There’s a scene early in the new Pixar movie The Incredibles 2 when Helen Parr—aka Elastigirl, aka Mrs. Incredible—calls home during her first business trip after going back to work full-time. (Her work, if you are unfamiliar with the franchise, is saving unsuspecting city folk from harm at the hands of nefarious villains.) Things at home are an utter shitshow, a fact that Mr. Incredible glosses over both to save his own pride and not to spoil his spouse’s evident delight at being back in the superhero game.
She is describing the success of the day’s mission, unaware of the chaos unfolding at home, and as she talks Mr. Incredible silently crumples the phone receiver with his superhero grip out of jealousy, exhaustion, and frustration—all the while making supportive “uh-huhs” and “that’s great, honeys” through gritted teeth.
It’s a perfect illustration of the business trip check-in call, a delicate step in the tag team of dual-career parenthood. In an ideal world, such a call is a time for both partners to trade information about their day while communicating unconditional support and appreciation for the other’s efforts. In ideal world, we make and receive those calls unsullied by envy, resentment, exhaustion, or loneliness.
But even the Incredibles don’t live in an ideal world. There’s something really gratifying about seeing a fictional parent who can lift a train but still gets overwhelmed handling the details of domestic life solo, and feels envious of the spouse who gets to put on pants (or tights, in this case) and go save the world.
The Incredibles are superheroes for working parents, imbued with the superpowers people juggling jobs and kids crave: strength, flexibility, and a school bus route that stops right outside the front door. The first movie in the franchise, which came out in 2004, took on the identity crisis of early middle age, focusing on the balancing act between old identities and current roles.
The second picks up where the first left off, and shows the endearingly messy process of sustaining the balances that working parents must make: fielding calls from kids who can’t find their shoes in the middle of work drama, or passing the baby around in an attempt to get something done for a second. Figuring out how to go to work and function cohesively as a family is not easy, but the Incredibles are a reminder that when it works, it feels as heroic as anything.