If The Lion King was Disney’s Hamlet, then Elemental is Pixar’s Romeo and Juliet. Here, our lovers are so star-crossed that their very molecular composition is incompatible. Meet Ember (Leah Lewis), a hugely temperamental fire-girl, and Wade (Mamoudou Athie), an overly-sensitive water-guy. Despite their differences, romance blossoms between the two.
Apart from tipping its hat to Shakespeare, Elemental is also an unabashed immigrant story, with director Peter Sohn being very open about how his experience of being raised by Korean parents in New York provided the culture clash narrative that runs throughout the film.
From a story point of view, Elemental doesn’t attempt to do anything revolutionary. Its take-home messages about embracing diversity and following your path, while heartfelt, may seem slightly trite by now.
Still, while its plot may be as archetypal as they come, there’s a considerable amount of wit and invention to be found here. The world of Element City (where citizens are either air, earth, water, or fire beings) is richly imagined, a candy-colored metropolis that provides the legendary studio its largest canvas yet. This is Pixar’s most ambitious movie yet, packed with dazzling visuals.
This is paired with an incredibly evocative soundtrack, a tribal, new-agey score by Thomas Newman that lends the fanciful world a certain weight of history and mysticism. Whether it’s Newman’s pan-pipes, the touchingly earnest script, or the charming voice performances, there’s no denying that Elemental certainly works on an emotional level. Pixar is notoriously proficient at bringing audiences to tears, and they certainly live up to that reputation here.
It may not be premium Pixar, but Elemental proves that the studio still has a lot of magic to offer. Let’s hope its unfortunate bombing at the box office doesn’t have them running back to sequel-town.
The tale may be old as time, but thanks to a witty script and stunning visuals, Elemental feels fresh, inventive and, yes, romantic.