Review: Prefaced by the delightful short Carl’s Date, in which the curmudgeon from Up nervously prepares for a first romantic assignation since losing his wife Ellie, Elemental is a visually stunning computer-animated adventure set in a bustling metropolis where fire, water, earth and air residents exist side by side. Element City is a melting pot of cultures and sly visual gags constructed to the design blueprints of Zootropolis, segregating flame-haired denizens from other tribes for fear of reducing the lush green foliage of earthy types to ashes or turning up the heat on water babies to an uncomfortable boil. Peter Sohn’s romantic escapade draws inspiration from the director’s childhood as a first-generation immigrant and sows seeds of love between members of two feuding factions a la Romeo And Juliet, who can honour their parents’ wishes or acknowledge the quickening beat of their hearts.
The dazzling originality of previous Pixar outings fails to materialise as forbidden desire crescendos during a teary-eyed conclusion that delivers two emotional sucker punches in quick succession (parents should have tissues handy for a sob and sniffle in the dark). Regardless of the derivative storytelling, Elemental is threaded with moments of wonder and jaw-dropping spectacle and Sohn’s personal history infuses a script penned by John Hoberg, Kat Likkel and Brenda Hsueh with lump-in-throat sentimentality.
Bernie Lumen (voiced by Ronnie del Carmen) and wife Cinder (Shila Ommi) are among the first fiery immigrants to Element City and they establish a home and thriving business at the beating heart of Fire Town. The couple raise spirited daughter Ember (Leah Lewis) to distrust water elements and groom her to take over The Fireplace once she learns to control her volcanic temper.
One of these incendiary outbursts causes a burst pipe in the store’s basement and tender-hearted water element Wade Ripple (Mamoudou Athie) splashes unexpectedly into Ember’s life. He is a city inspector working for no-nonsense earth bureaucrat Fern Grouchwood (voiced by Joe Pera) and is duty-bound to report the leak. Fern’s airy boss Gale Cumulus (Wendi McLendon-Covey), who assesses potential violations, wields the power to shut down the Lumen family business… unless Wade and Ember can track the source of a leak that currently blights Element City. Wade’s sweetness and serenity catalyse new emotions for Ember and she reluctantly accepts she may be falling for the one element her father warned her against.
Elemental doesn’t shine as brightly as Pixar’s most polished gems including Wall-E, Toy Story 3 and Inside Out but even when the Oscar-winning animation studio falls short of its own impossibly high standards, audiences are the winners. Fire, water, earth and air conjure complementary colour palettes, which Sohn and a vast army of animators deliver with verve to match Lewis and Athie’s energetic vocal performances. The intergenerational conflict of Onward, Luca and Turning Red percolates here too, underscoring a rousing central message of family legacy and self-sacrifice.
Find Elemental in the cinemas