Elemental gets a 0 out of 5. And here’s why.
Right now, Illumination’s minions are dancing around the vanquished husk of Pixar (oopa!). Elemental is an unoriginal, unimaginative loss for what used to be the golden child of the animation movie world.
It sounds like I am being harsh, but Elemental is nowhere near what Pixar has previously produced, and it’s paying the price for it too. As the current box office numbers stand, this movie’s profit is abysmal, barely managing $50 million dollars in theaters. Despite being released during the long weekend over Father’s Day and Juneteenth, Elemental earned less than 30 million dollars making it the WORST premier in Pixar history.
Family-oriented summer holiday weekends are the crème de la crème of kids’ movie release dates, and yet Elemental STILL performed under Onward, which was released in March 2020 as shutdown regulations were already starting. It wasn’t until this last weekend that Elemental earned over its $200 million dollar cost but even worse, I think the movie deserves exactly what it’s getting.
Elemental follows the story of a second-generation fire girl, Ember, voiced by Leah Lewis, whose parents Cinder and Bernie (Sheila Vosough and Ronnie Del Carmen), immigrate to Element City from Fireland with dreams of opening up a store. Ember’s been told all her life that ‘elements don’t mix’ and that she belongs in Firetown, destined to take over her father’s shop. But that all changes when she meets Wade, who is (gasp) water?!?! Now Ember must decide, does she make her father proud and run the shop? Or follow her fiery heart?
If you think you know where the story is going, you absolutely do because there are no surprises in the plot. I wouldn’t even consider it a spoiler to tell you that, of course, the disadvantaged fire girl and the rich white—oops, I mean “water” boy fall in love “against all odds” in a stale allegory for racism. Now, I’m not asking for Pixar to reinvent the wheel, but don’t give me AI Osmosis Jones and tell me it’s something new.
While the trope-laden plot and characters leave a lot to be desired, I believe Elemental’s biggest letdown is actually in its worldbuilding, which is a shock, especially considering it’s Pixar.
Creating a world from scratch is no easy feat, especially for a movie designed for viewers of all ages. It’s more than just the setting and describing how many moons can be seen from the surface of the planet. Good world-building is a huge part of what makes you care about the characters and believe, even for just a short moment, that the magical world you’re watching is real. If you don’t believe the world is real, then none of your stakes will matter. This is why, despite the wonderful animation, Elemental feels flat and heartless.
Improv nerds will recognize the game of “IF this is true, THEN what else is also true.” What that means is if you take a concept, you can build upon it and create depth based on the original seed of the idea. Elemental does the bare minimum of this; the best example in the entire movie is: IF they are fire people, THEN they would live in little oven houses. That’s great! Why are there no more examples of this? Why do water people take the subway and not some kind of WATER TRANSPORT?
I’m begging for detail! “Firetown.” “Fireland.” “Watertown?!!” Someone should check the pulse of the creators! One of the greatest joys of making a children’s animation movie is that the sky is truly the limit, but Elemental completely wastes that opportunity. The attention to detail we are used to seeing from Pixar is nowhere to be seen. It’s as if they had the idea for Elemental, wrote one draft, and never considered developing any aspect of it.
I mean, they couldn’t even put more effort into the promo pictures–They use the same render for one of the main characters every single time. Look at the pink cloud Gale ( Wendy McLendon-Covey). Gale and the yellow guy, Lutz ( Matt Yang King), are literally copied and pasted into every poster in the EXACT same position.
And the ‘exciting first non-binary Pixar character’ we’ve heard so much about literally has ONE line: “Yeah following in Mom’s way .” A single line from a character who is in ONE scene does not merit the media rounds. Lake, voiced by Ava Kai Hauser, serves no purpose other than the context of being Wade’s sibling. Come on, Pixar, if you’re going to make a big deal out of a non-binary character, give us more than 30 seconds of screen time and an argyle sweater!
Similarly, Lutz is also in one scene of the film– I wouldn’t even consider that a side character, but Pixar is so desperate for IP they consider him important enough to have a McDonald’s toy. Yes, I did get a happy meal (for RESEARCH purposes only).
This is scraping the bottom of the barrel, and to me, it’s a death cry for Pixar; Pixar who, in many ways, wrote the book on imaginative world-building: Toy Story. “We all know what regular life is like, but what if when we left, our toys had a totally different life?” It grounds us in the world we all know and flips it on its head, showing us an entirely new reality with enough detail in it for us to believe. In stark contrast, Elemental’s premise is more like, “What if we took West Side Story and made some of them elements?”
It hurt me to finish this movie. I almost cried sitting in between five-year-olds in the theater, and it wasn’t because one of them spilled their juice on me; it was because I was mourning Pixar. I wish I were exaggerating, but this one potentially took years off of my life. I’m going to leave you with the ‘Spongebob door’ which is inexplicably in one of the scenes.