Elemental Review

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There is no better way to ensure that you will look like an old fogy than by trying in vain to prove that a cartoon fantasy film for children cannot be believed and that it has no truth or reality about it. Are cars manufactured in Cars? How come Cinderella doesn’t have any company in the entire kingdom with her size of foot? Minions – what’s, um, what’s up with them? You are either ignorant or a party pooper. Why not take it easy if kids find a movie fun and can sit still for 90 minutes? The latest movie from Pixar called Elemental takes this principle to its logical limit.

The animation is simply breathtaking; there are some thrilling chases, a pretty cute love story; great songs and lots of intelligent jokes in it. However, the internal consistency of the Elemental film is frustrating, unlike Inside Out, which is considered as its closest comparative high-concept movie. At one stage you just have to say this does not make sense!

Elemental takes place in Element City, where water, fire (standing mainly for trees and shrubs), wind, and earth – all anthropomorphized elements try living together. The most recent group to come ashore happens to be Firish people who tend to stick together at their own little Fire Town ghetto. This is an obvious metaphor for immigration into Western cities with young people being worried about assimilation and discrimination among other things. Not exactly groundbreaking stuff – indeed, the very first feature-length “talkie” on-screen entitled The Jazz Singer released back in 1927 touches upon many similar themes. But this is undeniably the first retelling of its type with literal clouds playing Quidditch.

The opening part of the story begins quite quickly and shows some splendid visual effects through montage sequences. And then there are watersheds gushing forth turning into blobs of life itself while occasionally threatening fires by burning trees that are too close.

The young Ember Lumen is the daughter of proud immigrant Firish parents who created a store (aptly named The Fireplace!) out of nothing. That’s when she comes across a sniveling bureaucrat called Wade Ripple and for a while, it looks like the most anti-regulatory family movie in years since our friends from Ghostbusters fought against the EPA. Eventually, Ember manages to persuade Wade to support her against city hall so that she can keep The Fireplace open. It is only after their elaborate plotting culminates into an unlikely friendship first that love starts surfacing.

The main problem with these two characters is that both of them are extremely annoying. Leah Lewis’ character, Ember, is constantly pissed off when she speaks. (This will later be revealed as being due to storing away some generational anger; she does not want to inherit The Fireplace.) However, worse even than this is Wade played by Mamoudou Athie who acts like an irritating child always crying all over the place. He falls in love with her almost at first sight – I don’t know why. All she does is scream and bitch! But instead of respecting Ember’s wishes not to get involved, he becomes increasingly obsessed with her until he turns a liquid stalker or something very strange that doesn’t seem fit for children’s eyes. It gets kind of weird and you wouldn’t want your kids learning any lessons about love from it.

There is also a secondary plot that involves dangerous leaks throughout the city – dangerous even to someone like Wade who deals with water. And this is where things began really bugging me. If you are living water, as Wade is supposed to be, then what is regular water? This has never been addressed or even acknowledged which was quite perplexing to me since I could not be the only moron who thinks so. (After the screening, I talked to some colleagues about it and they said that they were equally puzzled by it; guess if you are a kid, you just go along with it.) Now, I know I am in danger of sounding like the very same party pooper I cautioned against, but can you imagine if cars get on a freeway in Cars and there are several non-living cars driving next to Lightning McQueen and Mater. It’s breathtaking.

What causes these leaks looks like it may build up into a major conspiracy similar to Chinatown but this storyline goes completely off track. The main conflict at hand becomes whether or not two individuals from such different backgrounds could make it as a couple. From the start of this storyline, however, we realize that love will somehow win out but the most critical problem remains that if they touch each other these two will become vapor.

You start wondering if this metaphor isn’t being pushed too hard, and when all those ideas of self-belief and following dreams suddenly turn into an after-school special on steroids then Minions’ appeal starts making sense for kids. Those movies didn’t shove many lessons down your throat; mostly, the noises were just loud and people acted silly.

In spite of that, puns don’t exactly abound in frames while Ember’s visits to Ripple’s residence deserve mentioning quality-wise. For all its failure to connect with audiences though, nothing here ever gets dull because everything simply looks so wonderful on screen.


Pixar is visually absolutely top-notch in terms of creating Element City and its inhabitants. However, the plot is much too thin and does not make any sense at all. It is hard to see young children getting really into this, while older ones – who are generally able to trust this company not patronizing them – might be slightly peeved by having rote platitudes that seem like a lecture directed towards them.

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