by Hope Madden
As soon as Ember earns her dad’s trust, he can retire and she’ll run his shop in Fire Town. Unless her hot temper ruins everything. Or she falls for that sweet guy from Water Town. Or both.
Daddy issues. Romance. Coming of Age. There’s a lot about Pixar’s latest, Elemental, that feels familiar. Common, even. And if there’s one thing the animation giant’s managed to avoid for most of its almost 30 years in the business, it’s being predictable.
It doesn’t help that the characters immediately put you in mind of Pixar’s wildly imaginative Inside Out. But there’s little about the film that will strike you as wildly imaginative, although the animation is sometimes breathtaking, beauty spilling off all four sides of the screen. Animators explore and exploit all opportunities to find wonder in the glow and fluidity of characters and the magnificent 3D experience is well worth annoyance of the glasses.
The magic in this story’s telling lies less in an inspired, imaginative plot and more in the nuances of the execution. Ember, a child of immigrants, is seen as a danger to most of the rest of the city. And yet, as she traverses a landscape of people made of water, she’s the one who’s actually in danger.
John Hoberg, Kat Likkel and Brenda Hsueh’s crisp writing deftly navigates microaggressions, misunderstandings, and the anger associated with helpfully advising someone to “water down” their culture.
Back in 2015, Elemental director Peter Sohn made the unduly overlooked The Good Dinosaur. It was a beautiful piece of visual storytelling, charming and well-acted, although, like this one, the plot itself lacked imagination. I hope more people give Elemental a chance. It lacks the uniqueness of Pixar’s greatest or most enduring efforts, but it’s a touching, gorgeous, emotional and forgiving tale.
Don’t be late or you’ll miss perhaps the best reason to see Pixar films, the shorts that precede the feature. In Carl’s Date (which will also appear as episode 1, season 2 of the Disney+ show Dug Days), our beloved Carl (Edward Asner) from Up! needs a little courage to go through with his first date since Ellie. Crushingly lovely.