Star Rating:


Director: Peter Sohn

Actors: Leah Lewis, Mamoudou Athie, Ronnie Del Carmen

Release Date: Friday 7th July 2023

Genre(s): Animation, Comedy, Family

Running time: 109 minutes

Ember (voice of Leah Lewis) tends to her family's store in Element City with the hope that one day, she'll control her fiery temper and take over the store. However, when an outburst causes damage to the store and a city inspector named Wade (voice of Mamoudou Athie) arrives, Ember and Wade begin to form an unlikely connection that has the potential to change both their lives...

Pixar's willingness to approach thorny topics and take unlikely avenues for its work has yielded some of the most exceptional works in animated movie history. Last year's excellent 'Turning Red' took on the idea of adolescent awkwardness and the friction between mothers and daughters in a way that was both very, very funny and also deeply insightful. 'Elemental' might not have the same sharp-edged humour as 'Turning Red', but its exploration of second-generation immigrants and the turmoil between old ways and new lives more than makes up for it.

It's easy to see how Peter Sohn was chosen to direct 'Elemental', and why Pixar was the right studio for it. Sohn is a son of Korean immigrants, having grown up in the Bronx in the '80s and began his career as an animation assistant for none other than Brad Bird on 'The Iron Giant'. More than that, Pixar itself is based in San Francisco, another great melting point with a staff made of second and third-generation immigrants. You can tell by watching 'Elemental' that many of the softer emotional beats come from a real place, even though it's covered in animation.

'Elemental' does work the metaphor a little too hard in parts, choosing to make the Firish people all hard-edged and chippy, while the water people are soft and moneyed. It doesn't always work, and there are a few elements - no pun intended - that don't quite work together as well as they should. Yet, the romance that develops between the two main characters feels honest and unforced, taking clear influence from the likes of 'Moonstruck', 'Mississippi Masala', 'The Big Sick', and naturally 'Guess Who's Coming To Dinner'. Casting Mamadou Athie in the role of Wade was a particularly deft choice, as he's able to play off comedic tones and sentimental romance with ease.

Pixar's high bar means that 'Elemental' will end up being compared against the likes of 'WALL-E', 'Up' 'Inside Out', and 'Toy Story', and find itself lacking. 'Elemental' does have an unwanted familiarity to it, but it's by no means unworthy of the Pixar name. There's a real sense of artistry and emotional resonance to it, and while it may be a little heavy-handed, it's nevertheless a joyfully executed animated rom-com.