Pixar, the animation studio that revolutionized the industry in the early 2000s with groundbreaking films such as Toy Story, Wall-E, and UP!, has recently produced a film that has fallen short of expectations. Elemental, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, lacks the innovative creativity that once defined Pixar as a studio. The film, directed by Peter Sohn, was initially intended to focus on the periodic table but instead revolves around the Ancient Greek elements of fire, water, air, and earth. The candy-colored city of Element City, a version of New York, is filled with canals, drains, and barrages. Its citizens include air people who billow like clouds, earth people with flowers in their armpits, and water people who can dissolve into their natural element and reconstitute fully.
Ember and Wade: A Disappointing Romance
The plot of Elemental revolves around Ember, the sparky daughter of an elderly couple of fire people, and Wade Ripple, the city inspector of waterworks. Ember’s family are immigrants who came to Element City from Fireland after storms devastated their hometown. Fire people are considered dangerous, and water people ban them from public buildings. Ember’s family lives across the river from the city and avoids taking trains where they might inadvertently turn the earth people’s leafy hair to ash or get sloshed with water from the overhead aqueducts. Ember and Wade’s relationship is the central focus of the film, and it is disappointingly weak. Their will-they-won’t-they flirtation feels like it could have been taken from a telenovela script and culminates in a big, gloopy fire-and-water kiss that is more cringe-worthy than romantic.
The Lack of Humor and Overreliance on Tropes
While Pixar is known for its quirky details and humor, Elemental fails to deliver in this regard. The film does have some visual jokes, but they are not enough to make viewers laugh out loud. The film also relies heavily on tired tropes, such as the hard-working immigrant and the nasty racist, to signal its message of inclusivity. The engineering snippets in the film may be aimed at boys, while the romance is aimed at girls, which is an example of gender stereotyping. These elements may be lost on young audiences, and the protracted scenes about water pressure in a canal system may be boring to them, making the film unsuitable for all ages.
A Departure from Pixar’s Innovative Legacy
Elemental is a disappointing departure from Pixar’s innovative legacy. While the film starts with an interesting concept and builds a world full of invention, it uses that world as a backdrop for a weak romance that falls short of expectations. The film lacks humor and relies too heavily on tired tropes, making it unsuitable for all ages. The message of inclusivity is delivered with no subtlety, making it feel like smug moralizing. While Pixar has delivered groundbreaking films in the past, Elemental is not one of them. Pixar needs to return to its roots of creativity and innovation if it wants to maintain its position as a leading animation studio.