Life & Culture

Elemental review: A charming but simplistic family tale

There is also an unmistakable Jewishness about this very personal immigrant tale



Cert: PG |★★★✩ ✩

Elemental, the latest Walt Disney and Pixar produced animation, is a charming family tale about finding solace in what unites us and forgoing our differences.

Directed by acclaimed animator and voice actor Peter Sohn, and written by John Hoberg, Kat Likkel and Brenda Hsueh, the film reads like a tribute to immigrant families everywhere. 

After immigrating to Element City from their war-ravaged world, fire elements Bernie (Ronnie del Carmen) and Cinder (Shila Ommi) Lumen face xenophobia from other elements and struggle to find a home.

After establishing a successful convenience store called the Fireplace, Bernie hopes that his daughter Ember (Leah Lewis) might take up the family business after he retires.

After an unlikely encounter with Wade Ripple (Mamoudou Athie), a water element and city inspector, Ember is charmed by his kindness, but knows that their relationship is destined for disaster. Battling her own prejudices whilst falling for Wade a little more every day, Ember must decide whether a future with him is possible.

Although not explicitly Jewish story-wise, there is an unmistakable Jewishness about this very personal immigrant tale. While Sohn himself is from Korean descent, Elemental is also inspired by Polish, Jewish, Middle Eastern, Latin American and Asian backgrounds. In the film, Ember works tirelessly to please her father, forgoing her own dreams to be an artist. It is this dynamic about first-generation citizen and their immigrant parents that sits at the heat of this story.

Exploring racism, identity and the hardship of first-generation immigrants in the west, the film presents a beautiful metaphor for the need for acceptance. Still, despite its well-meaning and rather charming storyline, there is a distinct feeling that this is far from being a vintage Pixar piece.

There is a lot about this that feels just a little too simplistic and silly to make its mark on Pixar’s body of work, but this doesn’t mean that it is without merit. It is safe to say that Pixar’s golden days are well and truly behind us, especially considering that most of its latest offerings - Turning Red being the exception - have failed to measure up to earlier works. 

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