Elemental (2023)
Elemental (2023)

Genre: Fairy Tale Running Time: 1 hr. 43 min.

Release Date: June 16th, 2023 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Peter Sohn Actors: Leah Lewis, Mamoudou Athie, Ronnie Del Carmen, Shila Ommi, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Catherine O’Hara, Mason Wertheimer

 


 

F

ire, water, tree (earth), and cloud (wind) people all inhabit Element City, a sprawling melting-pot metropolis that was originally designed primarily for aquatic denizens (they’re essentially the older, wealthier, upper-crust citizens who have, perhaps reluctantly, made way for so many other individuals). When an immigrant fire family, led by patriarch Bernie Lumen (Ronnie Del Carmen) and his wife Cinder (Shila Ommi), arrive on the shore with young daughter Ember (Leah Lewis), they set about establishing the Element City Dream, as it were, building The Fireplace Cafe, which will help to preserve the customs, traditions, and food of their Firish heritage in this new land of opportunities. “… if you ever get up off your lazy ash!”

They don’t all get along swimmingly, however, as water people become the natural adversary of fire people; these unlike characters can accidentally extinguish or evaporate one another (though the tree people can also be victims of burns). Typical problems with running a small mart are similarly present, from unsatisfiable patrons to shoplifters to customer service kinks, whether or not these issues are instigated specifically by the aqueous crowd. And when Ember grows up, she’s pressured into taking over the family business, not only due to her aging parents who wish to retire, but also in order to make them proud and earn their trust. Living up to expectations is a considerable weight on her shoulders.

“Sorry, buddy. Elements don’t mix.” The standard conundrum of Ember filling her father’s shoes is a touch too bland and curiously similar to the recent live-action films “In the Heights” and “CODA” (and, quite cynically, “The Godfather”). To spruce it up, a “Romeo and Juliet” (or “West Side Story”) type of romance enters the fray, along with entirely expected notes on family sticking together, anger management (which leans into a less-explored arena of mental health), societal discrimination, bureaucratic red tape (minimally dabbling in governmental infrastructure complications), a daunting adventure in a foreign community, a clash of intolerance and acceptance, and even a hint of global warming or environmental disasters.

Of these, the only aspect that stands out is the love story, which, despite employing a number of family-friendly tropes, also crafts a most unusual male protagonist: city inspector Wade Ripple (Mamoudou Athie), whose connection and comfortableness with his emotions, particularly when it comes to crying, is monumental. Virtually everything else is an obvious depiction of racism and a reluctance toward integration, even if it’s disguised or embellished with mild humor, colorful creatures, and playful imagery (the elemental animation effects are highly amusing, as no one has distinct physical borders, save for the tree species). But Wade’s unshakeable positivity, supportiveness, and embracing of his innate, exceptional levels of empathy are astounding; his attitude is incredibly appealing amid so many boilerplate personalities (and vaguely reminiscent of Pixar’s short masterpiece “Partly Cloudy”).

“Not all water looks alike!” Cinder’s stereotypical matchmaking proclivity, numerous flashbacks to designate ideas that will become significant only a few scenes later, and teamwork that leads to dating montages (or music-laden sequences) are each rather stock concepts, alongside the themes of daring to break free of a comforting sense of belonging, sacrificing for family as a nonnegotiable requisite, being torn between two disparate worlds, and accepting one’s flaws – factors often found in storylines catering to children. And though the climax is somewhat implausible, especially with its cheating of definitions surrounding the elemental entities’ explicit mortalities, it’s unexpected and rewarding. This may not be one of Pixar’s more surpassing works, but it’s nonetheless pleasant and reasonably entertaining.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10