Elemental review: a sweet story from Pixar

ELEMENTAL, Disney and Pixar’s all-new, original feature film releasing June 16, 2023, features the voices of Leah Lewis and Mamoudou Athie as Ember and Wade, respectively. In a city where fire-, water-, land-, and air-residents live together, this fiery young woman and go-with-the-flow guy are about to discover something elemental: how much they actually have in common. “Elemental” is directed by Peter Sohn and produced by Denise Ream. © 2022 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.
Share this Article:

Directed by The Good Dinosaur's Peter Sohn, Elemental tells the story of a fire element and water element who unexpectedly learn to get along.

In the last few years, Pixar has built a reputation for telling surprisingly small, very human stories that are brought to life through the bold animation of magical worlds. Elemental, directed by The Good Dinosaur's Peter Sohn, is very much a continuation of that.

At its heart, it’s the story of an immigrant family trying to build a life from scratch in a multicultural city without also losing the traditions of their culture. This is what Bernie and Cinder achieve when they immigrate to Element City from Fireland. Building a shop called the Fireplace, Bernie expects to one day hand over the running of it to his daughter, Ember (voiced by Leah Lewis). Her fiery temper suggests that she might not be cut out for a customer service job, however, and when her anger causes a burst pipe and flooding, she unwittingly brings water element Wade Ripple (Mamoudou Athie) into her home.

With her father having faced so much prejudice for being a fire element, Ember firmly believes that elements can’t mix. But as she embarks on a mission to save her father’s shop from being shut down, she begins to discover that it’s possible to make a real connection with someone so different from yourself.

The choice to make Ember’s family fire elements among water, earth and air feels a little bit on-the-nose and simple as a visual shorthand for the experience of being an immigrant. After all, fire doesn’t tend to react well with the majority of those other elements – evaporating water and burning down plants. Considering the young audience that this is meant for, though, it’s a very clear way to get the message across of accepting people’s differences.

If you think about it too much, the metaphor does start to fall apart a little bit. Does the fact that Ember’s made of fire, possibly the most destructive element, not justify a slight wariness from others? Is that not the complete opposite of the film’s message? It’s best not to think about these things too hard.

Thematically, Elemental has a bit of absolutely everything. It’s not just a tale of acceptance, it’s also about family relationships and the struggle of living up to people’s expectations. Ember and Bernie have a really sweet father/daughter relationship that’s very touching, and the growing romance between Ember and Wade is cute, too. Both have personality traits that are linked to their elements – Ember is fiesty, Wade is always emotional – and their unlikely bond feels very natural.

FUTURE’S SO BRIGHT -- In Disney and Pixar’s “Elemental,” fiery young woman Ember (voice of Leah Lewis) lives with her immigrant parents in Firetown—a borough of Element City, where fire-, water-, land- and air-residents live together. Directed by Peter Sohn (“The Good Dinosaur,” “Party Cloudy” short) and produced by Denise Ream (“The Good Dinosaur,” “Cars 2”), Disney and Pixar’s “Elemental” releases on June 16, 2023. © 2023 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Those stories are presented in a beautifully animated world that’s full of colour. It’s clear that everything about it has been so carefully thought out. Each element is animated in a different style, with the shape-changing water elements standing out in particular. They’ve also done their homework with regards to how elements interact with each other and with different objects and environments, which feels very smart. In one scene, we get a mini chemistry lesson as Ember jumps along a series of different rocks, her flame changing colours along the way. In that sense, it feels like every moment and interaction has been meticulously designed.

Of course, there are moments where that logic is conveniently ignored when the plot requires it.

The story of Ember and Wade’s unlikely romance is a lovely one, but it’s clear that the secondary plot – where Ember has to save her father’s shop – is used to create a little bit more action and tension. The problem is that it does the opposite. During the couple’s first meeting, Bernie’s shop comes under fire from Wade, a city inspector, for the pipes not being up to code and not having the correct building permits. Ember’s attempts to save it mostly involve begging administrators in local government not to close it down. In a world so magical, with such interestingly designed characters, whose idea was it to revolve a central part of the story around the workings of local government?

This is part of a larger problem with Elemental. Pixar movies have always been big family outings. Their recent smaller stories, like Luca and Turning Red, have kept people of all ages enthralled with personal stories, bold visuals and a generous dose of magic in their worldbuilding. Elemental has the former, but it feels lacking in that last part. Element City is beautifully animated, but the focus is placed on some of the (putting it nicely) less interesting parts of that fictional society.

Watching this as an adult who grew up on more adventurous Pixar fare like Finding Nemo and The Incredibles, I came out of Elemental wondering if the young me would have been quite so taken with this. Peter Sohn’s film has a flawless visual concept that’s well executed and explores themes that are clearly very personal. It just feels like it’s missing that creative spark.

Elemental is in cinemas from 7th July.

Thank you for visiting! If you’d like to support our attempts to make a non-clickbaity movie website:

Follow Film Stories on Twitter here, and on Facebook here.

Buy our Film Stories and Film Junior print magazines here.

Become a Patron here.

Share this Article:

More like this