Elemental (2023)

by - June 15th, 2023 - Movie Reviews


Love is Elemental in Pixar’s Latest Visual Triumph

Element City is home to all four types of sentient elemental beings: Earth, Air, Water, and, of course, Fire. The first three live together harmoniously. Fire, however? Everyone does their best to steer clear of that community. In turn, the Fire citizens try to have minimal contact with Earth, Air, and Water elements.

Elemental (2023) | PHOTO: Pixar

That’s not always possible, as any large city of hustling and bustling communities with interconnected infrastructures and giant neighborhoods packed closely together can’t help but lead to at least some commingling. Nevertheless, Firetown patriarch Bernie Lumen (voiced by Ronnie Del Carmen), owner of the popular eatery and curio shop the Fireplace, would rather only other Fire residents enter his shop. The immigrant and his wife Cinder (Shila Ommi) weren’t treated with kindness by the Element City populace upon their arrival, especially by the Water residents. Even after two decades of growing a successful business and helping lead a vibrant community, Bernie still takes what happened during those early days personally.

The visually resplendent Elemental is not top-tier Pixar. Those expecting another Inside Out or Wall●E have something far less thematically intricate coming. have something far less thematically intricate coming. Instead, this is more on the level of something like A Bigs Life or Onward. Considering this film’s director Peter Sohn also handled 2015’s A Good Dinosaur, this is hardly shocking. But, like those titles, this one is so gosh darn charming, so effortlessly entertaining, the fact that it does not try to do more than keep little kids happy and adults pleasantly amused is nothing to scoff at.

At its heart, this is a Romeo and Juliet situation where a series of unfortunate events brings Bernie’s beloved, if hot-tempered, daughter Ember (Leah Lewis) into contact with the bumbling, if selflessly good-natured, Water element Wade Ripple (Mamoudou Athie). Over the next week (give or take a day or two), the pair works together to solve a potentially devasting mystery. With each passing sunset they discover a bond developing they never could have anticipated, the early pangs of love inching them closer together.

There’s a little more to it all, but that’s the basic thrust. Boy and girl from opposite worlds meet, they spend time together, intimate feelings blossom, they start to worry others will not accept or understand the love they share, and other unexpected complications ultimately arise. What else is there to say? We’ve seen and read all this before, and the only truly surprising thing that happens is the realization of how totally unsurprising any of this is.

And that’s perfectly fine. These characters, as imaginatively incredible as they may be, are enchantingly authentic from an emotional standpoint. Their worries are real. So are their fears, wants, desires, and dreams. Everything they long for. Everything they want to be. I believed it all. Seeing Ember and Wade become their best selves? I adored watching it happen, and it was clear that the kids in the preview audience were even more blissfully enthralled than I was.

More than the beguiling romance, I think my favorite aspect of this story was the father-daughter relationship. Ember’s interactions with Bernie reminded me of the final moments of Field of Dreams, of all things. There is a melancholic poignancy to seeing the two of them together. They respect and love one another so deeply, so completely, that they accidentally stop seeing the bigger picture. Ember and Bernie create idealized versions of one another that do not exist, and how they deal with the repercussions of this when the truth is inevitably revealed is handled with stunning honesty and subtly heartfelt gracefulness.

Elemental (2023) | PHOTO: Pixar

The animation is as stunning as ever, especially as it pertains to all the Fire and Water elements, not only Ember and Wade. The use of various combinations of pastels is outstanding, and there’s always something eye-popping happening in each and every corner of the screen. Veteran Thomas Newman (1917Finding Nemo) provides another of his patentedly winning scores, while the film’s overall sound design is an aural triumph.

There’s nothing wrong with taking a tried-and-true scenario and doing little that’s novel with it as long as the material is handled with intelligence, confidence, and style. When the emotions are true and the characters are genuine, the majority of viewers will undoubtedly walk out of the theater smiling. As slight as it is, I found Elemental to be adorable, and I’ll watch it again in a heartbeat when the opportunity to do so presents itself.

Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)

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