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Structure: The Incredibles

A structural overview of The Incredibles (Brad Bird 2004)
“Animation is not a genre but an art form” says writer-director Brad Bird on the commentary track. This is one of the most enjoyable superhero action adventures I know.


It is also the #1 movie I will never forgive myself for not seeing in the theaters at the time of release. It’s in my Top 10 of all-time favourites and a strong reference movie in almost all my story classes.

ACT ONE

Prologue: The Glory Days & Wound (11mins)

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00.00 TV interview: The Incredibles about their secret identities.
02.00 Mr Incredible called to the rescue, but saves the cat first.
04.30 Meets with Elastigirl on rooftop – “prior engagement”.
05.30 Bob saves man from suicide attempt, he’s not happy.
06.30 Bob stops Bomb Voyage, Incrediboy complicates matters.
09.00 Bob marries Elastigirl: she needs more than Mr. Incredible.
10.00 Superheroes are sued by suicidal: relocation program.

Sequence A: The Ordinary Life (9mins)

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11.00 15 years later: Insurance clerk, warned to stop writing cheques.
13.00 After Helen sees headmaster, Dash told to be like everyone else.
15.30 Violet is shy. Always trying to be invisible. Boy looked at her!
16.00 Bob comes home, frustrated. Neighbour’s boy sees him.
16.30 Dinner: they all use their powers, Bob is not in control.
18.30 Robert reads paper: Advocate of superhero rights is missing.
19.00 Frozone calls: Wednesday, it’s bowling night.
19.30 Violet: What does anybody know about normal?

Sequence B: Secrets, Lies & Inciting Incident (14mins)

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20.00 Frozone: What if we did what our wives think we’re doing?
20.30 Mirage: “He’s not alone”.
21.00 Fire rescue, escape into into jewellery shop, police catches them.
23.00 Helen: Uprooting our family to be a superhero is not good.
26.00 Boss cross: customers are experts, Bob has enough, loses it.
28.30 Boss in hospital. Relocator offers to help Bob & family.
30.00 Invitation from Mirage: Do great things. 24 hours to respond.
32.30 Lying to Helen: sent to conference. Accepting Mirage’s call.

ACT TWO A

Sequence C: Living the Dream again (12mins)

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34.00 Mirage gives Bob instructions, he arrives on the island.
36.00 Bob fights the robot, terminates it. Mission accomplished.
38.30 Invited to dinner with Mirage; everything is delicious.
39.30 Montage sequence: Bob is loving the great new life.
41.00 Bob asks stylist E to repair suit; she will design new supersuit.
44.00 New assignment: Bob keeps lying to Helen.

Sequence D: Things are not what they seem (7mins)

45.00 Flying to island, nice to be back, Mirage. Briefing for 2pm.
47.00 Helen finds patched suit, calls Edna. You come in 1 hour I insist.
48.00 Bob’s meeting: I’m Syndrome, your biggest fan. You work alone.
50.30 Syndrome tries to kill Bob, he jumps in water.
51.00 Bob finds dead super Gazerbeam. “K R O N O S
51.30 Tracers trying to find Bob: terminated.

ACT TWO B

Sequence E: Approach to Syndrome’s HQ (9mins)

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52.00 E shows Helen her work: we are retired! Do you know where he is?
55.00 Removing the guards, going in.
57.30 Bob learns that the Supers are dead.
58.00 Helen finds out Bob left company, he’s  been lying.
59.30 Locator betrays Bob. Bob caught in Blobs.
60.00 E to Helen: go, fight, win!

Sequence F: Bob in the Cave / Family to the rescue (9mins)

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61.00 Helen gets ready, Dash sees outfits. Calling Snug.
62.30 Helen & kids flies gov. jet, missile attack on approach.
63.30 Bob chained – Syndrome shows up.
67.30 Helen saves the kids. Get a grip!
68.30 Bob threatens to kill Mirage, doesn’t do it. S: You’re weak!
70.00 Helen to kids: use your powers. I’ll be back by morning.

Sequence G: FINDING BOB (9mins)

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72.30 Mirage: Next time you gamble, bet your own life.
73.30 Helen goes into HQ, using her Elastigirl powers.
76.00 Dash: I’m gonna look around.
77.30 Rocket launch: Dash & Vi run.
78.30 Dash & Vi discovered. They have to run.
79.30 Mirage tells Bob his family is alive. Helen finds the two.

Sequence H: REUNION IN THE CAVE (7mins)

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82.00 Dash runs & fights & runs.
83.30 Bob & Helen // Violet disappears, Dash to the rescue.
85.00 Family reunion.
85.30 S appears. Captures them, shows what the robots do. “I’m real”
87.30 Bob apologises, Violet releases them, escaping.

ACT THREE

Sequence I: Threshold Sequence (5mins)

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88.00 To the rocket, Mirage helps
89.00 Frozone getting ready
90.00 Syndrome “saves baby” but can’t stop robot.
91.00 Incredibles arrive with bus.

Sequence J: INCREDIBLES vs. SYNDROME (8mins)

93.00 Robot attacks them.
94.00 Frozone helps. Bob has the remote control.
97.00 Taking out the robot.
97.30 Syndrome still around
98.00 New hope for the supers.
99.00 Kari (babysit) calls: thanks for replacement – S
99.30 Jack-Jack’s special powers. Bob throws Helen.
100.30 S in turbine / Violet protects them.

