Written by: Matt Patti | June 15th, 2023
Elemental (Peter Sohn, 2023) 3 out of 4 stars.
Water. Earth. Fire. Air. Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony … oh, wait, wrong element-related animated property. Sorry! But I can’t be the only one that immediately thought of Avatar: The Last Airbender when viewing the trailer for Disney/Pixar’s newest animated feature, Elemental. In this world, though, it’s Water, LAND, Fire, and Air. So close. In any case, Elemental is quite a different adventure and an enchanting film that manages to tackle social issues in an inventive way while also balancing solid comedy and introducing creative situations for our element characters.
Elemental follows the story of Ember (Leah Lewis, The Half of It), a young fire-person who grew up helping her father, Bernie (Ronnie Del Carmen, Inside Out) run his shop in Element City’s Firetown. Bernie’s shop, named “The Fireplace,” is his pride and joy, but since he’s close to retirement age, he looks to Ember, who has always wanted to run the shop herself, to take over once he does retire. One day, though, a city health inspector—a water-person named Wade (Mamoudou Athie, Jurassic World: Dominion)—come to The Fireplace and finds several health violations. Now, Ember must travel into Element City to appeal the violations, but she finds that fire people are not always welcome in some areas of the city.
Elemental is able to introduce several different topics throughout the film. It is one of Disney/Pixar’s longest works, but I think that is warranted, as there’s so much to explore. The film seamlessly balances a dive into real-world social issues, comedic and fun moments between characters, and exploration of the environment in which the elements live in and how they interact. There doesn’t seem to be a dull moment for the entire runtime, and we’re able to easily get behind the relatable, human-like characters. The voice acting is stellar in this film, as well, especially considering that the cast is comprised of lesser-known voice actors.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the movie is that it is able to keep a light-hearted tone while tackling prejudice and stereotypes in a mostly clever way. There are a few lines of dialogue that are a bit too on-the-nose in this area. However, most of the is subtle and addressed well. What is really special about this film, though, is that it touches on some internal biases that each different element has, showing that all types of people are capable of thinking judgmentally about others. Elemental also tackles inter-elemental dating in a very unique way that is quite compelling.
Even though the centerpiece of the film is its message, Elemental still also leaves room for fun and laughter. The way elements interact with both the environment and other elements is very interesting to see, although herein lies my biggest issue with the film, as well: the rules of the environment. The way that elements are able to do things, such as touching, or moving around or through objects, is very inconsistent. Certain items are able to be held by a fire person, for example, while others they’ll burn to a crisp if they so much as touch them. The rules of the environment are therefore unclear, and if one looks deep into that aspect there is stuff to nitpick.
Overall, though, Elemental is very enjoyable. It may not be among Disney/Pixar’s best, but it is quite a quality animated feature. It’s an adventure that I believe both children and adults will equally enjoy. Director Peter Sohn (The Good Dinosaur) is able to balance several different elements (pun intended) in this film to achieve a satisfying product. Also, like some other Disney/Pixar films that have come out recently, viewing this film and understanding its themes will be a thought-provoking experience with positive outcomes for many people, and a great way to introduce children to a world of different people and different perspectives.