Boil over with emotion as Pixar lights a flame in your heart in our Elemental review.
Since their debut in 1995 with the beloved Toy Story, Pixar Animation Studios have earned a reputation for adding emotion to animation. Touching stories like Up, Inside Out, and Coco, are among some of the most emotive films to ever grace the big screen. And their skills for making viewers bawl their eyes out hasn’t lessened even after almost 30 years and just as many films.
From modern animation to 90’s classics – some of Pixar’s very best!
Combining comedy and romance alongside fire, water, earth, and air, their latest animated feature film, Elemental, quite literally captures the key elements of emotion. Touching on heavy topics like cultural identity, familial expectations, and even racism, what begins as a generic comedy eventually ignites the fires of romance in its two lead characters. So uproot your entire family and rekindle your passion as we immigrate to Element City in our Elemental review.
Elemental Review – Story & Characters
WARNING: Some minor story spoilers.
At the centre of the world, Element City is a bustling hub created to bring all four elements together. From the flowing rivers and canals that house its watery residents to the towering skyscrapers and lush apartments made for their respective elements, this harmonious city unites all elements. All elements, of course, except for fire.
After being expelled from their native land when a natural disaster destroys their home, Bernie and Cinder Lumen immigrate to Element City to start a new life. With their newborn ember, Ember, the couple set up shop in Fire Town, only to find they are constantly shunned by the rest of the city, struggling to truly fit in. But eventually they find their element in their fellow fire natives.
Now grown into a flaming inferno, Ember Lumen is set to take over the family business, if only she could control her fiery temper. After dealing with some difficult customers and Ember’s temper causing an explosion in the family shop, a literal deluge floods into her life and along with it an emotive and sappy water element, Wade Ripple.
With the family business on the brink of collapse, Wade discovers that the building is due to be decommissioned after sustaining damage from a mysterious leak. Desperate to save her father’s entire life’s work, Ember will stop at nothing to track down the source of the leak even if it means risking her life. But in doing so, creates chemistry with an element that she never thought was even possible.
What begins as a cliché and generic animated comedy eventually evolves into a deep and meaningful romance, exploring ethnic diversity and cultural identity. The dynamic between Ember and Wade – complete opposites in terms of both elements and personalities – is truly touching and blossoms into a beautiful story of connection beyond cultural barriers.
Elemental Review – Characters and Themes
Starring in the lead role, Ember Lumen (Leah Lewis), is outgoing, headstrong, and with an explosive temper to match. As a dedicated daughter committed to carrying on the legacy of her family, Ember’s motivations are at war with one-another as she explores her own passions and interests as the film progresses.
The Yin to Ember’s Yang, Wade Ripple (Mamoudou Athie) is the polar opposite of Ember, representing everything that she’s not. This sappy and silly water element is constantly battling with his inner emotions, letting them boil over before erupting in a torrent of tears. But it’s through his willingness to express his emotions that he truly bonds with other characters, even those from vastly different backgrounds.
Alongside the two leads, a wide variety of supporting characters help to progress the film’s meaningful narrative beyond its shallow attempts at comedy. Most notable are Bernie and Cinder, Ember’s parents who are struggling to survive in a world so far from the home they were torn away from. Their distrust for water elements stems from their poor treatment as immigrants, a representation of racism and segregation that unfortunately hits home for so many.
And don’t be fooled by the bright colours, glamour, and visual flare of Element city – it may appear playful and light-hearted on the surface, but at its core it’s anything but. Cultural identity is the key theme of Elemental, as fire elementals worship and revere their sacred blue flame, and are constantly worried about being diluted by water. Conversely, many other elements refuse to even associate with fire elementals, due to the risk of being burned or boiled.
While the film fails as a comedy, with an avalanche of lame puns and forced jokes in the first half hour, its greatest strength is when it burns brightly through its romance. A turning point in Elemental allows it to blossom into a poetic romance film which will tug at any viewer’s heartstrings and get the waterworks going. Much like Romeo and Juliet were star-crossed lovers, so too are fire and water. If you’re a couple watching the film together, like my wife and I, you might even notice elements of yourselves in the main characters.
Elemental Review – Visuals
Drawing significant inspiration from Disney’s Zootopia, Elemental is set entirely in a sprawling metropolis where a variety of cultural groups establish their own individual suburbs. Rather than predators or prey, the city is instead split into four distinct visual themes, with each element occupying a unique aesthetic that can be easily identified.
Fire town is dry, charred, and constructed almost entirely from flame-resistant brick and steel, giving it a harsh tone. In contrast, the water regions of the city flow with gorgeous blue streams, glass architecture to highlight the ambient colours, and rushing canals to transport its citizens. The air and earth regions are also equally gorgeous, with elegant and soft puffs of cloud, or lush forests and trunks that form the buildings.
Overall, there’s nothing you wouldn’t already have come to expect from Pixar in Elemental, which creates yet another a magical visual smorgasbord. Every single scene is gorgeous with so much to take in – at time’s it’s so visually busy, that it would be nice to slow down and take in just how much effort and detail has gone into the visuals of the city and its residents.
Elemental Review – Soundtrack and Audio
Does the soundtrack steal the show? Well with Thomas Newman (Finding Nemo, Wall-E) as composer, it might just be my highlight of the film. His score is as beautiful and full of warmth as the flame elements that it represents, with much of the music taking a distinctly Indian tone. Sitar and Tabla are key instruments throughout the soundtrack, representing Ember and her family, and can even be heard alongside Konnokol (Indian vocal percussion).
The film’s main track, “Steal the Show”, is a gorgeous vocal track with elements of the score.
And there’s far more to the audio, with Leah Lewis and Mamoudou Athie delivering heart-wrenching performances for each of their respective characters. As their relationship builds throughout the film, the emotion in their voices becomes more and more palpable. The delivery of certain lines is so touching and genuine that it will be almost certain to have you in tears.
Watching two films at once seems strange, but that’s exactly what you’ll encounter with Elemental. Setting the scene as a typical animated comedy, the film eventually boils over into a beautiful romance, overcoming the barriers and exploring a deep connection between its two main characters. Drawing upon cultural identity as a key theme, Elemental burns brightly as a romance film and is among the most touching from Pixar to date.
So, why should you watch Elemental?
- You’re a sucker for a touching romance film
- Genuine dynamic and relationship between the lead characters
- Beautiful and vibrant visuals (I’d expect nothing less from Pixar)
- You find themes like cultural identity to be especially important
- Wonderful soundtrack incorporating many elements of Indian music
But why shouldn’t you watch Elemental?
- Not a fan of romance? You might gag a few times in the film’s second half
- Comedy is forced and often falls flat
A preview screening was kindly provided by Disney Australia for the purpose of our Elemental review. If you enjoyed this, be sure to check out our Strange World review and join the Qualbert Discord to chat with us about the latest films.