Pixar puts its own take on films about immigrants and ethnic diversity in its newest romantic dramedy, Elemental, now in theaters.
I don’t think I ever thought I’d see the day where Pixar would release a film about immigration and draw on a classic like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner in the process. And yet, here we are. Elemental might not become as classic as the star-studded 1967 film but Sohn and company make a good effort here in delivering a crowd-pleaser. Of course, they don’t tell the story using humans, Instead, it’s a world where Fire-, Water-, Earth- and Air-residents are anthropomorphic and live together in Element City. Animators majestically design Element City with each element having their own special section. Unfortunately for its Fire-residents, there are places where they cannot go because of the obvious. Pay attention to the city’s design and you’ll notice why Fire might feel out of place.
The screenplay cuts to the chase quickly. On one hand, Ember (Leah Lewis) is set to replace her father, Bernie (Ronnie del Carmen), as the owner of the Fireplace. The second is that her temper causes water to come in, which destroys the shop, but it brings Wade Ripple (Mamoudou Athie) into her life. Wade had been looking for the source of a leak when Ember’s temper leads him into their store. From there, it’s an adventure for the two of them although not quite at first. On the outside looking in, the two of them are not meant to be together. But as they get to know each other, they start falling in love. Listen, you’re going to cry during this film. Even if you’re not the crying type, it’ll get you when you least expect it.
Filmmaker Peter Sohn draws on his own upbringing. Even to this date, many immigrant families can still be old school. They might want their children to marry someone of the same ethnicity. It is no different in watching this film. Ember’s father wants her to follow him in his footsteps. She’s all set to do so until she meets Wade and discovers there is more to life in Element City. Because of her Fire skills, she can blow glass and learns of a potential job opportunity. Will her father allow this? You’ll just have to watch the film and see. Some of you will probably wait until it hits Disney+ but seeing this film on the big screen allows one to notice all the smaller details. These are details that can’t be viewed in the same way on a smaller screen!
Music can have an impact on an already emotional film. In this case, it is Thomas Newman’s score finding a way to bring every element together. We’re talking about a film that goes from one end of the spectrum to the other. Throughout it all, Newman’s score is there to bring a scene home while playing with our emotions in the process. Newman comes from the great musical family–if you do not know who Alfred Newman is, look him up–in Hollywood so it does not surprise me that he delivers another home run score.
In terms of how animation as grown since Toy Story, this is a film that required 151,000 computers to animate it! Ember and Wade alone have 10,000 controls instead of the typical 4,000 for Pixar character rigs. You can especially see this in every frame of the picture. In terms of the character animation, this film shows the importance of technological advances in breaking new barriers in animation. It is highly unlikely that filmmakers could make this film over a decade ago.
Elemental is Pixar’s boldest film yet in delivering a story that offers its own take on immigration and how it impacts relationships.
DIRECTOR: Peter Sohn
SCREENWRITERS: John Hoberg & Kat Likkel and Brenda Hsueh
CAST: Leah Lewis, Mamoudou Athie, Ronnie del Carmen, Shila Ommi, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Catherine O’Hara, Mason Wertheimer, Joe Pera
Elemental holds its New York premiere during the 2023 Tribeca Festival as the Centerpiece selection. Disney and Pixar released the film in theaters on June 16, 2023. Grade: 3.5/5
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