Element City
ManOfTheCenturyMovie Film ‘Elemental’ review: Pixar’s latest offerings mix immigrant metaphors and true romance

‘Elemental’ review: Pixar’s latest offerings mix immigrant metaphors and true romance

Element City

Much of modern Pixar is mired in “almost” and “what if” and Peter Sohn’s “Elemental” is no exception. It’s as confrontational as they come: a heavy-handed, mixed immigrant metaphor punctuated by a genuinely moving love story. It often gets lost down the rabbit hole of its own conceptual details, yet at the same time produces occasionally stunning visuals and thoughtful aesthetics – such as Thomas Newman’s incredible India-inspired score – resulting in a film that embodies the best and worse than the studio’s recent output, defined more by its potential than by whether or not it fulfills it.

Sohn’s latest directorial venture, “The Good Dinosaur,” was an unfortunate casualty — along with “Soul” and “Toy Story 4” — of Pixar’s strange era in which environmental realism was the emerging lingua franca. This left the cartoon characters feeling uneasy and visually adrift. However, this time around, “Elemental” is set in Element City, an entire fabric creation that exists outside of our reality, with its huge cloud towers and water-spraying monorails, but which should function as a metaphor for the modern United States. .

People made of water, trees, clouds and flames – having immigrated in that order – make up the citizenry of this sprawling fairytale metropolis, but unlike the first three groups, its fire-dwellers have not yet fully integrated or assimilated, because of the rampant prejudice against them. Sure, this setup has a bit of an X-Men problem (or, more vitally, a “Zootopia” problem, where herbivores are prejudiced against carnivores) since the flame people pose a legitimate danger, but yes hopes the four-year-olds in the audience won’t mind.

Our story begins with apprehensive migrant flame couple Útrí dár ì Bùrdì (Ronnie del Carmen) and a pregnant Fâsh ì Síddèr (Shila Ommi) entering through the city version of Ellis Island, and are saddled with the simplified names (see: anglicized) Bernie and Cinder Lumen from their immigration officer. Before long, they open their own convenience store, where they basically raise their daughter, Ember (Leah Lewis), in the hopes that she will one day inherit the family business.

From the outset, the story of “Elemental” reflects the broad strokes of the American immigrant experience, but begins to blur—slowly at first, and then rather quickly—as it tries to get specific. He draws details from various real cultures to create his fire community, “the Firish”, born from a mix of minor traditions borrowed from various East Asian, Middle Eastern and European cultures, and accents that seem to move between Italian, Hispanic , Iranian and West Indian in the blink of an eye. The idea may be that immigrant and first-generation children might find some sort of recognition, but the result is del Carmen and Ommi playing an awkward ethnic hopscotch game with their vocal performances, with virtually every line devoted to some malformed pun unlikely to even elicit a chuckle (in Element City, hot dogs are called hot logs, because they’re made from logs).


This racial mishmash is a capital “B” bad idea with good intentions, but thankfully, the more personal elements of the story are often strong enough to temporarily set aside these unsightly optics. Lumen, in addition to being rendered with truly otherworldly animation – a 2D creature in a 3D world – is also the rare Pixar character defined by an uncomfortable cultural dilemma. Immigrant stories in which first-generation children feel torn between family and career, or the individual and the collective, number a dime a dozen at this point, but while a similar dynamic defines Lumen’s story, it sets the backdrop to something a little more intimate.

His relationship with his father is central; it’s sweet, if jagged at times, with the weight of expectation being as much a gift as a burden. In his broken English, he calls her his “good daughter” and she refers to him lovingly as “ashfa” – the honorific for “father” in their language – but Lumen also struggles with a fiery temper whose origins he fails to figure out. fully recognize, and which manifests itself when its red and yellow flame turns dangerously purple.

The plot kicks off when the shop is accidentally flooded in Bernie’s absence, and Lumen is left to deal with city inspector Wade Ripple (Mamoudou Athie), a sheltered but empathetic and sensitive (to the point of saccharine) person who decides to help her, if that means keeping his father’s business afloat. This results in a lot of half-baked plot being pumped into the film in no time – mostly involving a quest to uncover a rather mundane leak – but thankfully, its frailty ends up being a blessing in disguise, from the since this subplot is easily pushed aside when it comes time for Wade and Ember to interact.

While almost every line sounds like a missed shot in a double entendre, the film comes to life when no one is speaking, thanks to some stunning, eye-popping visual effects born out of the mysterious way in which light interacts with both characters during montages, turning the film upside down in an abstract territory. Hollywood pairings of cantankerous women and sensitive men are in short supply at first, let alone when they take on such interesting physical and vocal forms (Lewis’ direct, smoky delivery mixes amusingly with Athie’s unhinged fizz and her tendency to scream ).


Once you get past the movie’s malformed mechanics: Aquatic people are made of water, but they aren’t water themselves; similarly, people in trees don’t seem to care about people eating “hot logs” – and if you’re ready to take the movie at its word, when it comes to water and fire being equally dangerous to each other, then his story is not altogether unpleasant. Wade and Ember are reluctant to touch for that reason, but the way they frolic around town, and soften and strengthen each other, makes it Pixar’s first true romance since Carl and Ellie (though with slightly happier results than the opening scene of “Up”).

Even when things don’t quite add up and get lost in a pile of mixed metaphors, Thomas Newman’s score rushes to lift the entire film, with its use of classical Indian instruments such as stars, tabla drums, and bansuri flutesand vocalizations in Indian rages ranging from electrifying to poignant, especially when spiced with the occasional subdued acoustic guitar or hint of electronics. ‘Elemental’ may be full of linguistic services to cultural specificities – so many that they end up becoming a cultural mash – but its music is the only aesthetic choice that fully embodies the bicultural notions the film so desperately attempts to dramatize.

Despite its muddled, overstuffed worldbuilding, “Elemental” has enough charming moments to get by, even if its significance lies less in its ill-conceived immigrant saga, and more in the personal drama that lives a few layers beneath it.

Grade: B

“Elemental” premiered at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. Disney will release it in theaters on Friday, June 16.

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