‘…clued-in enough to make adults and kids think a little about their own potential for prejudice…’

There’s nothing that today’s kids love more than a good old-fashioned lecture on today’s immigration issues, and that’s kinda what Pixar’s new animation aims for. While Pixar has been a moneymaking machine as well as a well-meaning purveyor of original, educational stories for kids, elements of the media have been keen to connect their recent decline in popularity and quality to their advocacy for causes that the same media label as ‘woke’. Aesthetically speaking, inserting a gay marriage subplot in the origin story for Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear suggested a creative team trying a little too hard to shoehorn some box-fresh ideology into a new generation of movie-watchers, but Elemental wisely puts its social messaging centre stage where it can be fully developed rather than referenced.

In a world which recalls the analogue-friendly animal city featured in Zootropolis/Zootopia, but quite not as creative or interesting, Elemental takes place in Element City, where the denizens represent fire, water, land and wind. Our heroine is Ember (Leah Lewis), whose parents emigrated from their home to set up a shop selling fiery things in Fire Town. Unfortunately Ember has a temper problem, one that leads her to burst some water pipes in the basement of the store, releasing the watery but fun boy-pal Wade Ripple (Mamoudou Athie) into her life. Can two lovers from different cultures overcome their differences, and can the bigoted world around them see the case for supporting a forbidden but true love beyond previous borders? You probably know where this is all going…

Elemental aims for the kind of spiritual incisiveness and pathos of Inside Out, but doesn’t quite stick the landing; the big society metaphor does allow for some fun sight gags and characters, but somehow seeing race issues transposed to elements doesn’t ring many bells other than to admire the cleverness of the presentation. The rules of the world depicted seem contrived to lead to a positive outcome, and Elemental doesn’t attempt to plumb the emotional depths that surprised audiences in Up or Toy Story.

Director Pete Sohn feels that critics have underrated Elemental due to comparisons with Pixar storied highs, and he’s probably right; it’s not a sequel or a franchise, and has actually performed solidly at the box office since an underwhelming start on a hefty $200 million budget. For all its flaws, Elemental doesn’t put a tin lid on Pixar at all, it’s clued-in enough to make adults and kids think a little about their own potential for prejudice, even if the real issue is race-hate being monitised for their own financial gain by the white-power bigots like Trump, Musk and Murdoch. But this story of fiery love and damp tears somehow lacks the spark that might ignite the big idea, rather than feeling like the most lavishly, slickly produced public service announcement in history. Beloved children’s characters, from Encanto to Paddington Bear have been created to provide teachable moments about race, but Elemental just feels a little too prosaic to achieve Pixar’s lofty ambitions.

Thanks to Disney and Pixar for big-screen access to Elemental, out July 6th 2023 in the UK.


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  1. This just seems too adult for me. Can Pixar not just fond/invent another fairy tale. I wasn’t even taken with the Spiderverse. Clever visuals and all but I just got bored.

  2. After long and thoughtful consideration, I’m going with crope, nope, bope and any other “ope” the WP4 has come up with in its storied legendary history.

  3. I was reading some really bad reviews for this one. Put me off wanting to see a movie I was never, under any circumstances, going to see in the first place. Pixar is almost an automatic nope. And I can’t think of any exceptions where I’d need to say “almost” but I just thought I’d slip it in just in case.

    • Pixar did break new ground in creating animated films that worked for adults as well as kids, but this is far too much like a PSA. Stick with the rinky dinky dinky Aristocats…

      • The whole kidult phenomenon turned me way off. I get that you can have movies for children that adults may find something of interest in so they’re not bored out of their minds when they take the kids. But that developed into the notion that adults should love children’s entertainment just as much as the little ones do. So by the time of the third instalment I think more of the Harry Potter books were being bought by adults than by kids, and it turned into a critical cliché that some movies were made for kids but “grown-ups will love them too!”

        Count me out. I want to read books and watch movies that aren’t geared to the education and emotional intelligence of a 12-year-old. But if you say that, people think you’re being a snob. When did all this dumbing down not just become OK but something to be passionately defended as healthy and normal?

        Morning rant.

        • I found it genuinely astonishing to attend packed 6pm screening of movies like Malificent or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and find not a kid in the place. When I was a kid, I wanted to read and see what the adults were looking at, but now, that’s largely as duff as the kiddie stuff.

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