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The Media Man Reviews: Elemental


Title card for the Elemental review

Pixar's having it rough lately, and as a lifelong fan of their films, it pains me to see what was once the king of animated movies being reduced to this.


The pandemic forced many of their movies to end up on Disney+, their movies aren't getting as highly praised as they used to (except for Soul), Lightyear outright bombed and became a major embarrassment to the company that led to two high-profile veterans getting fired (including the woman who saved Toy Story 2!) and now their latest movie, Elemental, is struggling at the box office because some idiot thought releasing it in the same month as Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, The Flash, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts and Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny somehow wouldn't backfire on them. And don't get me started on all those anti-woke YouTube trash channels constantly attacking them because being more inclusive and diverse somehow equals "bad" in their screwed up little minds and animation fans constantly bashing them just so they can prop up whatever movie they love at the time. Since when did we decide that it was cool to hate Pixar? It's disgusting if you ask me and it just tells me those people have no respect for animation at all if this is how we treat one of the greatest animation companies of all time. No respect at all. X(


OK rant over...so Pixar are back again with another original movie on their hands and this is an interesting one to cover for it's the first time a Pixar movie will be directed by long-time Pixar veteran Peter Sohn, whom you may remember for voicing many characters in Pixar films including Sox in Lightyear last year. While this isn't his first time in the director's chair for he had to step in to finish off The Good Dinosaur when Bob Peterson was fired, this is his first SOLO directed Pixar movie. He also based this movie on his personal experiences where he and his family were immigrants growing up in New York City so this is one of those movies that's deeply personal to the director. That's always nice to see.


So is Elemental a movie that burns as hot as Ember? Or will it make us cry in despair like Wade whenever he gets emotional? Let's walk into Element City together my friends and find out...


Section 1: The Story


The plot focuses on a fire girl named Ember Lumen who lives in Element City with her parents. She's being trained to take over her father's shop as he's long past retirement age but her fiery temper is making it hard for her to fit into the role. Her life flip-turns upside down when a water boy named Wade Ripple ends up bursting out of her shop's water pipes (long story) and the two end up proving over time that maybe elements CAN mix after all...


The story is an interesting case for this is the first story from Pixar in a while to be a romance story. Seriously, you ever noticed that Pixar doesn't really do romance stories that often? The last time they ever did a full-on romance story was WALL.E all the way back in 2008! Some of their movies have romance in them but otherwise aren't technically romance stories so it's nice to see them do one again for the first time since WALL.E. So how do they execute it? Quite well I say. This movie shows why Pixar should do romance more often because they're REALLY good at it! The chemistry between Ember and Wade is adorably appealing and I love the development between them as they grow closer and closer over the course of the movie. A good romance story only works if you care for the couple and want them to be together and Elemental succeeds with flying colours here for these two are worth rooting for and it's so satisfying when they get together in the end. The part where they finally touch and have a smooth serenade together was especially magical, as my brother so elegantly put it.


The story I imagine will also resonate with some viewers, especially if they're immigrants and have had trouble fitting into their new homes. Ember and her family have a hard time fitting into Element City, hence why they tend to stay in this one little town together and don't really mingle with the other elements. But once Ember meets Wade and comes out of her town to see Element City and interact more with the city and its inhabitants, her worldview changes and she comes to see there's more to life than just her shop and the family business. How many of us have been fascinated with seeing the world outside our front door and coming to see how amazing it is when we really see more of it and mingle with others? We live in a world where certain individuals want to keep us divided and tell us to shun those who are different than us and to stay in our little bubbles so the fact we have this movie defying those ideals and handling it in a way that makes the movie relevant and topical without being too overly preachy about it makes Elemental a more important watch as a result. Heck, there's a reason why people compare this movie to Zootropolis as that too is a movie in a fantastical city that tells us to stand up to racism and be more accepting of others! Like Zootropolis, the message is handled beautifully in a way that people of all ages can understand it and again, isn't too preachy about it so it won't alienate its audience.


