Adventure Animation

Review: ‘Elemental’ is a Breezy and Imaginative Rom-Com Weighed Down by Its Real-World Metaphors

June 15, 2023Ben MK

Whether you consider yourself a fan of Pixar's films or not, it's impossible to ignore their many contributions, not just to the world of animation, but to the buddy comedy genre as well. From fan-favorite odd couples like Woody and Buzz in Toy Story and Mike and Sully in Monsters Inc. to Remy and Emile in Ratatouille and Marlin and Dory in Finding Nemo, the list of dynamic Pixar duos is quite impressive indeed. But with Elemental, Pixar is taking their knack for pairing up lovable animated protagonists and applying it to the romantic comedy, a genre they've never fully explored until now.

A tale of cultures clashing set amidst the hustle and bustle of the fantastical metropolis known as Element City, Elemental follows the hot-tempered Ember Lumen (Leah Lewis) and the emotionally expressive Wade Ripple (Mamoudou Athie), two very different individuals who each learn firsthand the true meaning of the phrase "opposites attract." The daughter of immigrant parents, Ember has always felt an obligation to honor and to live up to the expectations of her hard-working shopkeeper father, Bernie (Ronnie Del Carmen), and fortune-teller mother, Cinder (Shila Ommi), who made the brave decision to leave their homeland and move to Element City before Ember was born. However, when Ember meets Wade, a go-with-the-flow city inspector who finds himself inadvertently sucked into the pipes of Bernie's shop, it upends all of her preconceived notions about who she is and who she's meant to be, as she begins to experience what life is like outside of her tight-knit community and starts to question whether the destiny her parents have in mind for her is something she in fact truly desires as well.

Of course, like any good meet-cute, Ember and Wade's relationship doesn't get off on the right foot, especially with Wade being so adamant about performing his civic duty by issuing multiple citations that could potentially lead to Bernie's shop getting shut down. Nonetheless, it's precisely Wade's steadfast devotion to his job that causes Ember to relentlessly pursue him in the first place. And, eventually, what starts with her chasing Wade halfway across Element City in a desperate attempt to persuade him to help her save her father's shop begins to grows into something decidedly more romantic, as the pair challenge each other to live outside of their comfort zones, to embrace the unknown, and to reconsider the deep-seated stereotypes that they grew up with.

Directed by Peter Sohn from a screenplay by John Hoberg, Kat Likkel and Brenda Hsueh, the result is a visually stunning rom-com adventure that has earnest potential to charm viewers with its imaginative world and endearing characters. Unfortunately, it also isn't subtle about its metaphors. And while the movie's on-the-nose allegories for real-world race relations may be tolerable in short bouts, its use of non-stop dad jokes and in-your-face social commentary to make its point known wears increasingly thin over the course of an entire feature-length tale. Suffice to say, Elemental's attempt at crafting a heartfelt and relatable narrative underscored by themes of acceptance and mutual understanding is an admirable one. As far as its execution of said narrative is concerned, however, the film's rough-around-the-edges approach leaves much to be desired.

Make no mistake, Elemental is far from an unmitigated disaster. However, it will likely make audiences yearn for the golden age of Pixar storytelling, when stories could stand on their own without the burden of having to constantly remind viewers of the poignancy of their underlying subject matter. That said, members of the younger demographic will no doubt be delighted by the movie's colorful aesthetic and bold visual style. Older moviegoers, on the other hand, have not only seen this type of tale told before, but to better effect.

Elemental releases June 16, 2023 from Walt Disney Studios. The film has an MPAA rating of G for some peril, thematic elements and brief language. Its runtime is 1 hr. 49 min.

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