How to be an adult (according to kids films)
This year’s seen its fair share of major film releases. From Black Panther to Avengers: Infinity War, from Deadpool to Solo, there have been several high-profile films released in the past six or so months that were genuinely enjoyable for the whole family. None of them matter because The Incredibles 2 is coming out this week. Obviously, I’m kidding. Those other movies are fine, but I’ve been waiting fourteen years to see a sequel to The Incredibles. Pixar is one of my favorite studios, one of my generation’s favorite studios, and The Incredibles is one of the studio’s best works.
The original film follows a superpowered husband and wife who, along with all other superheroes, were forced into suburban retirement by the government because of the collateral damage they caused. They start a family and try to deal with living a mundane life with extraordinary abilities, and a desire to be the people they want to be. Ultimately, the whole family bands together to save the day with their unique powers. To celebrate the release of The Incredibles 2, I planned to write about the artistry of The Incredibles; or how I used to watch the DVD on repeat because it was such a solid story; or how the film was a perfect tribute to famous works, like the James Bond film series and X-Men, but streamlined for children. When I started going through the film, however, I realized that it reminded me of another, much darker work: 2009s Watchmen.
Watchmen followed a colorful cast of humans in costumes who fought crime. The main characters, all of whom were superheroes despite most of them being regular humans, were jaded after their years of crime-fighting did little to actually reduce evil or violence in the world. Both Watchmen and The Incredibles deal with getting old and asking whether or not someone can, or should, save someone else. Where The Incredibles is tinged with optimism and celebrating the way our differences make us who we are and give life true meaning, Watchmen is all about good ol’ fashion cynicism, nihilism, and being disenfranchised with the idea of unique heroism being able to save anything. It was a viciously human story that dealt with rape, fetishized violence, and arguments of morality versus lawfulness.
The Incredibles and Watchmen are basically the same films for different audiences. Watchmen is what The Incredibles would grow into if someone sapped it of its optimism and got rid of the bright colors. I realized that The Incredibles represents a childlike view of heroism and individuality for a common goal, but Watchmen represents heroism from the view of a cynical adult. In Watchmen, unique people become outcasts driven by their inner demons, and ultimately, are just tools for normal people to use. Together, they offer a simple life lesson: superheroes are cool and being unique is what makes us valuable, but the world is always going to be pretty bleak because that’s life.
I’m certainly not the first to draw the comparison between Watchmen and The Incredibles, but thinking about that pairing made me realize how my own view of heroism changed from childhood to adulthood. With that in mind, I decided to look at some other popular kid-friendly films to figure out other pairings. These pairings are based on general subject matter, and together all these films basically work as a guide to adulthood. Watching them as double features will teach anybody how to be a proper adult.
Socializing and Making Friends
Friends are an integral part of life. They’re also one of life’s biggest hassles, and most people like to imagine that, in some way, they’re necessary to the group’s well-being. Learning how to deal with peers is a major part of the human experience, and these films show that struggle.
As a kid: Toy Story
In Toy Story, the cowboy sheriff doll Woody is the undisputed leader of Andy’s toys. He’s got the brains, the charm, and he’s the only one with a legitimate position of authority. He’s the hero…until Buzz Lightyear, an awesome action figure, shows up. It’s a relatable situation. Making friends is hard, but it’s harder when a new friend is forced upon an established group of friends. Woody tries to take Buzz out of the picture, accidentally knocking him out of a window and going bare-knuckle with him at a gas station. Eventually, they end up needing to rely on each other and become best friends. All the other toys forgive Woody for being a near-murderer because Buzz is alright, and Woody regains his position of power by making Buzz his number two. Woody becomes less self-centered and accepts someone else as his equal. Make friends to increase power; that’s Toy Story‘s message, and it’s a good one.
As an adult: The Social Network
On the other hand, there’s The Social Network, a modern classic. This is an unreal retelling of the real-life story of Facebook’s founding, and it centers on founder Mark Zuckerberg’s almost misanthropic disconnect from humanity. Zuckerberg is like Woody if Woody made a billion dollars after he knocked Buzz out of the window. Zuckerberg, as depicted in the film, is a hero for today’s youth who only use friends as social media props. He’s not exactly a bad guy, though. Like Woody, Zuckerberg just wants things to be his way and wants to protect his territory. He brings people together and gets power from that. From a kid’s perspective, he’d look like a jackass. From an adult’s perspective, from the perspective of someone who needs to pay bills, he played it smart and made enough money to buy all the friends he needs.
