Disney and Pixar are often accused of pandering to political correctness or promoting "wokeness," yet it's somewhat uncommon for the studio to produce projects, particularly films, that directly tackle subjects like institutional racism or interracial relationships. However, Elemental, the latest Pixar offering from director Peter Sohn, endeavors to confront these societal realities through a light-hearted narrative about destined lovers fighting external forces that try to keep them apart.
Elemental crafts a world where everyone fits into one of the four classical elements, providing a simple but universal narrative about race and diversity. However, Elemental's attempt to appeal to the masses often struggles as it peppers the narrative with middling metaphors, which often make it feel like another Zootopia — a comparison Disney probably did not want.
Elemental predominantly unfolds in the shiny, bustling city of Element City. At its heart is a love story between a fiery young woman, Ember Lumen (Leah Lewis), and a sensitive water man named Wade Ripple (Mamoudou Athie). As the only child to immigrant parents Bernie (Ronnie del Carmen) and Cinder (Shila Ommi) — the first fire folks to settle in Element City — Ember grapples with the immense expectations thrust upon her.
Yet Ember is torn, knowing that running the family's store, the Fireplace, while the heart of Fire Town, is not her true calling. A constant simmering anger mimicking her fiery nature threatens to explode, leading her parents to believe the best place for her is within Fire Town.
The late arrival of fire people to Element City translates into a substandard existence, a result of the city being predominantly designed to meet the needs of water, earth, and air elements. This disparity in living conditions fuels Bernie's distrust, particularly against the water folks, as they can physically extinguish his flame.
The film's visual spectacle is attention-grabbing, with each sight gag being the product of an animation team dedicated to manifesting a city inhabited by humanized elemental beings. However, the metaphor of people-as-different-elements struggles to effectively communicate Elemental's messages.
There's more beneath the surface of Bernie's anger, such as when he angrily expels two water boys from the Fireplace. Yet the motivations behind his distaste for water elements remain ambiguous – is it racism or self-preservation?
Ember's existence is an embodiment of restraint and conscious dressing, yet her outbursts make one wonder why people might fear fire beings, which challenges the movie’s portrayal of them as marginalized races.
Elemental's metaphoric portrayal of race gets confusing rather quickly, leading one to hope the main romantic storyline would provide resolution. However, soon after city inspector Wade enters Ember’s life, the narrative speeds up unevenly. Their romance doesn’t feel genuine — it feels more like an unexpected friendship. Their joint mission to save the Fireplace adds yet another layer to an already crowded narrative.
1. Elemental boasts exceptional animation and visual spectacle, showcasing a bountiful imaginative world.
2. The film attempts to tackle relevant societal themes, such as race and diversity, through a unique and interesting metaphor.
3. The voice acting performances, particularly by Leah Lewis and Mamoudou Athie, are strong and engaging.
1. The intended metaphor struggles to convey the complexity of the themes presented and tends to confuse instead of guiding understanding.
2. The story's pacing is uneven, causing key plot points, such as the central romance, to fall short.
3. The narrative lacks clarity and resolution, leaving several questions unanswered, and its central metaphor appears not to have been fully developed or considered.
Overall, though Elemental blazes a trail through new ground in terms of presenting themes of race and difference, the film's potential is extinguished by its complicated metaphor and uneven storytelling. However, the exceptional animation and strong performances make it worth a watch for Pixar fans.