Elemental is a 2023 animated fantasy romantic comedy drama film directed by Peter Sohn, written by John Hoberg, Kat Likkel, Brenda Hsueh, produced by Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios, and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. It stars Leah Lewis and Mamoudou Athie.
"Elements cannot mix!" - Cinder Lumen
In the popular Element City, the fire people have always been outcasts. They've never mixed well with the other elements...until one day, fiery young Ember meets a water man named Wade, and the two discover that maybe elements mixing isn't all that bad.
Elemental may not exactly be Pixar getting back on track, but it is a step in the right direction.
This film definitely feels like Pixar playing it safe, but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. Since COVID, they've had a little trouble with consistency. None of their films have been terrible, per se, but they haven't really lived up to their usual standards. While Elemental does not live up to Pixar's usual standards, it feels more in line with some of the great, classic Pixar movies.
It clearly follows a formula, but it executes that formula extremely well through fun characters and an interesting setting. Pixar is really good at creating these fun and unique worlds that we are able to get invested in, and Elemental has that. Due to all of the characters being different elements, they all have fun quirks and little things that they can do because they are made of water or fire or wind.
The movie is also more layered than the trailers let on. This movie bombed hard at the box office, and I think that's due to the lackluster marketing. This is a romantic dramedy, but it also has this family element (no pun intended) that really rounds the movie out. It allows for you to get more invested in these characters and just feel like you are immersed in the story a bit more.
I also really, really loved the animation style here. It isn't anything revolutionary like Across the Spider-Verse, but it's different than Pixar's normal style. The elements are not animated in a traditional sense. The fire people almost look 2D, and that's really cool, especially when it's blended with all of these 3D environments. It felt like the animators were going for something different here, and they succeeded.
I also felt that the core romance here was pretty well done. Still a bit formulaic, yes, but they do a good job of developing these characters so that you have a natural progression of their relationship. Ember and Wade are literally opposites, but the movie does more with that than you'd expect. It isn't just "one is fire and the other is water, so they can't date". It treats their relationship as much more complicated and difficult than that concept, which is why I think the marketing let this movie down.
Elemental also feels like a movie that general audiences will love, and that's what I mean when I talk about it feeling like classic Pixar. Lightyear wasn't for everyone. Turning Red CERTAINLY wasn't for everyone. Even movies like Onward and Luca felt a bit niche. Elemental feels like the most family-friendly, heartwarming film that Pixar has released since Toy Story 4, so that's why it feels like a step in the right direction.
This movie also has a lot of glaring issues.
The core issue with this movie all goes back to the screenplay. All of the problems I have with this film either lie within the structure and storytelling or the dialogue itself.
While I do think this movie is a good execution of a formula, it's still a formula. That makes it insanely, insanely predictable. You could just tell where every single scene was going as soon as it started. You could check off the boxes of "this scene is gonna be in the movie" and "that scene will be in it, too". I probably could've watched the first ten minutes of this movie and then given a full, in-depth plot description and been mostly right.
Secondly, this movie has no clue how to deliver exposition correctly. Three or four times throughout, the film just has a character randomly explain a key piece of their backstory. It doesn't ever mesh well with whatever is happening in the film. It feels like a puzzle piece being jammed into the wrong spot. It's such an awkward and clunky way to provide setup and develop your characters. That aspect really bothered me.
I also thought some of the romantic scenes (especially near the beginning) were really awful. It felt like one of the writers wrote the first half of the movie and another wrote the second half, because in the beginning, Ember and Wade have zero chemistry. All of the dialogue between the two of them was just cringe-inducing. It felt so unnatural and clunky. Once the film got going a bit and things got slightly more romantic, it became more natural and entertaining, but in the beginning, it was very, very rough.
Final Thoughts and Score
Elemental's screenplay doesn't do it any favors, but this is a family-friendly, entertaining romantic dramedy with some fun world-building that points Pixar back in the right direction.
I will go Savory here. Age range is 6+.
SWEET N' SOUR SCALE
Sweet (Great) Savory (Good) Sour (Bad) Moldy (Terrible)
Fun Factor: 8/10
Directed by Peter Sohn
Rated PG for thematic elements
Released on June 16, 2023
1 hour and 43 minutes
Leah Lewis as Ember Lumen
Mamoudou Athie as Wade Ripple
Ronnie del Carmen as Bernie Lumen
Shila Ommi as Cinder Lumen
Wendi McLendon-Covey as Gale Cumulus
Catherine O'Hara as Brooke Ripple