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Elemental Review

Once upon a time… Pixar were the leading legends of computer animation and no other studio could come close to copying the continuing and consistent success that the computer-animated mousehouse were enjoying in their golden era. However, a cat and mouse battle for box office success has commenced, now seeing other studios succeeding with the same or even superior standards as that of Disney-Pixar.

So, I guess the question is whether Pixar – with their latest film – can take the elementary towards the extraordinary, or is it about time we crown a new king of computer-animated family entertainment?


The Story
‘Elemental’ takes place in Element City where all the elements of nature – fire, water, land and air – live together side by side despite their many differences. For our main character Ember and her family, however, living among so many different individuals is far from an easy task. In her father's shop where Ember also helps, the family mostly keep to themselves instead of mixing with other elements. That unexpectedly changes when a water-guy named Wade makes an unfortunate splash into the basement of the store setting off a chain reaction of bad luck for Ember, which puts the future of herself and her family at risk.

On paper, 'Elemental' seems like a guaranteed success for the studio giant, containing several elements of the past when it comes to both its concept and themes. Unfortunately, the execution leaves much to be desired and feels mostly like a watered-down version of earlier and better achievements. At its essence, 'Elementary' is an immigration story about a family wanting to build a new life for themselves amid a multicultural society, where familiar themes like racism and prejudice are blended into the story. Sadly, the presentation of these themes often comes off as feeling too forced and reduces the more nuanced elements of the narrative.

‘Elemental’ is at its best, when it deals with its themes in more organic and less orchestrated ways, while just letting action and character speak for themselves. It is at its worst, when lines like "no father, you don’t say water but water-person!" is being dictated along the way. It is a shame, because the people at Pixar used to be some wonderful and wise wizards who were able to handle heavy themes and morals in interesting and creative ways, without having it clash with the surrounding elements. But here it is more reminiscent of being morally force-fed, almost having Pixar take the role of a parent persistently trying to get the audience to "eat their vegetables"... it is neither convincing nor clever enough for one to willingly obey.

It has been said that every story has been told at least once. Therefore, it's not so much about what you want to say, but how you are going to say it. Here, 'Elemental' simply lacks the weighted subtlety and elegance of their past work, instead opting for the obvious and thereby also the uninteresting way of going about it. You just can't help but feel like the narrative has been done better and more successfully before, with something like 'Zootopia' seeming like an obvious comparison, all the while 'Ratatouille' and 'Brave' also possesses some of the same family complexes as Ember struggles with.

All in all, 'Elementary' basically fails to elevate itself above either the internal or external competitors of the studio. But it is still visually well-made and contains a few flashes of creativity and decent entertainment value. When the film doesn’t water down its own themes, there are certainly moments along the way where you can sense someone on this production caring and being passionate about telling something which is anything but elemental. If only the creators had focused less on lecturing their audience and instead had enlightened them, then Pixar might have made something that none of nature’s elements could destroy.

The Acting
All the voice actors do a really good job in 'Elemental' and if you would allow me to be truly 2023-woke-and-inclusive for a second, then I just want to point out that I actually thought both of the leads were Caucasian. Anyway, the most important thing here is really that both actors fit their characters perfectly and are well cast. Finding the right people for the job also tends to be one of Disney-Pixar's strongest points… and fortunately this is no exception.

But of course, you can discuss whether or not you like Evans' sensitive hysteria or Ember's father's stereotypical persona. At least those involved act out their roles exactly as intended, even if the film sets the bar a little low. So I guess you could say everyone seems to be in their… element. Well… moving on!

The Visuals
Disney-Pixar has forever and always been recognized for the quality of their beautiful and detailed animation and while 'Elemental' isn’t their most beautiful work, it is certainly one of their most colorful. Because of how character designs and locations are frequently switched up, we are constantly confronted with a colossal and colorful cascade of computer magic. The animation style appears relatively simple and rounded, but it works out nicely in the end. If all else fails, most people should be able to find something to enjoy on the visual side of things.

The Sound
To get straight to the point… the music in 'Elemental' is magnificently executed, and I would go as far as to say that it might be my favorite element of the film. Composed by Thomas Newman – the man who has probably done all the musical compositions at Pixar that his cousin Randy Newman hasn’t – the musical notes manage to be something far more than just a footnote within the narrative.

The film is wrapped up in wonderful and versatile musical magic, which merges the multicultural with the melodic in a far more elegant way than the plot of the film was able to do it. Newman floats fluently and firmly somewhere between sophisticated musical meditation and folky world music. Inclusive, impulsive and inviting – 67-year-old Newman almost reinvents himself here and delivers one of his most captivating musical contributions to date done under the roof of the rodent-run company.


The Summary
Disney-Pixar dishes out another animated embodiment of otherwise inanimate elements in their newest effort, 'Elemental'! Loosely based on the director's own experiences, Peter Sohn tries to strike a match for the multicultural society and shine some light on the problems within but instead ends up striking himself down along the way. Unfortunately, the glowing heart of the story is all too often overshadowed by heavy-handed social commentary and different detours throughout, which puts a plug in the flow and plot progression of the film.

The core concept of how the chemistry of love overcomes that of science is honestly truly fascinating, but at the same time also takes away from the father-daughter relationship and the immigration-part of the story. You can really sense the passion of the director to tell that part of the story too, but unfortunately it becomes watered down and doesn’t naturally grow within the story – especially not when various other elements jump in and out of the frame like the wind it blows. ‘Elemental’ doesn’t exactly blow, but it isn’t a breath of fresh air either. Pixar used to breeze with ease through these types of concept-films but it just isn’t the same anymore, unfortunately.