Pixar, known for creating clever, charming, and original films that touch the heart and spark the imagination, has recently fallen short of its past standard of excellence.
With a focus on sequels and a lack of mastery in execution, the animation studio has struggled to recapture its original magic. “Elemental,” the latest release from Disney and Pixar, exemplifies this struggle, presenting a messy world-building attempt in service of a conventional story that fails to showcase the talent of the animators involved.
While the film aims to explore a unique metaphor of social classes represented by natural elements, it falls short due to its unwieldiness as a racial allegory, predictable writing, and haphazard pacing. With its under-developed narrative and missed opportunities, “Elemental” leaves much to be desired.
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World-Building: A Messy Metaphor
“Elemental” takes place in Element City, a New York-style metropolis where different social classes are represented by natural elements—earth, fire, water, and air.
However, the film’s attempt to use this metaphor as a racial allegory feels off-balance and uncomfortable. The social privilege of water people, who freely navigate the city’s canals and high-rises, is contrasted with the seclusion of fire people in Firetown, portrayed as immigrants representing diverse cultures.
The representation of fire as all immigrants and water as the white upper class oversimplifies the complexities of systemic racism.
While the film briefly touches on earth and air elements, their significance remains shallow and unexplored. The world-building feels more like concept art rather than a fully realized environment, lacking the depth and cohesion found in previous Pixar films.
Story and Characters: Predictable and Formulaic
“Elemental” centers around Ember Lumen, a hot-tempered second-generation immigrant working in her father’s bodega shop. Ember’s struggle with her identity and desires forms the core of the story.
When she meets Wade, a city inspector investigating a leak that threatens Firetown, Ember teams up with him to save her father’s business. As their relationship develops, the film follows a familiar pattern of opposites attracting, encountering misunderstandings, and eventually rekindling their love in the face of adversity.
The plot progresses at a frantic pace, resulting in a lack of depth and unexpected turns. While Ember and Wade’s relationship provides a heartfelt center for the film, it cannot compensate for the film’s overall lack of originality.
Animation and Visuals: Missed Opportunities
The animation of “Elemental” showcases vibrant colors, distinctive forms, and captivating movements, particularly in the depiction of Ember and Wade. Ember’s ability to heat a hot-air balloon and shape glass with her hands, and Wade’s fluid and transparent nature, create visually exciting moments.
However, the film’s animation style fails to distinguish itself from other Pixar films where characters navigate realistically animated cityscapes. Only a few standout sequences, such as an underwater garden and a hand-drawn animation love story, truly deviate from the expected Pixar formula.
The film lacks the awe-inspiring aesthetic imagination found in previous Pixar classics like “Finding Nemo” and “Wall-E.” Despite the film’s captivating visuals, they are ultimately constrained by the film’s unimaginative storytelling.
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“Elemental” represents Pixar’s struggle to recapture its original magic. While the film presents an intriguing concept of a world divided by natural elements as a metaphor for social classes, it fails to deliver on its potential.
The messy world-building, uncomfortable racial allegory, predictable story, and formulaic characters hinder the film’s ability to stand out.
Although the animation and visuals offer moments of excitement and beauty, they do not compensate for the film’s lack of originality and missed opportunities.
“Elemental” evaporates from memory quickly, failing to leave a lasting impression. Pixar’s recent output continues to fall short of its past excellence, leaving fans longing for the clever, charming, and imaginative films that the studio was once known for.