‘Elemental’ offers stunning visuals, cluttered plot

Mimi Calzada, Associate Life&Arts Editor

Pixar’s newest feature, “Elemental,” directed by Peter Sohn, follows fire-person Ember (Leah Lewis) as she struggles to live up to her parents’ expectations and do right by her fire community in Element City. One day, she meets a water-person named Wade (Mamoudou Athie) who challenges her to follow her own dreams instead of the ones thrust upon her. The pair quickly form a love connection and must decide if they’re willing to overcome their physical incompatibility to be together.

Pixar revolutionized 3D animation with “Toy Story” in 1995 and the company has continued on an upwards trajectory ever since, with “Elemental” making no exception. The animation beautifully portrays people of all four elements: water, earth, fire and air. Both Ember and Wade feel alive in their movements — even when they stand still, Ember’s flames flicker all over her body and light passes through Wade’s nearly transparent form. The design of Element City feels massive and full of motion, so the film’s visuals never dissatisfy.

The film decides to focus on the premise of Ember working to prove to her father that she’s ready to take over the family business, as well as her romance with Wade. In theory, the two plots work in tandem; Wade could help Ember realize what she really wants out of life. In reality, the film jumps back and forth between the two plots without sufficient ties between their two worlds until the very end.

The biggest downside to “Elemental” comes from its effort to set up several subplots that it doesn’t always follow through on. In one scene, Ember struggles to control her anger which causes her to “heat up” and nearly go “full purple.” The introduction of this concept functions as the catalyst for the story’s conflict, but doesn’t come up for the rest of the film. Not to mention, due to Ember’s temper, she carries the blame for her dad’s store possibly being shut down, and the film makes no effort to rectify this stereotype of women being dismissed for showing emotion, simply leaving it unexamined.

One of the more well-executed moments of the film comes from a scene where the two main characters argue about why Ember can’t simply leave her family to follow her dreams. Ember’s parents uprooted their lives to move to Element City, and as a child of immigrants, she explains to Wade that she wants to repay her parents for the sacrifices they made for her and calls out his ignorance for not understanding her position. This moment feels especially satisfying considering Wade spends much of the movie telling Ember what to do without considering her situation.

Overall, “Elemental” portrays a valuable lesson of persevering in the face of adversity with colorful and dynamic animation, but offers a muddled plot and loose ends.

3 fireballs out of 5