The film may be a romance story, but it's also a comedy and as usual with Pixar, they handle it brilliantly here. I think a lot of people tend to overlook how good Pixar is at handling comedy a lot of the time for their movies can have some really laugh-out-loud moments, especially last year's highly enjoyable Turning Red. This movie is no exception. It is choc full of creative gags and well-executed punchlines with a variety of styles of comedy on offer from slapstick to puns to visual gags and even the odd cheeky bit of adult humour, namely whenever the characters use element puns in place of what are obviously swear words. The film's concept leads to some really clever jokes and I guarantee you'll be laughing at a lot of them in this film.


Speaking of, the concept is the most fascinating thing about the movie and is what drew me towards it in the first place. It's not very often, if at all, we get a movie about a city made up of the elements and it's clear some very careful thought went into the world-building here. Element City is full of ideas and features that I could only DREAM of thinking up and it's fascinating to watch as a result. The concept also leads to some clever and creative set-pieces and action scenes as a result, which is the best way to handle a concept in any movie. If the concept allows you to take advantage of it in ways that couldn't be done anywhere else, then you've executed it well and as usual, Pixar are a master when it comes to this sort of thing.


Oh and can I just say I am SO glad this movie doesn't have an actual villain here? It's nice when we can have stories with no villains for a change and this movie worked beautifully without one. They could've easily forced in some villain or even made Ember's parents the villains of the movie but no, Pixar were more creative than that and proved this story didn't need a villain in order to work. Just the prejudice against the elements, Ember's temper and the leak in the city were enough for conflict here and that's all we needed.


As is, I must address the element in the room with the plot of this movie. Yes that pun was deliberate. XD As everyone and their grandparents has complained about, the story is rather cliched and predictable at times. Heck, the fact the movie doesn't have a villain ended up being the most surprising thing about it for me! XD But yeah, as a romance story starring an opposites attract couple in an animated movie for all ages, it does go through a lot of the same story beats you'd expect in these kinds of films, including...sigh...the third act breakup again. Dammit script writers, can we PLEASE stop using this tired as hell cliché already?! Why does nearly every animated movie for all ages these days think we need to force a temporary breakup for the characters for the sake of drama? We don't! It's not dramatic anymore, it's just annoying! PLEASE STOP DOING THIS!!! If Puss In Boots: The Last Wish can do it, you can too!


They also have the gall to do a fake-out death scene again, another thing that stopped being dramatic ages ago and is starting to feel annoying and forced now. Seriously animated movies, especially ones made by Disney and Pixar, we're not falling for this crap anymore. Stop doing it because you're just going to keep annoying your audience.


Still, the cliched plot and annoying plot beats don't stop the movie from being an enjoyable watch. In fact, this movie serves as an example of how execution is what's important in a story, not how original the idea is and the execution paid off really well in my eyes. Elemental was a fun film with a sweet love story, some great comedy and creative world-building and that to me made the story interesting enough to watch from beginning to end, regardless of how familiar it may be...


Section 2: The Characters


Pixar always know how to create some fun, memorable, interesting and likable characters and they've given us a new batch of characters to enjoy for this movie.


Our main protagonist of the movie is Ember Lumen (voiced by Leah Lewis). Ember is a character I find myself relating to immensely for she has a fiery temper and doesn't always handle stressful situations that well. I know I'm just the same given I too can be ill-tempered at times and don't handle stressful situations well and I'm sure many others will relate to Ember for those reasons and not just me. She's someone who is obsessed with success for she doesn't want to disappoint her family and wants nothing more than to prove she's ready to help them and take over the shop. But over time, she comes to learn that that's not really what SHE wants and her time with Wade has her seeing there's more to life than what she thought. Personally, I feel her arc was a little underdeveloped due to the fact she doesn't really show any real signs, nor express any desire to seek a career other than her father's shop until Wade's family suggests she takes up glass blowing. If they foreshadowed this some more instead of just telling us she wants something more in life, it would've worked better. As is, I still really liked Ember and found her an endearingly sympathetic, relatable and fun protagonist to journey through this movie with.


