Review: Elemental

Elements mix into a lukewarm reaction in Pixar’s latest.

In a city where elements live together, fire is the newest addition. Ember, a daughter of a traditionalist family, goes off on an adventure with a water guy named Wade. Together, they hope to save Ember’s father’s shop.

Elemental has been quietly flopping at the box office for Disney Pixar, only overshadowed by the likes of The Flash and Indiana Jones. Following the disastrous opening of last year’s Lightyear, they were probably hoping Elemental would steady the ship. Unfortunately, written by no one in particular, and directed by Peter Sohn (whose only major credit is The Good Dinosaur, probably the first Pixar film audiences didn’t go and see) this film is woefully uninspiring.

This damp squib is far from trailblazing.

Pixar used to be the apex of the animation world. Winning awards, setting trends, shaping new generations. But recently… their output has been disappointingly average. You could, critically, need to go all the way back to 2010 with the release of Toy Story 3, to remember a properly affecting and emotional story from Pixar. Elemental feels like one of the Pixar shorts blown into a feature film that it is not capable of maintaining.

Had to find an image that wasn’t just the two lead characters…

The storytelling is chaotic. It feels as though the writers’ room consisted of people listing element-based puns and made those the structure of the story. “Oh, water, waves are water… Mexican wave!” so we get to a scene that gives a Mexican wave contextual sense. “Oh, trees make love by pollination… Err… yeah, we literally cannot think of anything else earth related, so… It goes in.”
Genuinely, scenes feel tacked tenuously together, and this is affects the world building and overall storyline.

At its heart, Elemental is an immigrants’ story. That’s great, more power to it for that. However, they really softball it here. Ember, our lead character, is overburdened by parental expectations. Her father and mother left their home country because… a storm… rather precisely… destroyed only their house in the middle of a city of thousands… (??) So instead of… rebuilding their house… they went to a city that “hates them” (not really) and rebuilt a shop instead.


Plus, the father hates water. He really hates water. He also built the shop, from literal ruins, himself. So why… why did he keep the maze of disused water pipes?? The film literally says the pipes are no longer in use in “Fire Town”. Years later. Why are these pipes still in his shop? Why at all? These blasted pipes which basically make any of this story happen at all!

Another short but nice scene, with Ember being in a cinema showing

The film also begins with our hero Ember meeting Wade, who bursts in from these pipes. He is a property inspector, and dutifully reports multiple issues, which would probably lead to the shop being shut down and condemned. He does this flippantly, despite Ember’s begging and explaining that the shop is important and that he needs to listen to her. Only after it is too late, does he change his mind, and thus, the story can continue.
This is the start of the film, and it already feels contrived and meaningless. Never mind the lack of chemistry or likeable side characters, or even exciting sequences.

No child will be seated during the thrilling second act “sandbagging” scene.

Pixar is known for being stellar in animation, and certainly at times Elemental is a tech demo for, you guessed it, elemental effects. But you need good writing. Perhaps there was a good story in here, a good elemental immigrant story, but it needed to feel more than just scenes stapled together. There are a couple of moments, throw away gags that where fun. Like Wade trying to hide his identification badge, but his hand only magnifies it because water.

What does the tagline even mean? “Elements don’t mix.” Despite trees (the representation of “earth” in the movie) needing water to survive? Or fire needing air to burn? Maybe they meant: “fire and water specifically don’t mix”.

Just watch Zootopia again. It is basically the same movie, far far funnier, with better characters and storytelling.

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