REVIEW — “Elemental”
Disney and Pixar’s latest animated film, Elemental, at first runs cold as an adrift familial drama, but then turns up the heat after diving into familiar rom-com waters.
After a disaster, Bernie (Ronnie del Carmen) and Cinder Lumen (Shila Ommi) immigrate to Element City in search of a better life for their unborn child. The metropolis is inhabited by earth, water, and air people, with the “dangerous” fire people segregated into the nearby borough of Firetown. The couple settles and opens a family bakery/convenience store called “The Fireplace” where they sell oven fresh hot logs, coal nuts, and lighter fluid. It is where Bernie raises their firecracker of a daughter Ember (Leah Lewis) to one day follow in his footsteps as store owner.
As Ember grows, she shadows her father in his shop and learns about their heritage, like how everyone in Fireland is connected by a blue-burning flame that holds their shared cultural history. Her tight-knit family also strictly reinforces the idea that “elements don’t mix.” Her father is clearly prejudiced against other elements, particularly water people. The film add layers to its society by introducing derogatory terms that older generations use to describe others like “fluffing cloud puffs” and “lazy ash fireballs”
Even Ember herself runs hot and is prone to explosive outbursts which she soothes by “taking a breath and making a connection.” During one such flare up, Ember bursts a pipe and floods the basement which inadvertently sucks in city water inspector Wade Ripple (Mamoudou Athie). A waterfall of emotions, water guy Wade reluctantly files a citation against The Fireplace for out of date plumbing, something that could tank Ember’s family business within a week. Desperate to save her birthright, Ember ventures outside the protective bubble of Firetown and chases Wade into the more diverse Elemental City to convince him and his superior Gale (Wendi McLendon-Covey) to overturn the citation.
Up until this point, the events of the film play out like an episode of a Disney Channel cartoon. However, as their bond grows, you find yourself rooting for Ember and Wade. The film’s best scene comes when Wade invites Ember to meet his mom, Brook (Catherine O’Hara), and extended family. It is here where Ember finds her glass-blowing calling and learns that their two families are not so different.
The film features commentary on everything from racial tolerance to immigration and gives an important message about accepting and connecting with those who are different instead of reacting with anger. However, it’s the love story that keeps Elemental sizzling instead of fizzling. While they could potentially vaporize or extinguish the other if they get too close, the couple can’t deny that their shared chemistry lights each other’s fire. And even though the thought of them together makes her father boil, Ember’s mother smells the love in the air.
Director Peter Sohn’s Elemental is a bright and splashy adult rom-com that warms the heart. And although the film is drowning in metaphors, it’s better to just let the puns wash over you and embrace its overflowing charm. 3.5/5
As an added teary bonus, the film is preceded by an adorably bittersweet short, Carl’s Date, which features the final appearance of the beloved Up character voiced by the late Ed Asner.
Rated PG with a running time of 1 hour, 42 minutes, Elemental opens in theaters on June 16, 2023.