Her love interest is Wade Ripple (voiced by Mamoudou Athie). Wade is an overly emotional water guy who cries easily but thankfully they don't overdo this aspect of his character to the point it gets annoying (take THAT SpongeBob! =P) and Wade ends up playing a big part in Ember's development for the time she spends with him helps her figure things out more with herself and what her desires are in life. Wade's such a supportive, friendly and kind person that it's no wonder Ember falls for him. He comes off as the kind of guy you'd easily make friends with and would find it near impossible to say anything bad about him. His interactions with Ember make him endearingly awkward too and it just makes their blossoming relationship all the sweeter to watch in my eyes.


We also have Ember's parents Bernie (voiced by Ronnie del Carmen) and Cinder (voiced by Shila Omni). Bernie is the hard-working immigrant from Fire Land who moved to Element City with his wife after a terrible storm wrecked their old home and ever since arriving in the city, he works himself to the bone (actually, he doesn't because he's made of fire so would "work himself to the flame" be more appropriate?) running the shop to sustain a living for himself and his family, even though he's clearly getting to old for the work and is only making himself tired and coughing repeatedly as a result. He has a (justifiable) disdain for water people but after Wade helps protect his daughter during the climax, he grows to accept him in the end. They could've SO easily made Bernie just some stubborn bigot who never learns and becomes the outright antagonist of the movie but no, they made him a three-dimensional and sympathetic character as a result and I'm so happy they did that with him. Cinder on the other hand is a pretty nothing character and hasn't got as much in comparison to Bernie.


Some other minor characters include Gale (voiced by Wendi McLendon-Covey) and Brook Ripple (voiced by Catherine O'Hara). Gale is Wade's boss and is a pretty reasonable person for she's willing to let the Lumen family's shop remain open if the leak gets fixed and she also helps Wade show Ember something she's wanted to see since she was a child, which was nice of her. Brook is Wade's mother and while she gets some funny moments being overly emotional like her son, she helps Ember in her story for she suggests that the fire girl take up glass blowing as a possible career, which gives Ember a new direction outside of her father's shop for a change.


And then we have Clod (voiced by Mason Wertheimer). Why is this kid even a character in this movie? He has no baring on the plot and he exists solely to flirt with Ember, which only feels awkward because she's what, twice his age? It got even weirder when Pixar tried to meme him for some reason...I just...why?! He has no reason to exist here and should've either been dropped entirely or given a bigger role.


The film doesn't have a huge cast of characters, but that works to its benefit for less is more in this case and thankfully there are no hateable or despicable characters to speak of here. The characters are well-written for the most part and are either relatable, sympathetic, funny, memorable or all four and the romance between our two leads makes this a romance story that anyone can enjoy...


Section 3: The Animation


And now for the boring part of this review. The part where for the umpteenth time, I say the obvious: the animation is amazing. But this time, it's going to be more interesting for the film has a lot of cool and fun reasons for me to explain WHY it's amazing.


Let's start with the concept itself. A city populated by living personifications of the elements is an awesome idea for a movie and the animators play with this concept so well by giving us this unique looking city that makes use of the elements very well. You get things like the fire town where the whole place looks completely dry and has a more rustic look to it while Element City itself is this huge metropolis that looks very sleek in it architecture and has an almost futuristic look to it in places. They also play around with the elements in a variety of ways such as Wade's apartment where it's like your typical apartment block but every where's flooded with water, a stadium with the air elements where you have cloud people playing an air-themed twist on basketball and the earth elements where their dwellings are full of plants like in Fern's office. It's really cool to see this city and how the elements interact with it while also going about their everyday lives.


