elemental review

Elemental review | Pixar’s latest is good, not great

Pixar’s latest takes place in Element City where all the different elements live in a delicate harmony. Read our Elemental review. 

Elemental, Pixar’s latest animated film, is set in Element City; a huge city where the element-people (air, water, fire and land) all live together, divided into their assigned parts of town. 

Sound familiar? That’s because Elemental is (if you’ll pardon the pun) a carbon copy of Zootropolis. In Zootropolis, it was different animals who all lived in harmony together in the titular city, which was divided into different sections. And like Zootropolis, Elemental also features an unlikely pairing who go on a whimsical adventure together. 

Ember (voiced by Leah Lewis) is made of fire and works in her parents’ shop, which mostly caters to fellow fire-people. They immigrated to Element City, and Ember’s father Bernie is deeply distrusting towards water-people, for obvious physics-based reasons. 

elemental wade ember (1)

Credit: Pixar

A lot of Elemental’s narrative revolves around Ember’s desire to take over her father’s shop, The Fireplace. She meets Wade (Mamoudou Athie), a water-person, who helps Ember locate a disastrous leak that is threatening The Fireplace. Essentially, Elemental is a film about love and plumbing. 

Elemental quickly morphs into a romantic comedy, with all of the genre’s baggage. Making a romcom is not easy. It’s a tough sell for modern audiences, especially when you strip any intimacy out of it. It’s great to see Pixar trying something new, but Elemental ultimately feels as flat as a pancake. 

Unlike Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken, Elemental puts more care into its animation. The contrast between the bright, fiery Ember and the more fluid Wade makes for an interesting visual dynamic, but Element City feels unexplored. The film introduces and then abandons the land people; they’re barely present in the film, and the audience spends a lot of the film’s runtime wishing we could explore Element City further. 

For an animated film, the near 2-hour runtime is a little bloated. Elemental feels a little aimless; it focuses mostly on Ember trying to figure out what she wants from life and her fear of letting her parents down (another Ruby Gillman similarity) but it feels like all the plot threads in the film serve completely different purposes. 

Lewis and Athie have expressive voices, but Elemental never reaches the highs of Pixar’s best films. Pixar has always been known for being imaginative, innovative and cutting edge; everything in Elemental feels recycled and borrowed. Pixar were the first ones to release a feature-length computer animated film, they’ve explored life, death and everything in between in films like Soul, Turning Red, Up and Inside Out. 

Maybe it’s not fair to compare Elemental to those films, but even in today’s animation landscape, it feels like yesterday’s news. Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse is revolutionising animation as we speak, and even The Super Mario Bros Movie was able to permeate our cultural landscape in a way no one could predict. Elemental has had a slow start at the box office over the pond, and it seems that Pixar just isn’t the studio it used to be when it comes to their newer releases. 

Elemental is not bad. Not by a long shot. It’s just… disappointing, which somehow feels worse. It lacks the detailed, careful storytelling and animation of Pixar’s best efforts, and it’s far too simplistic. Beneath the surface of the film is a powerful story about immigration, discrimination and self-acceptance, but it gets lost in the sea of other, lesser plot points. 

Elemental is in cinemas 7 July. 

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