Sequence J: THE INCREDIBLE(S) TEAM (3mins)
101.30 3 months later: Tony & Violet / Dash comes close second
102.30 The Underminer: they all get ready to work together.

THE HERO’S JOURNEY

In a prologue full of beautifully dramatised exposition, we meet Bob, Helen, Frozone and Incrediboy. We learn about the role of the Supers and their fall – or Bob’s ‘wound’.

ACT ONE

The Ordinary World for Bob doesn’t start until after the prologue, “15 Years Later”. It is literally an ‘ordinary’ world and he has a strong longing to swap this life for something more exciting. This stage extends for two sequences, in which we see Bob’s boring day job as well as his exciting secret night escapades.

But he is a flawed hero. He lies to his wife and hates his job. He is blamed of not doing his fatherly duties. This Hero is ready for change.

The Call to Adventure comes with the message from Mirage, the Herald and Shapeshifter who seduces Bob into a adventure that promises exactly what Bob has been lacking in his life.

After hardly any Refusal, Bob crosses the Threshold and accepts Mirages offer. Again he lies to Helen, saying he’s off to a conference.

ACT TWO

The typical pitfalls of a second act are overcome by using a solid sequential structure and by interweaving Bob’s journey with that of his family. In the middle of the act sits a powerful Mid Point Reversal, which accelerates the Hero’s Inner Journey and gives his Outer Journey a new direction.

The first half of Act Two consists of a number of Tests for Bob, leading to his first assignment, which Bob completes effortlessly. So in a way this assignment can be seen as just another ‘test’ in the journey. Bob is loving his new life. But he’s still living the lie, so a reversal is looming. Going back to the island, he is to meet with with his employer but instead he is attacked by a robot and for the first time, he finds himself face to face with Syndrome, his Shadow.  It turns out he has created this shadow by rejecting (his need for a) Buddy. In order to resurrect as the transformed Hero, Bob will not only need to defeat Syndrome, but take on the very character quality Buddy/Syndrome represented: team spirit.

Although The Incredibles never FEELS formulaic, it ticks all the boxes of the Journey, including the almost cliche’d beat of the Mid Point: the Leap of Faith. To escape his enemy, Bob dives off the cliff (Butch & Sundance style) into the water below. Seconds later, the reversal is complete when he learns the full truth about Syndrome and the fate of the Supers by discovering the meaning of “KRONOS”.

The next sequence is a typical Approach to the Inmost Cave, i.e. trying to get into Syndrome’s HQ. There, Mr Incredible will face his lowest point when he is chained in the cave, first alone, then together with his family.

The traditionally melodramatic Ordeal scene is peppered with mild sarcasm,  when Dash cuts into Bob’s redemption speech and Helen says: “Shhht! Don’t interrupt…”

Brad Bird shows again how you can use a template like the Hero’s Journey and use it in an original way: the Reward is shown BEFORE the Ordeal, as we see on a big screen what Syndrome is up to. So the Incredibles know where to go and what to do once they’re out of their predicament. It makes the transition more fluid than in many movies, where the Reward magically – and quite randomly – appears immediately after the redemption.

ACT THREE

The Road Back ‘Threshold Sequence’ is a fully fledged chase sequence back to the Ordinary World, including running, flying and driving.Technically you can argue that this sequence belongs nor in Act Two (Special World) nor Act Three (Ordinary World) but I place it in Act Three because it happens after the Hero is ready to confront the Shadow. The race to the mainland is in effect the first action after the 2nd Act Turning Poing (PP2 or Ordeal/Reward).

Back on the main land, the family engages with Syndrome. The subplot of Jack-Jack and the babysit leads into the final showdown and Syndrome’s demise pays off the setup about the caped Super-costumes. Delightful.

In a brief Elixir-sequence, Dash finally  gets his chance to shine and Violet shows her regained self-esteem. In the final scene of the movie we see how the Incredibles will continue their lives.

About the Author

Karel Segers

Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in international movie rights acquisition, script development and production. He has trained and consulted to filmmakers all over the world, including award-winning screenwriters, and Academy Award nominees. Karel founded this website, as well as Logline.it!, ranks among the most influential people for screenwriting on social media, and speaks more than a handful of European languages (which should come in handy in his present hometown of Sydney, Australia).

Comments 6

  1. Excellent stuff! Many thanks for all your efforts. We can all learn something from this.

    You know, aside from the superb animation, the story structure alone (as evidenced by the breakdown here) for this movie makes this a classic.

  2. The prologue is an excellent (and rare) example of useful exposition. But even though I love that sequence, it is expository — I wonder what the film would be like if you omitted the prologue?

    You still have the 3-act structure, but character traits are slowly revealed as the story unfolds. And seeing Frozone and Mr. Incredible in action during the building fire rescue shows that these are truly super humans, not just washed up costumed dudes.

    One drawback is that the unmasking of Syndrome at the end of Act II would require even more expository/flashback.

    Does anyone know where I can find a copy of the screenplay? My hunch is that the earlier drafts started right in the modern day world (sans prologue), but since the filmmakers wanted to really introduce the entire story cosmos in a big way, and dramatize the “wound” as you call it, the prologue came later. Like I said, just a hunch…

  3. Great analysis. Thanks. True, not a lot of “refusal” of the “call”- in the shape of an iPad no less- but he lies because Helen acts as a “threshhold guardian.” How often to we see lying as a way around it?

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