It’s a bit disheartening to see this one not do so well at the box office, but for those who love Pixar, it’s still a film worth checking out!
Set in a world where fire, water, earth, and air beings coexist in a place called Element City, Elemental follows Ember Lumen (Leah Lewis), a fire element whose immigrant parents have set up a shop in Fire Town — a place where fellow flame people can live and thrive. Unable to control her temper in the workplace long enough to show her father she’s ready to take over his store, Ember’s latest outburst leads to a chance meeting with a gentle and sensitive water element named Wade (Mamoudou Athie), who also just so happens to be a city inspector whose work ethic places him in direct opposition to Ember’s future business goals. Against all personal gripes and against all advice stemming from the deep-rooted prejudices of Ember’s father, who believes elements shouldn’t mix, Ember and Wade begin to fall for one another in the most unexpected of ways, opening the door for a heartfelt and eye-opening story that only the talented people at Pixar can pull off.
Taking Pixar’s patented world-building to the next level, Elemental thrives when showing off its colorful setting and visually appealing characters, with the general look and feel of the film falling right in line with what Pixar has done before. By focusing on the likable characters of Ember and Wade and their complete opposite natures, Pixar is able to tell a story that hones in on what it means to build a life for yourself that you’re proud of and happy with while finding a way to share a heartwarming tale about immigration and how fitting into in a world that isn’t always understanding can make you into a better, more well-rounded person.
I’m a sucker for great world-building, so while this movie had me over the moon for the most part in that regard, it wasn’t long before I realized there was more style than substance happening with the filmmaking than I had hoped for, luckily not becoming a deal breaker but definitely lessening my experience a bit overall. And although an average Pixar movie is usually leaps and bounds better than anything else coming out in theaters or otherwise, I couldn’t shake the idea that this one felt like a derivative cross between Disney Animation’s modern classic about racism and prejudice, Zootopia, and Pixar’s own masterpiece, Inside Out, a film that’s all about feelings personified. Essentially placing Elemental in the weird position of never reaching the same narrative heights or nuanced character moments as those films (not for lack of trying, however), this one still hits more than it misses, culminating in an endearingly sweet and thoughtful ending only brought down by previous parts of the movie that noticeably don’t accomplish everything they set out to do.
On a completely random and nitpicky note, I kinda thought some of the animation, more specifically the textures and models of certain characters, wasn’t very good at times. And I don’t mean that in a “this was animated like crap” kind of way, but more in a “this looks like a Dreamworks movie, rather than a Pixar-animated one” way, something that bothered me more than expected as I watched.
Technically, there’s not a whole lot wrong with this movie on a base level, but with an idea that feels eerily similar to other Disney and Pixar films that came before it as well as a weird sense of pacing that had me feeling either slightly bored or highly entertained depending on the moment, Elemental ends up as a solid if somewhat safe outing for one of the best storytelling companies in the business. Yet regardless of the slightly above-average approach to the narrative and script, Ember and Wade’s slow-burn of a relationship coupled with an important message about acceptance and tolerance sits at the heart of this story, highlighting Pixar’s ability to craft a compelling tale and set of characters, I just wish they spent a little more time developing everything else.