A Review by Cliff Homewood
Elemental has an Up short beforehand (Carl’s Date). Its good shorts have returned. Frequently as good as the film, developmental pieces for new talent made sense. This short wasn’t that funny, just passable. On level with the main feature.
Mark Kermode states we are in a Golden period of animation, I suspect we were in a Golden period. Pixar set the standard, every film from Toy Story to Toy Story 3 was superb then came Cars 2 and the beginning of their inevitable decline.
John Lasseter was the man behind the success of Pixar, with two Oscars and four nominations under his belt. Headhunted in 2006 by a struggling Disney he provided hits like Frozen and Zootopia. However, behind the scenes women had developed a move called “the Lasseter” avoiding wandering hands and turning their heads to avoid kisses. Pixar allegedly began employing Minders to protect people. He was fired in 2018 and 2019 became head of Skydance animation. Lasseter stated, “I have spent the last year away from the industry in deep reflection, learning how my actions unintentionally made colleagues uncomfortable, which I deeply regret and apologize for. It has been humbling, but I believe it will make me a better leader.”
Joss Whedon, accused of bullying, also won an Oscar for Toy Story. Wonderful film but how toxic was that environment?
Elemental starts standard and bland. Featuring a wonderous city, full of colourful visuals, reminiscent of anime, it’s a beautiful looking film. A hot-headed female fire elemental falls for a laid-back male water elemental. Her body is idealistic, wide hips narrowing into an impossibly thin upper torso, an unobtainable female role model. In animation it’s easy to go for body ideals. The male looks normal except for one scene when he shows his (water?) muscles and the girl suitably gushes.
Director Peter Sohn, previous film The Good Dinosaur, states his parents and brother “came here from Korea with nothing … I looked at them and thought of their sacrifices and just cried.” He was told that should be his next film. The immigrant’s story with its elements of racism deepen the film. People fear fire.
Early on we discover a world building inconsistency. Ember, made of fire, touches a doorbell, it ignites, she then sits down on a wooden seeming bench, it doesn’t. Perhaps it was fire resistant, perhaps they can control themselves consciously, these things are never explained, objects just seem to react as suits. So we are not watching an animation with internal logic to its world building but a cartoon like Tom & Jerry.
Elemental starts to weave magic. Character work is well done and fun, imaginative storytelling portraying a courtship where they can’t touch. As they start to bond so did I. There are moments of wonder as they show off their powers, like the Iceman classroom scene in X-Men. I loved the water elements having constant waterworks, a funny but touching ongoing joke. It became enjoyable and was surprised when it moved me towards the end, with its unlikely, yet predictable, romance.
Whilst having an original, albeit bonkers, concept it’s full of tried and tested storytelling beats. A good children’s film as it covers basic science but its leisurely pace makes an average film for the more experienced.