Director Peter Sohn creates a new world in “Element City,” where earth, fire, water, and wind are elements similar to the elements table we all learned in school. Sohn has been with PIXAR for many years; he directed the short film “Partly Cloudy” that ran before the hit movie “Up.” When viewing “Element City,” be sure to notice the short “Carl’s Date,” as Ed Asner returns to voice the charming curmudgeon Carl, who gets advice about the opposite sex from talking to his dog Dug, voiced by director Bob Peterson. Did you know that those short films are used as incubators not only for ideas that work as dialogue-free stories but also for advances in animation technology? If you view “Partly Cloudy” (2009), you’ll find Sohn’s anthropomorphized clouds that take on various personalities. Fast-forward to 2023, we have anthropomorphized elements that all live in the same city, yet in different areas.
“Elemental” is a cross-cultural love story of immigrant persistence and roadblocks; also a movie about the challenges of cultural accountabilities to consider the sacrifices of the relatives that came before them. In short, it’s director Peter Sohn’s story told through his experiences. Stay for the ending credits as Sohn displays a photo of his mother and father. Similar to the recent film “In the Heights” or the classic “West Side Story,” here, Water and Fire clearly should not mix for obvious reasons, although discrimination is also loud and clear. Can kids understand this? Absolutely. If you take younger children, I would ask them afterward if they have any questions and have a discussion about the film.
In interviewing the voice of Gale Wendi McLendon Covey, she told me from the get-go how honored she was to be part of a PIXAR movie. Having followed PIXAR films from their beginning, I’d agree that working in anything they do is fantastic if I were in her shoes. In 201? I was invited to visit PIXAR studios in Calumet City, California, as fate was on my side the day I received the email. I was visiting my son in San Francisco and could easily get there without traveling by plane. It’s a magical place, as you’re greeted by life-sized Lego statues of Buzz Lightyear and Woody, both from “Toy Story.” The Steve Jobs Theater contains the best sound I’ve ever heard anywhere in the world, along with the plush comfortable velvet seats. I viewed the film “Finding Dory.”
“Elemental’s” main character Ember Lumen (Leah Lewis), is made of fire; she has all the characteristics of a hot-head that can blow her stack and look out when she does. When Ember meets Wade Ripple (Mamoudou Athie), the opposite of personalities, they start to be attracted to each other. As one can imagine, they have a tough road ahead as water and fire do not mix, although “Elemental” challenges adults and kids alike to think outside the box.
These are new concepts and don’t have the built-in lure of familiar characters, yet the stretching of brains and creativity is PIXAR’s strong suit. Remember that movie about feelings, “Inside Out?” Kids could identify with the storyline and the main concepts, as they knew about Joy, Sadness, Fear, and Anger, feelings they experience. By viewing the movie, they could also perhaps learn something about themselves to help them deal with certain emotions. The same is true here regarding prejudices, although it may specific references may be a bit more abstract.
I enjoyed the movie and appreciated the creativity involved in the script. I can highly recommend and suggest families view the movie together.
Director: Peter Sohn
Writers: John Hoberg, Kat Likkel, Brenda Hsueh
Starring: Leah Lewis, Mamoudou Athie, Ronnie del Carmen, Shila Ommi, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Catherine O’Hara, Mason Wertheimer, Joe Pera, Matt Yang King
Run Time: 1 Hour 42 minutes
Sarah Knight Adamson© June 23, 2023