Pixar has long been revered for its unique and groundbreaking animated films, each carrying its own charm and memorable characters. However, in recent years, the studio seems to have lost some of its magic.
While movies like Soul and Luca had their moments, they lacked the originality and thematic risk-taking that made Pixar stand out. Now, with their 27th feature film, Elemental, Pixar attempts to recapture their former glory. While the movie showcases the studio’s trademark elements, it falls short of delivering the wow-factor and innovation that defined their best works.
Directed by Peter Sohn (known for The Good Dinosaur) and written by John Hoberg, Kat Likkel, and Brenda Hsueh, Elemental takes audiences on a visually stunning journey into Element City. Inspired by the director’s own family’s experiences as Korean immigrants, the film cleverly uses the elements as a metaphor for immigration and exclusion.
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Bernie Lumen and his wife, Cinder, arrive in Element City from their home country of Fireland, seeking a better life for their daughter, Ember. As members of the Fire minority, they find themselves in Fire Town, where Bernie opens a grocery store catering to their community.
Elements and Metaphors:
Elemental explores a parallel urban universe where anthropomorphic characters represent Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water. While the film attempts to find humor in this imaginative world, it often relies on facile jokes and wordplay. The movie focuses primarily on Water, neglecting Earth, which leads to underdeveloped characters and missed opportunities for storytelling.
A Love Story and Cultural Struggle:
Ember, the daughter of Bernie and Cinder, grows up in Fire Town, torn between her father’s expectations for her to take over the family business and her own aspirations. When she meets Wade Ripple, a city inspector representing Water, a forbidden romance ensues. Their love story follows the predictable beats of the Pixar story algorithm, hindered by the inherent differences between Fire and Water. Ember must hide the relationship from her father, leading to conflicts and challenges along the way.
Visual Splendor and Missed Opportunities:
Visually, Elemental impresses with its stunning animation of water and other elements. The vibrant color palette and imaginative settings, reminiscent of Shanghai’s Pudong district submerged in an aquarium, create a visually engaging experience. Additionally, the constant internal motion within the characters adds a unique touch to their design. However, these visual achievements cannot compensate for the film’s major flaw: predictability. The story follows a formulaic path that fails to surprise or captivate audiences as much as Pixar’s previous works.
The Immigrant Parable:
Despite its shortcomings, Elemental delivers a timely and worthy immigrant parable. Bernie’s character stands out as the most moving element of the film, depicting the struggles faced by hardworking foreigners trying to support their families in a new country. This narrative resonates, especially in a time when issues of xenophobia and racial tensions are prevalent. By focusing more on Bernie’s story and taking risks with its plotline, Pixar could have delivered a film on par with their best works.
Elemental, while visually impressive and thematically relevant, falls short of recapturing the innovative and daring spirit that defined Pixar’s past successes. It follows a predictable narrative trajectory and lacks the originality and thematic risks that made movies like Wall-E, Inside Out, and Coco so beloved. Nevertheless, the film serves as a reminder of the hardships faced by immigrant communities and the importance of unity in the face of racial strife. While it may find modest success, Elemental fails to leave a lasting impression, leaving audiences longing for the next groundbreaking Pixar adventure.