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Directed by Peter Sohn
Produced by Denise Ream
Screenplay by Kat Likkel, John Hoberg, and Brenda Hsueh Story by Peter Sohn, John Hoberg, Kat Likkel, and Brenda Hsueh
With: the voices of Leah Lewis, Mamoudou Athie, Ronaldo Del Carmen, Shila Ommi, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Catherine O'Hara, Mason Wertheimer, and Ronobir Lahiri
Cinematography: Jean-Claude Kalache and David Juan Bianchi
Editing: Stephen Schaffer
Music: Thomas Newman
Runtime: 101 min
Release Date: 16 June 2023
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1
Color: Color

Most Pixar movies anthropomorphize inanimate objects, emotions, or intellectual concepts in ways that cartoons have always done with animals and other living things we assign human characteristics to. It takes a little more effort to accept humanized vehicles, fears, souls, emotions, etc., but Pixar's eloquent storytellers pull off their high concepts more often than not. Their latest falls more in the not camp. This quazi-interracial-young-adult romcom is set in a fantasy city where the elements of fire, water, land, and air are given the full Disney-anthropomorphization treatment. These human-like elements cohabitate peaceably in Element City, but certain areas of the sprawling metropolis are predominantly populated and geared toward the traditions and lifestyles of specific elemental communities. The story takes place mainly in Firetown, the neighborhood where the protagonist's parents emigrated when they left Fireland years ago. This fire family runs a fire shop where the father is grooming his daughter to one day take over the family business. We get the impression that fire folk are the least welcome immigrant group in this fantastic fantasy megalopolis because their body chemistry can wreak havoc with many of the other inhabitants.

The story features many similar themes to Pixar's insufferable offering from the prior year, Turning Red, but both the world and the metaphors in Elemental are more abstract, with the messaging and humor far less desperately on-the-nose.Elemental centers on a young, passionate fire-element girl with a short fuse who gets involved with a soft water-element guy who lacks a spine (in more ways than one). Their connection causes the girl to question her life's path and the guy... he's just kinda there.

The level of storytelling here is not exactly Romeo and Juliet—it's not even Lady and the Tramp—and too much about this narrative, protagonists, and central thematic analogy doesn't fully coalesce. In a world with only four types of people, we only get to know the fire and water folks; the earth people are barely referenced. This lack of fantasy cultural development seems strange coming from the studio that usually creates such fully realized environments, and it kind of betrays the idea that maybe this film shouldn't have graduated from the drawing board. Still, the animation and character design are lovely, the narrative is well-paced, and the message, simple as it is, more or less lands.

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Pixar rehashes many themes of their prior year's offering, Turning Red, this time with a more abstract, less on-the-nose tale of growing up as a child of immigrants. Nice character design, but the characters themselves are underdeveloped.