We’re sharing our review of Disney and Pixar’s newest film, Elemental, now in theaters nationwide.
Since they began making feature films in the 1990s, Pixar Animation Studios have been the epicenter of forward-thinking, technically ambitious classics that simultaneously pushed the boundaries of computer animation and original storytelling. In the decades since, it has emerged as an entertainment industry institution, a brand in itself, and a valuable jewel in the Disney crown.
With the rising popularity of at-home streaming, some of Pixar’s best output of the past several years has been reserved for the small screen on Disney+, including gems like Soul, Luca, and Turning Red. Elemental is a triumphant return to form for the studio, a bold original story forging new ground with its technically audacious colours and textures as well as an entirely new genre to explore. As Pixar’s first rom-com, director Peter Sohn delivers a visually dazzling big-screen experience and a tale of love in the face of prejudice and difference, inspired by Sohn’s own upbringing in New York City.
A Pixar Romantic Comedy
The story is set against the backdrop of Element City, a bustling modern metropolis where elements such as water, air, land, and fire live together in harmony. Ember Lumen (Leah Lewis) is a fire element set to take over her father’s convenience store, although her struggles with her fiery temper pose a challenge for her future. When a flood in the store’s basement sends Wade Ripple (Mamoudou Athie), a water element, spilling into her life, the two form an instant and unique connection that leads them on a journey of love, acceptance, and self-discovery.
True to its premise, Elemental is a bonafide romantic comedy. It balances the two quite well with some laugh-out-loud moments and offbeat character interactions, along with a genuinely tender and thoughtful romance that sets the lead characters apart from other notable Pixar duos.
Bold, Visual Storytelling With a Standout Cast
Where the film may lack overall narrative ingenuity, it makes up for its bold visual storytelling. The animators have outdone themselves, creating a city that feels so alive in every frame, complete with densely populated subway trains, sports stadiums, and city streets with something to catch the eye at every turn. As an allegory for the immigrant experience, the colors of the city form a multi-cultural tapestry with unique customs and practices assigned to the various elements.
These contrasting ideas are best explored when comparing Ember’s highly traditional but well-meaning parents, Bernie (Ronnie del Carmen) and Cinder (Shila Ommi), to the much more go-with-the-flow nature of Wade’s mother, Brook (Catharine O’Hara), and the rest of his family. Other notable cast standouts include Gale (Wendi McLendon-Covey), a wind element and Wade’s strong-willed boss, and Clod (Mason Wertheimer), a young earth element with a crush on Ember, who is responsible for some of the film’s biggest laughs.
These are staples of character tropes found in a typical romantic comedy, but they populate Element City with these big personalities and enrich the film as a whole. Even with this strong ensemble, the focus remains on Ember and Wade and the ways in which they overcome their differences for a chance at love. Simple glances and offhand remarks lead to the believability of this pairing. There is an intimacy to the stakes and an authenticity to both Wade and Ember’s goals and aspirations in life. While personified as anthropomorphic elements, these two are deeply human, with cultural clashes, relatable problems, and powerful emotional arcs.
See Elemental on the Big Screen
Elemental is a bright, breezy, character-driven comedy that demands to be seen on the big screen. An animated adventure brimming with visual creativity, an innovative and authentic love story between two unlikely individuals, and an overwhelming number of puns of varying cleverness and quality. Where a film such as Turning Red excelled is its specificity and cultural richness with a firm point of view from filmmaker Domee Shi.
With Elemental, Peter Sohn is similarly drawing from personal experiences to tell a story of love and acceptance, embracing the diversity that makes our cities so vibrant. These director-driven projects, prioritizing original stories and creating instantly iconic new characters, makes the future of Pixar feel as bright and exciting as the character and worlds that they are still able to bring us almost thirty years since Woody and Buzz took to the skies.