Elemental (2023)

Elemental (2023)

This Pixar movie doesn’t rekindle the studio’s old magic, but it’s no washout either



United States of America
English, Spanish
Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family
Alex Kapp, Catherine O'Hara, Joe Pera
102 min


A Pixar concept so Pixar it almost seems like a parody.

What it's about

Struggling to meet her father’s expectations, a young fire-woman falls in love with a water-man in an elementally segregated metropolis.

The take

Seven years after Zootopia, Pixar takes another crack at a racial prejudice metaphor — but, while the analogy is less creaky here, it’s still an awkward one, as diametrically opposed elements like fire and water stand in for human beings. The gaping flaws in its central concept aside, Elemental does wring something compelling out of its story: an exploration of second-generation immigrant guilt.

That might seem like an oddly specific and complex topic for what is ostensibly a kids’ film to grapple with, but this is the Pixar of Soul and Bao, not Finding Nemo and Toy Story. Ember (Leah Lewis) is an anthropomorphized young flame whose parents migrated from their home in Fireland to run a store in the NYC-like melting pot of Element City; she’s keenly aware of the sacrifices they made to give her a better life and believes the only way to repay them is to abandon her own dreams and run their store. This is the one part of Elemental’s metaphor that really lands, but it’s unfortunately sidelined to make way for an inter-elemental romance between Ember and a water-man that only pulls the focus back onto the film’s biggest weakness. Still, its emotional specificity and beautiful animation prevent it from being a total washout.

What stands out

One thing Elemental isn’t short on is inventive world-building. There’s a witty pun or imaginative real-world analog in almost every shot of Element City, from the Wood Chips that residents snack on to the Wetro transit system they ride (so named because the elevated trains drive through water canals). If the story dips into cliché — which it does, especially when focused on the budding romance between Ember and Wade (Mamadou Athie) — there are always the gorgeously rendered, Easter egg-packed backdrops to hold your attention.


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