Elemental (Digital)

Follows Ember and Wade, in a city where fire-, water-, land- and air-residents live together.

August 22, 2023 10 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton and Matt Malouf

Plot: What’s it about?

Elemental is the latest offering from Pixar, and while not one of their greatest efforts, it still is an enjoyable time. I remember seeing the neat trailers and couldn’t wait to see how things would play out. While it’s a fun and entertaining film, it’s also one that has a maturity to it that isn’t always present in animated features. Above many things, it’s simply a pleasure to look at. The colorful animation always gives us something pleasing to our eyes.

We have characters who are literally fire and water as the main characters who live in Element City. We see early on that Bernie (Ronnie del Carmen) and his wife, Cinder (Shila Ommi) arrive in Element City with the hopes of starting a new life. There’s some funny early stuff with none of the elements wanting them to live with them so as not to be burned or set on fire. And so, they finally settle on Fire City. They start their own business, and have a child named Ember (Leah Lewis) and her father has high hopes that she will take over the business one day. We learn that he gives his daughter several tries and reminds her that when she is ready to take over it will come. Unfortunately, Ember loses her temper a lot, especially when there’s a customer who tests her patience. I like the element (get it?) where she is literally fire and needs to keep her cool and not lose control. Her outbursts eventually cause the pipes to burst in the shop and this is where Wade (Mamoudou Athie) enters the picture. He is an inspector, and he is made of water. Wade finds issues with the pipes and feels an obligation to report it. Obviously, if this happens then Ember and her family will lose their business. There’s a fun sequence where Ember chases Wade through Element City to stop him from submitting the ticket. He is successful but becomes empathetic when Ember explains her situation to him. He urges her to go and contest the ticket, and this leads to Ember and Wade spending more time together. Since one is fire and one is water, this causes issues because the two simply can’t mix. But Ember is guarded and knows that fire needs to stay with fire and her priorities are with her family and protecting their store.

Elemental took me by surprise not just by how much I enjoyed it, but also the story and having its heart in the right place. The plot can take something of a backseat to the central romantic angle which is carried throughout the film. Honestly, there may be a tad too much going on with the central premise. It is not confusing necessarily but sometimes a lesser approach might’ve helped. Still, it remained a fun and fast paced flick that should satisfy not just the target audiences but adults too. I was reminded a bit of Cars in how everyday terminology for us is part of their world and how they interact or not interact with or who to engage or not engage with. It isn’t hard to see the comparisons to a real-life scenario where certain cultures only know how to stick to their own and not branch out. It is never heavy in that message, but it’s present.

Video: How’s it look?

I’ll channel Chandler from Friends – “Uh, yeah…hel-LO! Could there be a more colorful movie?” Kidding aside, just taking one glance at the poster/cover art and you know you’re in for a visual treat. And this delivers on all levels. This might be one of the more “explosive”-looking films I’ve ever seen. Reds, greens, blues (and every shade in between) tend to leap off the screen. The “elements” each have their own particular vibe and “aura” about them and, thus, it gives the film one of the most visual looks out there. The 1.85:1 aspect ratio is a bit odd, considering they could have stretched the screen out a bit, but perhaps the fact that it fills the entire 16:9 screen is reward enough. Suffice it to say, this one is a visual feast.

Audio: How’s it sound?

I always tend to hesitate when doing a digital review. On one hand, the indicator on my receiver showed “Dolby Atmos” while the text on the Movies Anywhere page simply said “5.1” sound. Regardless, whatever option you choose (or wherever you decide to watch it) it’ll be time well spent. This is a bombastic track that’s sure to please with sound coming out of each and every one of your channels. Remember back in the 90’s when we only had 5.1 channels of sound? Nowadays we’ve got an entire room with nothing but speakers. Hey, if it’s an immersive experience you want, then Elemental delivers. Vocals are sharp and crisp, surrounds abound and the front stage is busy for every second of the film’s running time. This delivers.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Short Film

  • Carl’s Date – Written and directed by Bob Peterson and produced by Kim Collins, this all-new short, “Carl’s Date,” finds Carl reluctantly agreeing to go on a date with a lady friend —but admittedly with no idea how dating works these days. Ever the helpful friend, Dug steps in to calm Carl’s pre-date jitters and offer some tried-and-true tips for making friends — if you’re a dog. “Carl’s Date” opened in theaters in front of Disney and Pixar’s Elemental.

Featurettes – Three total, that shed a bit of light on the making of the movie.

  • Ember and Wade – Take a deeper look at the development of main characters Ember and Wade, from early designs to final effects, and learn how the complex work of the technical and character teams brought these characters to life.
  • Next Stop: Element City – Explore how Element City is built to accommodate its different inhabitants. Director Peter Sohn and crew members share insights about the evolution of the designed world, as well as some of the research that inspired its unique look.
  • Paths to Pixar: The Immigrant Experience – Hear from first-generation filmmakers on the Elemental crew as they share their journeys to Pixar.  Discover how Elemental’s real-world themes of sacrifice and identity, amongst many others, reflect or diverge from their own lived experiences.

Deleted Scenes – Director Peter Sohn introduces five scenes that are storyboarded, set to music, timed, and voiced, but are not included in the final version of Elemental.

  • Intro Ember – An alternate opening in which our hero Ember helps a newly immigrated Fire family navigate through, and acclimate to, Element City. Scene introduced by director Peter Sohn.
  • Mom Rejects Wade – Ember’s traditional parents learn that she’s enamored with watery Wade…and it doesn’t go well. Scene introduced by story supervisor Jason Katz.
  • Dante Challenge – In an attempt to keep Ember apart from Wade, Bernie tasks her with finding a place to live for newcomer Dante, who Wade finds himself rather enamored with. Scene introduced by story artist Nira Liu.
  • Brook Dinner – Ember joins Wade for dinner at his home, in this abandoned storyline in which Wade’s mother, Brook, is revealed to be the villain diverting water into Firetown. Scene introduced by story artist Anna Benedict.
  • Beach Proposal – Sharing a tender moment on the beach, Ember and Wade propose marriage to each other. Scene introduced by story artists Yung-Han Chang and Le Tang.

Audio Commentary – Director Peter Sohn, supe tech Sanjay Bakshi, supervising animator Mike Venturini, and directing animator Gwendelyn Enderoglu as they provide insight into the making of this remarkable animated feature while you watch it.

The Bottom Line

While parts of the story may be familiar, it was nice seeing an animated feature try something different. There’s a lot of fun here from an outside perspective viewing this world and how the characters go about their daily lives. The voice work is strong, the animation is gorgeous to look at and the story is effective. Check it out.

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