“When love is real, it finds a way.” - Avatar Roku
When I watch a movie with a romantically driven plot I sometimes think back to my younger self when I would have cringed or giggled at the thought of watching characters in a movie fall in love. It makes me smile to remember how silly we all were in our youth. While many in my life would argue that I haven’t matured much since about my tenth birthday I’m happy to say that I can now appreciate the mushier side of storytelling. That said I still need something to be fully on board with the romance and that is a good story. I need a point to it beyond the paint-by-numbers rom-com that has been done and redone to complete and utter death.
About Time is a prime example as it is one of my favorite movies. The romance is there but it explores beyond the dating phase with the butterflies in the stomach and the mystery of what might be; if this is the right person. It shows the mundanity of marriage and the juxtaposition of a life well-lived all because that marriage was simply and poetically, normal. It showcases the importance of family in the face of great loss and that through tragedy we experience growth as human beings. And as someone who has lost his father, the father/son relationship on display is heartfelt, heartbreaking, absolutely beautiful and perhaps most importantly, it’s relatable. The whole time travel thing just adds some drama to drive the plot forward and does so brilliantly. But enough about that movie, this is Pixar’s show.
Elemental is Pixar’s most romantically driven story ever. But much like About Time or any other romantic movie worth its measure is about so much more. In a time when xenophobia seems to be at an all-time high, Elemental’s focus goes beyond the complexities of young love and shows the experience of immigrant parents striving to find the lives they know they deserve. In the case of Ember, our main character, her parents once faced the most difficult choice of their lives as they left the only home they had ever known in hopes of something better for their young and expanding family. This meant turning their backs on tradition but for the benefit of their daughter they made the sacrifice. Now the burden lies with Ember to make their sacrifices worthwhile. Ember interprets this as having no choice but to follow in her father’s footsteps by taking over their family owned, fire centric neighborhood market.
Elemental is about Ember and her perceived dream of taking over the family owned grocery store for her father when the day comes that he chooses to retire. In the world of Elemental, each element sticks with its own kind. Ember, made of fire, stays in the part of the city fashioned for those like her and far away from the part of the city made of water thriving with elements of water beings. As Ember stresses over the impending day of her dreams coming true to finally take charge, it is the act of a misguided but well-meaning water element named Wade that takes Ember down a path of self-discovery. It is on this path that she realizes the wants and desires of her very soul and those of her father’s may not be so aligned as she once believed. Does she follow her heart, in more ways than one, or does she fall in line and take over the family business?
Visually it’s no surprise that Elemental is gorgeous. If Pixar is superior at anything it is the attention to the visual details of their expansive and intricate world building. Elemental is no exception. Almost possessing a hand drawn quality to it, the character design in particular feels warm and alive. Their very conditions of fire look as if they would actually burn someone or get someone wet from the water or blown away by the forceful winds.
But as we’ve seen before (Cars 2) Pixar aren’t infallible storytellers. Luckily with Elemental they find their usual spark beginning with one of the most important factors of a love story and that is chemistry of a story’s lead characters. Is it a natural unfurling of feelings or a rehearsed performance of two people simply saying lines and hoping we as the audience won’t notice? Between Ember and Wade, their mutual exchange of looks and almost touching is only emboldened by the top notch voice performances of the characters brought to life with emphatic enthusiasm by Leah Lewis and Mamoudou Athie. I believed in their love and I rooted for it.
Elemental also has the audacity beyond such a beautiful love story to enhance the journey with one of my favorite musical scores from the studio since the musically divine, Soul. It is epic at times and intimate in others but despite the differences in intensity it all melds together creating something intoxicatingly foreign and mysterious but always leading to something hopeful much like the characters themselves. Elemental is romantic, it’s funny and imperfect but what it lacks almost makes the natural imperfections of a flawed love story all the more infatuating. It may not go down as one of Pixar’s best but as simple, gorgeously animated love stories go, it rivals the best of them.
Rated PG For: some peril, thematic elements and brief language
Runtime: 109 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Starring (voice): Leah Lewis, Mamoudou Athie, Ronnie Del Carmen, Shila Ommi
Directed By: Peter Sohn
Out of 10
Story: 9/ Acting: 9/ Directing: 8.5/ Visuals: 10
Buy to Own: Yes
Check out the trailer below: