Movie Review: Elemental

Pixar tries out the teen romcom, with lovely results.


With “Elemental,” the 27th feature from venerable animation studio Pixar, they’re trying something new: A teen romcom.

They probably don’t want you to know that’s the genre. (Sorry.) If you see the marketing and know the general aesthetic of the film, it doesn’t seem too different from classic Pixar adventures such as “Inside Out” or “Soul” — a fantasy adventure with colorful, slightly slapstick characters. There are elements of those favorites here, but the structure and story are pure romance: Two young folks falling in love over their parents’ objections, finding a way to make it work.

The fact that he’s a sentient puddle and she’s a living flame is almost circumstantial.

Ember (Leah Lewis) is the only child of immigrant parents and the heir to a small yet beloved business. Her parents (Ronnie del Carmen and Shila Ommi) operate a market and restaurant catering to their fellow fire elements — anthropomorphic flames that eat charcoal and other spicy minerals; it also serves as something of a community hub. Ember wants to please her folks but doesn’t do too well with customers; she’s something of … well, a hot-head.

When a test of her shopkeeping prowess goes awry, Wade, a water element (and easy crier), gets sucked through the pipes and deposited at Ember’s feet. He’s an inspector working for Element City’s labyrinthine bureaucracy, and the family shop isn’t up to code. As the pair slowly fall for one another, they’ll have to jump through hoops to save the store — and figure out if they’re going to be able to coexist without turning him to steam or extinguishing her.

It’s a cute concept and an easy one to follow; its message about the difficulties faced by immigrant families, particularly in the face of suspicious neighbors and a difficult business environment, is also well observed.

More strikingly, it’s gorgeous. The design of the characters is clever and funny, and moments of action — Ember turning sand into beautiful glass creations, Wade expanding and overstuffing with more and more liquid — are delightful. It’s a gorgeous and brilliantly designed piece of work.

The only question: Who’s it for? Pixar certainly has a teen audience, as the high quality of the studio’s output has historically made skeptical adolescents willing to take in a family-friendly feature. But a surprisingly restrained story and romance-focused narrative may lose some younger audience members.

That is, at least until they rediscover the film in their teen years, perhaps after a first breakup. Then, those post-Gen-Z teens will burst into tears with a vigor that would put Wade to shame.

My Rating: 8/10

“Elemental” is now playing in theaters.

Categories: Sean Collier’s Popcorn for Dinner