Elemental review: Visually stunning, slow-burn love story
Elemental, the latest film from Pixar, shines a bright and colorful light on familial expectations, being true to yourself, and finding love in unexpected places.
Pixar‘s new film, Elemental, is a rich tapestry of different elements living together in a futuristic society, much like Zootopia.
The movie follows Ember, a woman made of a fire, and Wade, a man made of water, as their paths unexpectedly cross and they come face to face with challenges that they must work together to overcome.
There’s so much to love about this movie, from its bright colors and cute jokes, but the best part of the movie is the deep theme it explores while still being a fun and enjoyable watch.
Ember and her people are immigrants in Element City
The film begins with Ember’s parents, Bernie (Ronnie del Carmen) and Cinder (Shila Ommi), essentially going through the movie’s version of Ellis Island where they’re given “American” names and sent off to start their new lives. You watch them struggle to find housing as they’re discriminated against for being made of fire until they finally buy and repair a home that doubles as their business.
Much like a human immigrant population, the Fire people make their own communities with specialized shops and places for them to do. They live outside of Element City because the city is not designed for them.
It’s a really interesting way to explore what it feels like to be an outsider in a world that sees you as lesser. Through Ember and her family, you can see the toll of being othered again and again. Their business, a small cafe/shop, is their entire legacy. They came to Element City with nothing, built a life, and now Bernie wants to pass it onto Ember.
Though there are hints throughout the film that Ember doesn’t want to run the shop, the expectation weighs heavily on her. It’s a struggle a lot of first generation children deal with; their parents sacrifice so much to give them a better life and they end up sacrificing parts of themselves to try to repay that debt.
Finding love in a hopeless place
While the themes of family and duty are at the forefront of the movie, the other major plot line is about two people falling in love when it should be impossible.
Wade (Mamoudou Athie) and Ember (Leah Lewis), on paper, shouldn’t work — he’s water and she’s fire, so their relationship should be a disaster. And, at first, it is. Wade is a city inspector who has the duty to report Ember’s shop for violations and Ember is a ill-tempered young woman just trying to keep her family afloat.
Their meeting is very much like oil meeting water — they bicker and banter for the first bit as they try to fix the mess Ember made. But, there’s an underlying sweetness to their interactions as Wade makes Ember softer while Ember brings out the spark in Wade.
The comparison to Romeo and Juliet is quite evident through the movie as you’re led to believe that they can never be together even though they’re basically soulmates.
But, unlike the unrequited love between Romeo and Juliet, Wade and Ember’s love is a slow burn that takes most of the film to develop. And it works so well because you can buy them as a real couple by the end. The fact that their love story was slow and thought out makes their inevitable steamy smooch even more satisfying to witness.
Exploring new talents makes you stronger
As discussed previously, Bernie wants Ember to take over their family business, but you can tell something is off with Ember when it comes to her working there. She’s constantly experiencing fiery tempers that ward off customers and it feels like her heart isn’t in it.
In the end, you discover that her temper was telling her that taking over the business was not the right path for her, but she stuck it out due to feeling obligated to make her father proud.
But it’s through her relationship with Wade, and by extension his family, that she learns that doing things for yourself and being honest with those around you only makes you a stronger person. It’s not a child’s responsibility to give up parts of themselves to make their family happy.
At the end of the day, if you’re only living for other people, you’ll never truly discover who you really are and it’s beautiful to watch Ember’s journey of self-discovery lead her to a brighter path with both Wade, her parents, and her community.
Elemental review score: 4/5 stars
Like most Pixar movies, Elemental is a strong film that will definitely have you weeping at certain points. While parts of the movie were a bit cheesy at certain points and the overall message of the film a bit too on the nose, it’s a solid watch for the plot and visually stunning.
The world of Element City is rich and vibrant — there’s a lot of details when it comes to the element people themselves and their individual worlds that is incredibly impressive. And the storytelling, while a bit slow at times, still leaves you with a heartwarming conclusion. It’s a fun watch for the whole family!
Elemental hits theaters on June 16 and will be released globally on July 7. You can find out more about the movie here.