Movie review: Pixar’s ‘Elemental’ won’t set the world on fire, but it holds water

by Gabriel Martinez
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Movie Review: Pixar’s ‘Elemental’ Falls Short of Greatness, But Makes a Splash

In Pixar’s latest offering, “Elemental,” the elements of fire and water take center stage, living as distinct entities with their own set of challenges. These elemental beings, akin to separate ethnicities, mostly reside in their respective ghettos, rarely mingling. The potential for disaster is ever-present, with even subway rides posing more danger than in the real world.

Directed by Peter Sohn, a seasoned Pixar veteran known for “The Good Dinosaur,” “Elemental” bears resemblance to Disney Animation’s “Zootopia.” Both films create vibrant urban settings inhabited by anthropomorphized characters, serving as metaphors for racial diversity and occasionally delving into the complexities of bureaucracy.

The story revolves around Ember Lumen (voiced by Leah Lewis), the daughter of immigrants from Fireland named Ernie (Ronnie Del Carmen) and Cinder (Shila Omni). Ember’s parents, like many real-life immigrants, have built a thriving life and business—a bodega filled with hot foods that Ember is expected to inherit. However, Ember’s fiery temper proves to be a problem. With her ability to transform into a red-haired flame and go “full purple,” she shares similarities with Lewis Black’s character Anger from “Inside Out.” Yet, her immediate concern arises when she discovers a basement leak, from which emerges Wade Ripple (Mamoudou Athie), a water person and building inspector who quickly identifies numerous code violations that could shut down the bodega.

While “Elemental” may not rank among Pixar’s top-tier films, its abundance of fire and water hazards makes it an insurance man’s dream. Within the Pixar canon, it likely falls in the lower half. Nevertheless, “Elemental” manages to capture some of the old Pixar magic through its sincerity, cleverness, and a sprinkle of dazzle.

However, the integration of elemental concepts with an immigrant narrative fails to achieve the desired alchemy. Although Element City features a beautiful elevated subway that splashes water beneath whenever a train passes, the world itself feels underdeveloped. Despite being grounded in the building blocks of life, the movie lacks a genuine sense of the natural world.

Surprisingly, “Elemental” explores fire and water themes without acknowledging the current climate crisis, even as wildfires rage. Missed opportunities are aplenty, and the roles of earth and air remain minor. Not a single soul sings “The Eternal Flame,” and Earth, Wind, and Fire make no cameo appearances.

Nonetheless, the film’s central story is its strongest aspect, anchored by Ember and her father’s relationship as they navigate a familiar crossroads. Ember, torn between her sense of responsibility toward her family and her true passion for glassmaking, emerges as one of Pixar’s most compelling protagonists. Her portrayal poignantly captures the sacrifices and burdens faced by first-generation immigrant daughters.

The most impactful scenes in “Elemental” revolve around Ember and her father, providing heartfelt moments within a relatable context. Ember’s unique ability to create exquisite glasswork with a few quick puffs demonstrates her true talent. These sequences alone could have formed the foundation of the entire movie. Unfortunately, “Elemental” becomes too entangled in a “West Side Story”-esque romance between Ember and Wade as they rush around Element City, which is plagued by water-related issues akin to “Chinatown.”

As they race against time to fix a mysterious leak, Wade finds himself falling for Ember, leading to a flurry of puns and playful banter. Their love story seems impossible, with the fear of even touching each other due to their elemental differences. Wade, resembling a watery Colin Jost, lives with his family in a doorman building but falls short as a suitable match for Ember. He displays a sentimental nature, shedding tears at the mention of butterflies and speaking wide-eyed about “embracing the light.” “Elemental” pushes the boundaries of romantic storytelling, testing the limits of audience acceptance when the leading man is a translucent blob named Wade.

Before “Elemental,” audiences are treated to a short film called “Carl’s Date,” which reunites viewers with Carl Fredricksen and the squirrel-chasing dog, Doug, from “Up.” In this charming short, Carl nervously prepares for his first date since the passing of his beloved Ellie, with Doug offering advice: “Bring a toy.” The short serves as a fitting companion to “Elemental,” as the character Russell from “Up” loosely inspired Peter Sohn and as a poignant tribute to the late Ed Asner, who recorded his lines prior to his death in 2021.

“Elemental,” released by the Walt Disney Co., is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association for some peril, thematic elements, and brief language. The film runs for 103 minutes and receives a rating of two and a half stars out of four.

Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Pixar, Elemental review

What is “Elemental”?

“Elemental” is a Pixar animated film that explores the relationship between fire and water, focusing on the challenges faced by their respective characters.

Who directed “Elemental”?

“Elemental” was directed by Peter Sohn, a veteran filmmaker at Pixar known for his work on “The Good Dinosaur.”

What is the storyline of “Elemental”?

The film follows Ember, the daughter of immigrants from Fireland, as she navigates her responsibilities in her family’s bodega while dealing with her fiery temper and a chance encounter with Wade, a water person and building inspector.

How does “Elemental” compare to other Pixar films?

While “Elemental” may not be considered top-tier Pixar, it showcases sincerity, cleverness, and some of the old Pixar magic. However, it falls short in fully developing its high concept and integrating it with the immigrant tale.

Are there any references to real-world issues in “Elemental”?

Despite its fire and water themes, “Elemental” does not make any direct references to current climate realities, missed opportunities to address such issues. The movie focuses more on the interpersonal dynamics of its characters.

What is the rating and running time of “Elemental”?

“Elemental” is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association for some peril, thematic elements, and brief language. The film has a running time of 103 minutes.

Are there any additional contents associated with “Elemental”?

“Elemental” is accompanied by a short film called “Carl’s Date,” featuring Carl Fredricksen and Doug from “Up.” This short serves as a delightful companion to the main feature.

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