The Pleas of Brad Bird’s Films

Director Brad Bird is photographed on April 3, 2018 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

When I initially saw Incredibles 2, one of the many initial thoughts to run through my head was its use of “adult language.” Now, by this I don’t mean that Mr. Incredible and Frozone were going around dropping F-bombs (though with Samuel L. Jackson voicing Frozone, it would hardly be unprecedented). Rather, I was caught off guard when I heard “hell” or “damn” being used.

Of course, I’m not opposed to such language. Hearing those mild “swears” is a part of everyday life. Instead, I was surprised to hear it in an animated movie, particularly a Pixar film. In fact, out of Pixar’s 22 total movies, only nine are rated PG, while the rest are rated G. So it came as a surprise to hear such words used.

I came out of the theater thinking about whether using these words should be acceptable in a Pixar movie. In my mind, Pixar is geared towards kids, and kids movies don’t often come close to such verbiage. Apparently I wasn’t the only one thinking this because in two different tweets (here and here), Brad Bird, the director of the film, defended his usage of these words in an alleged children’s film. 

Originally, I found his responses to be pretentious. “Of course you’re making kids movies,” I thought. But after rewatching all of Bird’s films as well as some extra consideration, I’ve come to see his point.

Now, I’m not smart or knowledgable enough to talk about animation as an art form. But I can talk about the messages being delivered through the given art form. And Bird’s films are all quite mature in their messaging. Apart from Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Bird’s wondrous entry into live-action filmmaking and the M:I franchise, all of his films are rated either PG or G. Again, this doesn’t inherently mean that they are for kids, but their rating certainly gives them a wider appeal to a younger audience. 

My point with all of this isn’t to say that Brad Bird can use whatever language he wants in his movies because they aren’t “for kids.” It’s more to illustrate a small way in which he imbues his films with mature messaging. Because across all of his work, you’ll find storytelling and visuals which are perfect to keep kids engaged combined with heavy commentary on humanity, society, and government.

Incredibles 2 is a big example of this. It’s a movie I didn’t like after my first viewing and then thought was just okay after my second, but I do still think it has big things to say about government. For one thing, the quote, “politicians don’t understand people who do good simply because it’s right” is a dagger. It’s a critique of the political system without mincing words.

And Bird is excellent at not mincing his words and saying exactly what’s on his mind. In Tomorrowland, a movie about how we can avoid the destruction of civilization and planetary annihilation through positive thinking and action, flat out says, “the future doesn’t ask anything of you today” during a monologue about why people tend to be so unabashedly ambivalent to all the world’s problems.

As well, in both The Incredibles and The Iron Giant, Bird crafts messages regarding authoritarian governments or governments wielding too much power. It’s obvious that he has a lot to say and that he knows how to say it accessibly.

Bird isn’t here to tell us everything is okay or that it will be okay. He’s simply trying to say that it can be okay. Films that will be seen by large amounts of kids, whether specifically known as “kids movies” or not, are the perfect avenue to deliver these messages. It’s not often you leave a movie like the ones he makes on a negative note. He knows what he wants to say and how he wants to say it and he’s imploring his audience to take his messages seriously. I think he understands how smart young people can be and is attempting to get them to understand serious ideas about the world in which we live.

But at the same time, plenty of adults see Bird’s movies as well, and they are certainly smart and mature enough to understand his ideas. Tomorrowland, most specifically has ideas which can be acted upon by both children and adults. Imagine if adults with the means to do something took the film’s messages to heart and thought that the dystopic future is actually in effect right now. The future may not ask anything of you today, but the present sure does.

Unfortunately, my head is telling me we’re at a point where the quote about politicians not understanding the reasons to do good is his most relevant line of dialogue. But because Bird’s movies are all about being positive, my heart says that there is hope and we can and will do better.

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