Earth, Wind, Fire and Water unite in Pixar’s latest anthropomorphic world of Element City, a Zootopia-esque land with elements instead of animals. Here the different elements learn to go live in harmony (sort of) and we follow the story of the Lumen family who migrates from Fire land (seriously that’s what it’s called) to Element City for a fresh start. Elemental at its heart an immigrant story, told through the lens of a class system that many are convinced does not exist. It’s a strange mish-mash of a movie that doesn’t always stick the landing. It does enough to just skate by, but by Pixar standards, it’s definitely at the Cars end when it comes to quality.
Ember Lumen (Leah Lewis) is an only child working in her family’s shop (named The Fireplace) attempting to control her temper with customers to eventually take over the family business so her hard-working father can retire. When her temper gets the best of her, Ember unknowingly causes an issue with the plumbing system that brings City Inspector Wade Ripple (Mamoudou Athie) to the fire ball part of the city. Together Ember and Wade must find a way to work together to stop the closure of her family’s shop and deal with a bigger threat that could wipe out the entire city.
The biggest issue with the narrative is it doesn’t quite understand where it wants to be and how to do that. The movie starts out as this immigrant story with splashes of Zootopia (or Zootropis depending on where you live in the world) then it tries to go down the big destructive event style movie then into a romantic comedy. It is just trying to do to much and can be quite jarring, particularly when you take into account Pixar’s stellar track record, especially with three of their best films Soul, Luca & Turning Red that didn’t even make it to cinemas.
It’s not all bad, visually the film is absolutely mesmerising. The detailed world of Element City is fully realised and the syncopation of what is happening with water, fire, earth and wind all trying to co-exist together makes for some truly hilarious sight gags. Fire balls carry umbrellas to ensure they aren’t snuffed out as the trains run on water, Earth creatures pick each other’s fruit and call it pruning (it still doesn’t make sense to me) and a plethora of other references and jokes that I’m sure will become apparent on repeat viewing.
When the movie leans into the rom-com element of the story, it all works. There are some great scenes about the perils of fire and water dating and the restrictions that would obviously put on this. How does a fire ball sit in a movie theatre without disrupting other patrons? How could Ember experience crying when she is made from flames? It is all explored hilariously and it is just unfortunate that the focus comes way too late in the run time for it to be effective. The biggest tell for me was a moment at the end that in most Pixar movies would have audiences gasping in shock and crying their eyes out, failing to register at all. The moment was not earned and there was no payoff. This was a sign to me that this movie was trying to do much and wasn’t able to succeed in most of it.
While this may sound like I’m being overly harsh, in terms of storytelling Pixar are the absolute masters of pulling an ambitious film like this off and it’s a shame that this movie felt like it needed a steadier guiding hand to keep it all together. Everything is there visually and the rom-com side of the story burns brightest, the rest should be melted into glass and smashed into a million tiny pieces.
Elemental is in cinemas Thursday 15th June.
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