings are ultimately pressed to use their powers to bail out their parents, mom and dad are a whole lot less conflicted or cognizant about it than they were the first time around.
4. The conflicts that can arise in families when children have different gifts. This is particularly true when it feels like parents are more taken with one child than another. What happens when older siblings suddenly feel overshadowed by the baby of the family? However Dash and Violet would have reacted, I think it would have been fascinating to see.
Few artists are all that good at capturing or offering insight into these tensions. So I can’t help but think that tackling all this would’ve added a lot of resonance and texture here, in a way that might have made Incredibles 2 a worthy sequel to its remarkable predecessor. Yet, all the same, I trust you’ll enjoy the movie for what it is.
— Frederick Hess
Frederick Hess is director of education policy studies at AEI and an executive editor at Education Next.
This post originally appeared on Rick Hess Straight Up.