• Nicely written characters
  • Great, resonant themes
  • Weak plot
  • Doesn't elevate the Pixar formula

Though it’s not the best Pixar film in recent years, “Elemental” works best when it focuses on the attraction between its opposing characters rather than its unnecessary sideplots.


Disney and Pixar’s “Elemental” is an all-new, original feature film set in Element City, where Fire-, Water-, Earth- and Air-residents live together. The story introduces Ember, a tough, quick-witted and fiery young woman, whose friendship with a fun, sappy, go-with-the-flow guy named Wade challenges her beliefs about the world they live in.

Spanning nearly 30 years of talking toys, bugs, rats, emotions and souls, one may ask what inanimate object or inhuman being will Pixar make come alive next. In “Elemental”, we have elements – air, land, water and fire – all living in the melting pot city that is “Elemental City”. Within this city, we have two characters – frustration-prone fire element Ember Lumen (Leah Lewis) and the ever-emphatic water element Wade Ripple (Mamoudou Athie) who meet by a turn of humorous events. Wade is a health inspector who accidentally leaks into the convenience store belonging to Ember’s father Bernie (Ronnie del Carmen), an incident caused by Ember herself and notices that the store is in bad shape. While hunting him down and trying to figure out a solution together to save the store, the two start to fall in love. The only problem left is the obvious one – fire and water don’t mix.

“Elemental” shines best when it zeroes in on the development and relationship between its two central characters. Every great Pixar character has a mortal flaw – with Ember, it’s her temper, always quick to have a literal fiery outburst in moments of frustration, causing her dad to be hesitant in leaving her in charge of his most prized possession, his store. With Wade, he’s highly emphatic, to the point where the simplest sweetest thing (seeing a cute picture of Ember and her dad) causes him to cry uncontrollably (get it, a water element that cries? Yeah, I think that’s cute too). As with other great Pixar characters, it’s these flaws that also make Ember and Wade special and help balance each other out. Where Ember can be very socially anxious due to the xenophobic attitude others have towards her people, Wade can push her to come out of her shell due to his willingness to encourage and inspire. A key scene is when our would-be lovers are in the stands of a basketball game being played by “cloud players”. As one of the players loses their mojo and is not playing at their best, Wade leads a cheer to hype up the self-conscious “cloud player”, starting a literal wave in the stands. On the other side of the coin, Wade has always been used to a smooth sailing, comfy life whereas Ember pushes him to take more of an adventure and explore outer limits of “Elemental City”. This contrasting character work is by far the best thing about Pixar’s latest. If only the story could keep up with its characters.

“Elemental” shares an unfortunate problem many films have where the characters are more interesting than the story. The main plot of “Elemental” revolves around Ember and Wade trying their best to keep Bernie’s convenience store from being shut down due to water damage. Compared to other Pixar films with great characters, this is a weak plot that proves itself as irrelevant or unimportant compared to the film’s central romance. When “Elemental” plays into its “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?”-like premise of opposites attracting, this has a much more intriguing pull than any other sideplots. The film’s themes of xenophobia and social marginalization are very poignant as well, ringing bells of another boundary-pushing Disney film, “Zootopia”. The culture clash between the fire elements and other elements of Element City causes distrust between Bernie and Wade as a possible love interest in Ember’s life, giving truth to the “Guess Who” comparisons. “Elemental” doesn’t play into its strong message of equality just for the sake of pandering or just to create cute, tone-downed visions of racism. It plays into its message to make a point and do what art should do, make the audience think and ponder even if its central audience may be children, whose thoughts also mold our future.

Closing Thoughts
“Elemental” is not one of Pixar’s best but it’s far from their worst. The film does have two of the studio’s best characters as well as one of its strongest, resonating themes. Even if it ran the risk of being meandering, “Elemental” could’ve played so well to being a straight rom-com with no real stakes other than a simple will they/won’t they plot. It’s far from being in the running for “Best Animated Feature” but there is a good movie within “Elemental”, you just have to dig in and ignore the blatant flaws.



Blak Cinephile
Blak Cinephile is a cinephile who both loves film and loves to write/talk about it. He has a genuine respect for the art of cinema and has always strived to find the line between insightful subjectivity and observant objectivity while constructing his reviews. He believes a deeper understanding (and a deeper love) of cinema is borne through criticism.

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