Honoring the Heroine: Helen Parr

When I wrote about the Disney Princess movies, I pointed out that Pixar doesn’t really have that many female protagonists. In fact, there is currently exactly one, Merida. What the studio does have, though, is a myriad of memorable female characters, and you can find a lot of them in “The Incredibles”. There are four in this movie, and each of them would deserve an own article at one point. But my first pick ended up Helen Parr aka Elastigirl, since she somewhat the co-protagonist of the movie.

The interesting thing about “The Incredibles” is that the superhero stuff is mostly window dressing. It is there to add the fun and the action. But at its very heart this movie is not about superheroes, it is about career and family, freedom and responsibilities. Mr. Incredible is the centre of the story, which spends a lot of time showing his frustration with his life and his desire to relive his glory days. Stories like this involve quite a difficult balance act. On the one hand, the audience has to understand why the character feels that way, on the other hand the blame shouldn’t be shifted to the “nagging wife” and “annoying family”. In this case, the movie managed the balance perfectly.

While “Bob Parr” is the protagonist, “Helen Parr” aka Elastigirl is the true heroine. Unlike her husband, she gets her priorities right. She is the one who does he best to keep the family together, he can thank her for keeping herself and in extension their children hidden, and she is the one who flies to the rescue in the end. She has to, literally and figuratively, stretch in all directions to keep her loved ones safe. And yet, she is not annoyingly perfect. Somewhere along the line she lost the sense for herself. Bogged down in the demands of the family, she forgot that she is more than just a house wife and mother, she is also Elastigirl. No longer as young and slim as she used to be, but still able to pack quite a punch.

ElastiGirl-Helen-Parr

At one point in the movie she tells her children that their identity is their most precious possession. “Protect it!” is her urgent advice. Though the more obvious context is that they should hide their faces, there is a powerful underlying message in those simple lines. Normal people might not need a “secret identity”, but we all have an identity, something which makes us who we are. And that is not a flashy outfit (preferable without cape for safety reasons), but our inner-self. No matter what rule we have to play, we should never allow society to define this inner-self for us.

Helen certainly does know who she is, even if she needs a reminder from Edna. And she is not someone who trusts in her superpowers alone. Bob, in a way, does. Taking his powers away and he is stuck in a job he hates. Helen on the other hand is not only “super”, it is her nature to adapt to everything life throws at her. When she needs to follow her husband, she has a plane organized with one phone call, a plane she pilots herself.

I also love that her banter with Bob stays playful, no matter if she is young single who claims to have no interest on settling down, or a middle-aged housewife. Or, in her own words:

Quote: “You need to be a little bit more…flexible.”

This movie is naturally especially fun for fans of superhero or James Bond movies. For the same reason, it is not really for young children, but those who are old enough to watch at least the more harmless movies of those genres. But even for someone who is not really into Superheroes, the movie is certainly worth a watch, due to its thoughtful themes.

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9 thoughts on “Honoring the Heroine: Helen Parr

  1. It has been YEARS since I have watched this movie, but I remember almost everything about it. She is very enjoyable, a bit nasty, and is able to adapt to anything. She is my favorite in the movie for the reasons you said. Very nurturing, but not a pushover.

    Oh, and I am not returning to Fanpop. I decided to give up on it. I was already losing interest, and the ban kind of jump kicked my disinterest.

  2. One of my favorites. I love how Elastigirl is the coolest housewife in movies I’ve seen in a long time. She’s an actual person not just a cliche. For me this is one of the perfect movies. I wouldn’t change a thing. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Pixar-Forgotten/Minor Characters #6: Snug | The Animation Commendation

  4. I adore this movie. I was watching this movie with a friend and we both looked at each other and said “People have been clamoring for a female superhero movie and they forget we always have one.” With Helen, Violet, Edna, and Honey we have four very different and very awesome women.

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