When a film from Pixar is coming to theaters, it is a topic of conversation. Movies like Inside Out (2015), WALL-E (2008), Coco (2017), and Toy Story (1995), were emotionally moving adventures. Those films and several others set the bar high for any Pixar release. Their latest film, Elemental, hopes to keep that conversation going. In a world of elements co-existing, a water element named Wade (Mamoudou Athie) and a fire element named Ember (Leah Lewis), go on an elemental adventure of self-discovery.
The core message and themes of Elemental discuss and critique the process of the immigrant story. Ember and her father (Ronnie Del Carmen) and mother follow a story about familial legacy. Her father wants to leave his gift (a family-owned store) to his daughter to become her business. Those kind and gentle moments between them make both heartfelt and tender sequences. The problem is that these moments need to be delivered in more subtle ways.
Having a character who wants their daughter to follow in their footsteps feels cliched. Knowing where the story is going makes several jokes fall flat throughout. As Ember explores this elemental world, the other elements never get a good moment to shine. That is especially frustrating with Ember being stuck in the moral quandary of the film. Does she follow in her expected footsteps? Or does she attempt to find her own path? It is not until she meets Wade that the film’s heart grows.
Athie and Lewis’s story of self-discovery turns into a genuinely moving love story. Guessing what will happen when opposites attract will not take much theorizing. What makes Wade and Ember’s journey so compelling is how it feels old-fashioned. Their first interactions are akin to an old-school romantic comedy. Knowing that going in will help some forgive the cliched set pieces. When Wade and Ember have to embark on an adventure, my interest in the film lessened. The wacky animated set pieces are fun, but never quite as engaging as the quieter moments.
Pixar still has some very beautiful animation on the big screen. At a 103-minute running time, every frame contains expansive worlds. While not in the same vein as Spider-Man: Across the Spider-verse (2023), the imagery will be enough for some. As both characters are on a journey of discovery, watching them navigate it together is surprisingly moving. The biggest problems with Elemental reside in the third act. The third act shows that the film could have easily been 80 minutes long.
There is a deeply sincere and emotional film at the core of Elemental. Watching Wade and Ember’s romance left me with a smile ear-to-ear. Athie and Lewis’s banter makes them characters we can root for. Their instantaneous chemistry will make it easy for some to forgive the third act. If you are connected to a story of immigration in your life, then the film will move you deeply. Not being able to relate to that story could significantly lessen the impact of your viewing experience. Regardless, it is the strength of the main characters that kept me consistently compelled.
Elemental is certainly not in the vein of classic Pixar films. The story sticks to a safe narrative, making this one more for kids than adults. Wade and Ember are likable and compelling characters who go on an engaging and educational journey. Mixed with the impressive visuals, it will be able to hold just about anyone’s interest. The problem is the overarching simplicity of the story.
No matter how engaging the characters are, the film has to have certain moments. These include speeches and arguments designed to teach characters a lesson. These lessons are nothing audiences have not seen before in other family films. Younger children will certainly learn something, but older audiences will feel slighted. Elemental may not go down as one of Pixar’s best, but has more than enough for a one-time watch.
In theaters June 16th, 2023.
For more information, head to the official Pixar Elemental webpage.
Final Score: 3 out of 5.