ELEMENTAL was the first movie my wife and I have seen together in theatres since our son was born fourteen months ago. It was fantastic to return to the theatre, eat overpriced popcorn, and get lost in the magic of a darkened theatre with strangers. It’s disappointing, though, since ELEMENTAL has such a powerful story that fails due to a watered-down middle act.
At first glance, the worldbuilding in ELEMENTAL feels similar to ZOOTOPIA. Different regions work in harmony only if the elements stick to their kind. But on second glance, this isn’t a story about racism like ZOOTOPIA. ELEMENTAL is more about immigration and a father/daughter’s love. That theme is the heart that keeps the movie ablaze during a lukewarm love story.
The opposites-attract story between Ember (Leah Lewis) and Wade (Mamoudou) takes up most of the second act, and it’s as predictably bland as you can imagine. The forbidden love between fire and water, parental disappointment, and upper-class versus lower-class stereotypes are all displayed. The one twist is that the story goes against gender stereotypes and has the woman character full of rage and anger, while the man cannot control his emotions. This element makes for two hilarious sequences involving “The Crying Game” and a sponge flashback.
At another point in ELEMENTAL, a privileged character responds to someone by saying, “I don’t understand.” This response is flawless for kids who come and do not come from wealth to show empathy and curiosity about other people’s lives. It’s a brilliant touch that I’m sure director Peter Sohn desired others to tell his Korean family while growing up in the Bronx.
Audiences will be able to tell that many personal real-life moments are captured in this visually beautiful film. Sadly, the results are mixed, making it one you can wait to stream on Disney+. If I had to rank ELEMENTAL amongst the last five Pixar films, it would land squarely at number four.
- TURNING RED
It’s currently available in theatres.