‘Elemental’ movie review: Pixar’s beautiful song of ice and fire

This love story from Pixar pushes the envelope visually to tell a heart-warming, layered love story

June 23, 2023 05:21 pm | Updated 06:48 pm IST

A still from ‘Elemental’

A still from ‘Elemental’ | Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios

Just as I was wondering whether Pixar had stopped the tradition of short films before the main feature, comes Carl’s Date before Elemental. The charming short is the sixth in the Dug Days series, which is a sequel to Up and tells of the adventures of the widower Carl (Ed Asner) and his golden retriever, Dug (Bob Peterson). In Carl’s Date, Carl has a date with Ms Meyers and is decidedly nervous. After a lot of good and goofy advice from Dug, Carl is finally ready to plunge into life again.

Director: Peter Sohn
Voice cast: Leah Lewis, Mamoudou Athie, Ronnie del Carmen, Shila Ommi, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Catherine O’Hara
Runtime: 109 minutes
Storyline: Two elemental beings, Ember and Wade, come together to create magical chemistry

The charming 10-minute film sets the tone for Elemental, which works like a parable where profound truths are hidden in a simple love story. Fire elements, Bernie (Ronnie del Carmen) and Cinder (Shila Ommi) move to Element City, which is not very easy for them to navigate being composed mainly of water.

Bernie and Cinder move to the outskirts and settle in Fire Town where they have a child, Ember (Reagan To). Bernie runs a convenience store, slowly gaining the patronage of all the residents of Fire Town. Both Bernie and Cinder are distrustful of water. Bernie would like to retire and hand over the convenience store to Ember, but only once she learns to control her temper.

Ember (Leah Lewis) grows up into a caring, affectionate daughter working around the convenience store, making deliveries but still has trouble controlling her temper. When Bernie asks her to handle the red dot sale at the store as a test to see if she is ready to take over the store, Ember feels her temper rising as she is besieged by demanding customers. She goes to the basement to let off steam and unfortunately cracks the pipes causing flooding.

A genial, easy-going water element, Wade (Mamoudou Athie), an inspector from Element City, is also sucked in through the pipes. Sparks fly between the two opposing elements as they race against time to figure out what causes the flooding. While the plot might not be one of the most inventive Pixar has come up with, its very simplicity is irresistible.

Visually, Elemental is stunning — the way Ember and Wade have been brought to life is an eye-popping intersection of technology and imagination. Ember’s wavy warmth finds the perfect mate in Wade’s solid fluidity.

Apart from being a love story of the impossible attraction and chemistry of opposites, Elemental is also the story of immigrants making their lives in a different place, of taking a slice of their old life, culture and values to their new world. It is also the story of the fear of things one does not understand, of making dreams come true as well as coming to terms with the burden of expectation and the terrible grief and joy of letting go.

Director Peter Sohn, a child of immigrant parents, was inspired to tell his parents’ story, who like Bernie and Cinder moved to the US from Korea in the ‘70s and opened a grocery store in the Bronx.  

In the midst of all these heavy-duty symbols there is fun to be had as well. There is earth element, Clod (Mason Wertheimer), who has a crush on Ember and tries to woo her by sprouting flowers from his armpit and Gale Cumulus (Wendi McLendon-Covey), Wade’s air element boss, who has a personality to match her name. The crying game at Wade’s mum, Brook’s (Catherine O’Hara) luxury apartment is fun as are all the verbal puns including “get off your ashes” and the earthy bureaucrat Fern Grouchwood (Joe Pera).

However, if there is one thing one remembers in this simple, sweet love story... it is the visuals, and we have to thank Pixar’s technological prowess and creativity for that.

Elemental is currently running in theatres

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