Pixar’s ‘Elemental’ Sets Hearts Aflame

“Elemental” is Pixar’s version of a romcom, complete with montages, heartbreak and tear-jerking confessions of love.

“Elements cannot mix,” Cinder says in Disney Pixar’s June 16 movie “Elemental.”

But in Element City, fire, water, land and air live amongst each other. The bright colors of the city and characters mold viewers’ eyes to the screen for the nearly two-hour-long runtime.

Through Ember’s character, director Peter Sohn (“The Good Dinosaur”) demonstrates the struggles of being the first generation child of immigrants. Ember (Leah Lewis) continually faces feelings of guilt for desiring a life outside the one her parents built in their convenience store. This heart-punching commentary adds depth to Ember’s character through emotional vulnerability.

Due to fire’s destructive nature, the flaming characters live in the city’s outskirts in their own Fire Town community. Sohn said the town is based on immigrant communities in an interview with NPR.

The film opens with Bernie and his pregnant wife Cinder (Sheila Vosough) as they leave their native country of Fireland to create a new life in Element City, where they experience a turbulent immigration process on their journey. The couple is assigned English names when the customs attendant cannot spell their native ones. While looking for a place to live, they get turned down at multiple places because the dangers of being a fire element present a liability.

Finding an abandoned building in Element City for the couple to repair, they open a convenience store. Bernie (Ronnie del Carmen) and Cinder raise their newborn daughter Ember in the shop. 

Ember moils to be the perfect daughter from a young age. As she enters her twenties, she struggles to remain patient when dealing with customers but strives to keep the dreams of her parents’ store from extinguishing. 

Ember faces inner turmoil and guilt, just as her father is about to retire, regarding whether she should follow her own path or take over the shop to repay her parents for their sacrifices.

Enter water person Wade who bursts through the pipes of Ember’s shop — and directly into the hearts of viewers. As a city inspector on the verge of losing another job for being too emotional, Wade (Mamoudou Athie) gives Ember over 30 plumbing citations. Chasing after him directly into the heart of the city, Ember leaves the comfort of Fire Town. 

“Elemental” is as much a coming-of-age story as it is Pixar’s version of a rom-com. Once Wade realizes what the shop means to Ember he realizes his mistake. As Ember and Wade work together to keep the shop from being shut down by the city, they also start to fall for each other.

The two offer an animated, non-human depiction of an interracial couple, showing viewers love doesn’t have racial boundaries. 

During Ember’s adventure through the city, she is met with xenophobia. She is ridiculed on the street for being a fire person. Even when she meets Wade’s family, one of them compliments her articulation, though she has been speaking the local language since she was young. 

The voice actors truly make the movie stand out. Leah Lewis’ (“The Half of It,” “Nancy Drew”) careful vocal expressiveness as Ember molds the character into an emotionally complex being as she navigates conflict. 

Mamoudou Athie (“Archive 81,” “Jurassic World Dominion”) plays Wade — his first-ever animated role — with warmth and emotion. Athie’s voice flows throughout the movie and creates a sense of vulnerability, allowing the actor to showcase his talent as seamlessly as a seasoned voice actor. 

Through additional attention to showcasing Ember’s hobbies and talents — such as glass-making — would have benefitted the movie, the vibrant colors of the film and heartfelt dialogue keep viewers attached to the plot. While a sequel hasn’t been confirmed, the movie’s loosely tied ends beg for a follow-up release.

Ember decides falling in love and following her own dreams is what makes her flame burn bright. With Wade following her to another city to start a glass production internship, Ember realizes the shop was never her parents’ dream — she was. 

Beginning a relationship with someone of a different element was new for Element City, but Ember and Wade pushed through the judgment to create the classic Pixar emotional yet heartwarming ending. 

Pixar’s “Elemental” is more than an animated film for children — it’s a story of immigration, the realities of racism and a love that leaves viewers of all ages feeling fluffy and cloud-like.

“Elemental” is in theaters now.

Featured image courtesy of Disney.

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