June 14th, 2023
STARRING: LEAH LEWIS, MAMOUDOU ATHIE, RONNIE DEL CARMEN, WENDI MCLENDON-COVEY
DIRECTED BY: PETER SOHN
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
There’s often a sense that you get from the initial announcement of a Pixar film that the stakes are higher than most animated pictures. That’s what comes with the territory when you churn out hits such as Wall-E, Up, and Toy Story. With the recent string of Pixar adventures- Onward, Luca, Turning Red, and now Elemental, the stories have been incredibly unique. There is not a focus on creating something that will guarantee tears, but something that all ages can relate to, and express the emotions we all go through. In Peter Sohn’s Elemental, it begins with an immigrant story, then becomes about living up to the standards parents put on their children, and ultimately is about a romance between two opposites that attract. Elemental may land in Pixar’s middle of the pack, but it still mixes the right earth, wind, fire, and water to make a darling blend.
It starts with Bernie (Ronnie Del Carmen) and Cinder (Shila Ommi), two flames with arms, legs, and faces, making their journey to Elemental City. Time passes and they settle in their side of town with their Fireplace shop, serving “Lava Java” and “Coal Nuts” to customers. Their daughter is Ember (Leah Lewis), a determined spark, hoping to take over the family business one day and allow her father to retire. Unfortunately, Ember can’t always control her powerful flame, letting her frustration get the best of her, and damaging the shop. It leads to her bursting a water pipe in the basement and out of the leak comes Wade Ripple (Mamoudou Athie), a member of the water side of town and a building inspector for Elemental City. This leads to some citations and now Ember must convince Wade’s boss Gale (Wendi McLendon-Covey) to let the tickets slide. In the process to convince Gale, the water and fire elements take a liking to one another, but the question arises if fire and water can truly mix together.
At initial thoughts, Elemental is a bit of a mixture of Inside Out and Zootopia, but Sohn, co-writers John Hoberg, Kat Likkel, and Brenda Hsueh layer the themes of immigration, the difficulties of race…or in this case Element relations, and their romance, all without overwhelming the audience. It’s within the screenplay’s minor details that hurt the story, as I don’t think kids will care about the intricacies of building inspections, but the attention to detail is alive in gorgeously thought-out artwork. It’s also commendable to Sohn to tell a story that doesn’t pander to children but treats them as understanding equals.
The story progresses with Wade and Ember growing closer together, showing one another their cool talents, and inching closer to see if water and fire can touch. It’s that blossoming romance that eventually wins out. It has those themes of classic love stories such as Dirty Dancing, Footloose, or even the likes of An Officer and a Gentleman. Sohn and company– similar to most Pixar movies– find a way to make us care about a blobby water guy falling in love with a walking-talking flame lady.
It’s ultimately mid-range Pixar, yes, but I also have found those movies deserve more watches, more attention to the little things on second viewing, and a chance to become sneaky great. It’s what happened to me with Luca. I initially thought it was just too simple of a story, but as Elemental does, it becomes about family. It becomes about allowing our children to step out of our shadows. It becomes about love conquering our differences. It has all of the Elements that make a lovely family film. Elemental is a fiery wave of that glowing Pixar magic.
ELEMENTAL IS IN THEATERS EVERYWHERE FRIDAY JUNE 16TH, 2023.
Written by: Leo Brady