If there’s any animation studio that gets held to a higher standard than any other it’s Pixar. Considering their astonishing body of work in the early days, it’s no surprise. Now, it’s more fair than ever to judge each release on its own terms. With a new slate of directors and writers churning out a bigger variety of projects, you’ll never find happiness watching their latest endeavors if you can’t get beyond the golden years. And it’s never been more true than with Peter Sohn’s Elemental. It’s a film about personal ambitions, telling a mismarketed, but charming, story on immigration and acceptance, even if hiding it behind the facade of stunningly beautiful animation.
Bernie (voiced by Ronnie Del Carmen) and Cinder (voiced by Shila Ommi) Lumen are fresh off the boat in Element City. Forced to live in the outskirts of the city, they still find a way to not just build their own store — the Fireplace — but have a child, who they name Ember (voiced by Leah Lewis). As Ember grows up, Bernie longs to retire and place the store under her management, but, of course, Ember is a big dreamer.
One day, after almost going “full purple,” Ember winds up springing a leak in the store basement, and Bernie’s new nemesis arrives in the form of Wade Ripple (voiced by Mamoudou Athie), a health inspector made of water. The two soon begin a secret friendship of convenience as Wade needs to save his own job by finding out where the water threatening to flood the city is coming from and Ember needs to keep her father’s store from being shut down. But it’s a long road ahead of them considering the old saying, “fire and water don’t mix…” or can it?
At first glance you may be quick to write off Elemental as a mashup of Zootopia and Inside Out. But it definitely carves out its own story. What could have been a major misfire has wound up being a decent moneymaker and is still playing in theaters nine weeks later. But those who didn’t make it to a theater can now purchase it on your preferred streaming service to discover how delightful it really is. Gorgeously animated and packed with hilarious jokes, all while finding plenty of heartstrings to pluck to go along with its message of acceptance and tolerance. You’d have to be hard pressed to not find something to enjoy. Leave it to Pixar to continue to surprise us.