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Elemental Review – Has Pixar’s Spark burnt out?

Elemental - Image Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios. © 2022 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Staff Writer Taha Khambaty reviews Pixar’s new movie ‘Elemental’ including an incite into the underwhelming reception of the film’s release.

Pixar’s Elemental beautifully explores the entangled journey of being a first-generation immigrant and finding love in unexpected places. While the film may have faced initial criticisms for its perceived lack of originality, it quickly becomes evident that “Elemental” is executed with the traditional Pixar love and care that allows it to flourish.

From the very first frame, it is clear that no detail has been overlooked in its creation. The multiple city designs, transportation, and everyday objects are meticulously crafted, with careful consideration given to how the elemental characters would interact with their surroundings. This is compounded with great animation creating a visually memorable experience.

The story begins with two fire elementals moving into element city which is (literally) not made to accommodate them. Through continuous effort and determination, they establish their house and shop, attracting a community of fire elementals around them. This opening sequence is incredibly touching and in an incredibly short time crafts an intricate and nuance portrait of the immigrant experience.

The film then follows their daughter, Ember voiced by Leah Lewis. We see her clear admiration for her culture and want to follow in her father’s footsteps however her short temper keeps getting in the way. This becomes the inciting incident of the story when her heated tantrum causes the shop’s pipes to burst and inadvertently introduces us to water elemental Wade, voiced by Mamoudou Athie. As they work together to prevent the closure of the shop and investigate the source of the leakages, their connection deepens and an unlikely romance flares up.

While the love story between Ember and Wade may not be entirely new, its execution is charming and well done. Athie and Lewis deliver great performances, drawing the audience in with their unique personalities and making us root for the impossible union of fire and water.

However, where Elemental shines brightest is in its depiction of the immigrant experience. The film seamlessly weaves in various elements, from cultural preservation to issues of social mobility and the neglect of immigrant infrastructure. Borrowing from Asian cultures, both in its musical choices and narrative themes, Elemental creates a narrative that is compelling and allows the audience to connect deeply with the characters.

Yet despite this, it failed to connect with audiences and has struggled to find the success it deserves at the box office. The film opened to a mere $29 million at the domestic Box Office, only surpassing the original “Toy Story” from 1995 which opened in far fewer theatres. While it did do some damage control in its subsequent weeks, grossing over $250 million internationally (as of writing), it highlights a waning of Pixar’s star power.

One of the significant reasons for this underperformance is Disney’s dilution of the Pixar brand. With the pandemic-related day-and-date releases, the shortened theatrical release window, and direct-to-streaming releases, Disney has implicitly conveyed that Pixar films are something to be enjoyed at home. While Pixar clearly has an audience spanning multiple age ranges it is still a favourite for kids and families who would rather just wait and watch these from the comfort of their own homes.

Additionally, the lacklustre marketing for “Elemental” failed to showcase the film’s more unique and interesting elements, such as its rich cultural aspects and compelling story. The emphasis on the love story between fire and water overshadowed the deeper themes, missing an opportunity to resonate with audiences seeking diversity and meaningful storytelling.

While the film’s compelling narrative has given it good legs at the box office, it has still become yet another disappointment in an already depressed summer movie season. Hopefully, given time, Elemental might hold on and shine through, reminding us of Pixar’s enduring spark.

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