Speaking of, there's a lot in the visuals that play with the elements and also feel logical for a world run by the elements would function. One example that'll always stick out to me is when Ember goes on her deliveries and visits a couple with a baby, who's pram literally looks like a barbecue grill and she gives it lighter fluid to drink. That was both hilarious and clever of the animators to think that up. There's other things too like how a water person can get stuck in a sponge or how air elementals can get hit by something and just form back together again with no ill effect and so much more. They even go so far as to show us how they eat and drink in this world with the fire people getting by on eating wood or coal for those things help fire to burn and when a water person tries eating burning coals, it doesn't go well for them as water boils when it gets too hot. There's even that scene where Gale blows an air bubble for Ember to travel through a flooded station with so Wade can take her to see something under the water. I was just constantly thinking "Brilliant! This so cleverly thought out on how this world would work and what abilities the elements would have!" throughout this movie. Animators don't get enough credit I swear and they deserve all the praise they can get for the clever visuals on display here.


The animation is also gorgeously detailed from top to bottom from the textures of the environments and the elements that make up the bodies of the characters. The fire people look suitably hot and like they could burn you in an instant but also give off that warm, comforting light that fire can give off, the water people genuinely look like living water and are able to make use of it in a variety of ways, the air people look like living clouds and like you could blow them away or fall straight through them and the earth people are made entirely of wood with leaves and many different plants on their heads. Sadly we mostly focus on the fire and water people so we don't see as much of the air and earth elementals. The earth elementals in particular don't get any real scenes to really showcase themselves as much as the others and it'd be nice if we could've seen more of them. Still, they did great on the character designs here. The elements all look convincing and have mostly shapely, simplistic designs like what you might see in a children's story with no real sharp edges on anyone and very expressive faces. Some might say the elements look a little too simplistic but I think it works for this film and fits with this being a more fantastical world than others.


For the character animation, that too takes full advantage of the fact these are living elements. The fire people are always wavy and glowing as fire does and Ember can change from orange and yellow to purple and yellow the angrier she gets while also showing how when interacting with certain minerals, she can change colour. Again, that's how fire works in real life and makes perfect sense for a fire based person to do. The water people are always animated with wobbly body parts, bubbles in side of themselves, are able to cast reflections or magnify stuff to make it look better and and can also change in shape if necessary. The water that makes them up is so well done that it looks photorealistic at times. What's also clever about the animation of the water people is that even when they're made of water, they can still animate them crying or sweating on occasion and make it look convincing. The air people are animated as being able to fly around with ease and look so lightweight as they move, as a cloud should do. The character animation is beautifully done and so clever with how the elements are portrayed here.


Elemental is another example of how Pixar's animation is masterclass and always pushing the boundaries at what can be done with computer animation. What we get here is a fascinating looking city with some clever world-building and functions to how everything works, wondrously animated elemental people and great character designs that you won't find in any other Pixar film. They took full advantage of the concept here and gave us one beautiful looking animated film that is one of the most unique looking and intelligently crafted movies I've seen in a while. Pixar sure wouldn't have been able to make a movie like this back in its golden era!


Overall


Elemental is the prime example of how a Pixar movie doesn't have to be an Oscar-worthy masterpiece in order to be good. The story maybe cliched and predictable at times but the charming romance, great comedy, clever world-building, memorable characters and gorgeous animation more than make up for it. This is another solid entry into Pixar's legendary library and I recommend it to any animation fan or to anyone who enjoys a good romance story. It's a must-watch and a very enjoyable movie in my eyes and it shows that Pixar is truly in their element when it comes to making great movies like this...


And that's it for this review. I hope you enjoyed it and I invite you all to share your comments down below. Do you like Elemental? Do you not like it? Feel free to let me know. Next week I'll be checking out my third animated movie in a row with DreamWorks's next outing, Ruby Gillman Teenage Kraken. See you then media fans!

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Misafir
14 Tem 2023

I‘l wait for it to come on Disney+ to try and save up on money, though despite the review I’m still not sold on Elemental atm. I get you love it and hey, all fair, but I don’t know, there’s something about it I’m not exactly sold on atm.


Opposites attract stories do work like Callum and Rayla and Luz and Amity but it’s the execution. though hey, i could like it.

Beğen

I wondered whether or not to check out the movie. I think that because of this I may go and see it this weekend in theaters

Beğen
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