Life Lesson: No matter how important we think we are, we should always be willing to open ourselves up to new friends. Once those friends have served their purpose, move on (and try to get rich along the way).
Money and Dreaming of Being on Top
Very few people get to live their perfect life. Whether it’s a lack of money or just a general lack of status, there seems to always be something keeping complete happiness out of arm’s reach. No one wants to be looked down on just because of how they live. Everyone wants more, and everyone wants to be on top.
As a kid: Aladdin
Aladdin followed the story of Aladdin (obviously). He was an orphan and a thief, and nearly everyone who saw him dismissed him as a street rat. In truth, he was a diamond in the rough who deserved the same love and compassion that everyone else got. He ended up being used and nearly killed by a high-ranking official because no one would miss a low-class street rat. That encounter led Aladdin to a wish-granting genie who gave him access to the finer things in life. He was able to reinvent himself as a prince and court the local princess. Aladdin, for once, got to live the good life because of the genie. Since Aladdin is a kid’s film, however, he ended up learning the “errors” of his ways, freed the genie, and came clean about being a street rat. Therefore, because this is a kid’s film, Aladdin was forgiven and still got together with the princess, the genie promised to return to him, and thus, he ended the film with riches, a path to royalty, and a magical best friend as a result of honesty.
As an adult: Goodfellas
Henry Hill had a similar story to Aladdin, and Goodfellas hits very similar story beats as the Disney film. Both Hill and Aladdin had a dream version of their life, and getting it required some unscrupulous acts. The differences? For one, Henry Hill didn’t have magic to fall back on; he lived in the real world. Second, Hill never felt bad so he never had to learn a lesson. He got in with his local gangsters at an early age and remained loyal to them until his life was on the line. Hill knew and happily accepted that he was an unsavory guy with unsavory friends. He did whatever he needed to live the gangster lifestyle, to be better than “an average nobody…a schnook.” For Hill, the lifestyle was what mattered, always. That’s not exactly the kind of person who should be a role model, but in all honesty, Hill’s line of thinking isn’t too far off from most normal people. Sure, there’s always a chance to fall into magic, wealth, and royalty, but if that doesn’t work out, there’s always the mafia.
Life Lesson: We all want better lives. Use whatever you can to get ahead because you’ll probably get away with it.
Vice and Indulgence
Everyone has to get through their life one day at a time. Sometimes, getting through the day gets to be too much. Sometimes, it’s easier to escape into another reality; one made up of indulgence and the vices of comfort. At times like that, the only difference between wonder and addiction is the approach.
As a kid: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory follows a group of bratty kids and their enabling parents on a wondrous trek through the majestic factory of chocolatier Willy Wonka. One by one, the kids fell victim to their vices—gluttony, pride/arrogance, greed, television-loving sloth– and proved themselves unworthy to inherit Wonka’s factory. Charlie Bucket is the only one of the kids who showed enough humility to move past his selfishness to be a decent person. Willy Wonka showed how people fall victim to their indulgences, and how people alone keep themselves from happiness. Each of the unworthy children was taken to a world of pure imagination, but they couldn’t see past their hang-ups and desires. What’s it teaching kids? Everything in moderation; don’t let the world or selfishness get in the way of living.
On a side note: this film is so timeless that it’s being remade, again.
As an adult: Requiem for a Dream
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was a children’s film with some trippy imagery, so Requiem for a Dream is obviously the adult version of it. There are no golden tickets or Oompa Loompas, but Requiem does tackle the idea of vice and self-destruction. The protagonists— Harry, Sara, Marion, and Tyrone— all want better lives. There isn’t anything stopping them from attaining better lives except for their own vices. They’re all addicts of some kind, and they all enable each other’s self-destructive tendencies. The characters of Requiem for a Dream are like Wonka’s factory children but without any Oompa Loompas giving them advice. They get caught up in their own world of pure imagination; they pretend their harsh reality is a path rather than a cage. The film itself is like the crazy boat ride sequence in Willy Wonka stretched out to feature length.
Life Lesson: We have to realize that sometimes we’re the ones standing in the way of our own better life, and humble ourselves. If that doesn’t work, just pretend ecstasy and self-destruction are the same feelings.
…And that’s, essentially, adulthood.