The Reel Review
Element City is a magical world where the elements – fire, water, land and air – all live together. Ember, the fiery daughter of immigrants living in the city’s FireTown, is faced with a difficult choice – either take over the family’s retail business from her soon-to-retire father, or risk disappointing him by pursuing her own dream of a different career path and a romance with a water element, in this animated romantic dramedy from Disney/Pixar.
Elemental uses some brilliantly colorful animation to navigate the topics of systemic racism, interracial dating and the age-old, individual-versus-family business dilemma. The world building and anthropomorphism of elements is the highlight of this film – truly a joy to behold. Leah Lewis (The Half of It) and Mamoudou Athie (Archive 81) lead the mostly unknown cast of voice actors, assisted by veteran comic actresses Catherine O’Hara (Schitt’s Creek) and Wendy McLendon-Covey (The Goldbergs, Bridesmaids) in supporting voice roles.
Despite the film’s incredible visuals (Disney/Pixar used a whopping 151,000 computer cores for Elemental’s animation, compared to 294 for Toy Story), Elemental can’t help but feel like a predictable, cliché-ridden and clunkier knockoff of the much stronger 2015 Oscar winner Inside Out. With such a promising concept, it is a missed opportunity that Elemental didn’t explore more with the air and earth elements. Even so, it is still a sweet film that will give you all the feels.
• Elemental is based on director Peter Sohn’s own life as a family of Korean immigrants who, after moving to the U.S., opened up a grocery store in New York City’s Bronx neighborhood.
• This is the first Pixar film since its 2006-2017 Cars trilogy not to feature any humans.
• Elemental is Catherine O’Hara’s fourth animated Disney film, after 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, 2005’s Chicken Little and 2012’s Frankenweenie.