Disney Pixar’s latest film Elemental had the lowest opening weekend performance the studio has seen grossing $29.6 million. In comparison, Pixar’s last film Lightyear grossed $51 million in its opening weekend.
Elemental’s financial failure is largely in part due to the fact that Spider-Man: Across The Spiderverse continues to dominate the box office, currently standing at $284.6 million.
The film was also severely under-marketed, leaving many who weren’t die-hard Pixar fans to not even know about the film’s release.
Despite a poor box office performance, the film has generated relatively decent reviews scoring a 75% critics score and a 95% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.
The film features Netflix stars Leah Lewis (The Half of It) and Mamoudou Athie (Archive 81) as Ember, a hot-tempered fire girl, and Wade, an emotional water guy living in Element City which, you guessed it, houses the elements of earth, air, fire, and water.
The two start out on a rocky path as Ember accidentally bursts a water pipe in the basement of her family’s shop, inadvertently bringing Wade into the mix and causing all sorts of trouble for her and her family.
What begins as a casual friendship soon blossoms into a tender, heartwarming romance that will leave audiences tearful and hopeful for our two chemistry-defying leads.
The positive aspects of the film really hit and will no doubt stick with audiences after the credits roll. Unfortunately, apart from an enjoyable archetypal rom-com and stunning animation Elemental falls short of its predecessors.
In addition to the romance narrative, the film also deals with the delicate topic of immigration. Director Peter Sohn drew experiences from his own life as a first-generation child of Korean immigrants.
Many scenes depicting Ember’s family’s struggle are beautifully illustrated and heartbreakingly real for those who’ve faced xenophobic prejudices.
A particular scene where Wade makes a suggestion after trying some of Ember’s father’s food commentates on the cultural implications of Westernized cuisine and the effects on those whose culture has been “watered down” in favor of appealing to the American customer.
Credit: Pixar Animation Studios
Though some are upset that Disney has yet again used non-human characters to explore race relations (as they did in Zootopia) many of the allegories in Elemental are thoughtful and clearly created from a place of genuine experience and passion.
The most inhibiting aspect of the film isn’t inherently the exploration of Ember’s internal battle, wanting to simultaneously honor her family’s traditions and follow her heart but the fact that other Pixar films have just done it better.
Coupled with the fact that the last 3 Pixar films and many others before that have had their main themes associated with breaking away from familial expectations, it’s easy to assume that audiences are ready for new themes to be explored.
Even Wade and Ember’s romance, though easily the most memorable and integral part of the film, starts off in an awkward place as the film tries to replicate the tried and true meet-cute but ends up creating a forgettable conflict that leads to even more cliches towards the climax.
Though Ember and Wade have great chemistry towards the second and third acts of the film, the first act tries to dabble in a sort of enemies-to-lovers and then abandons it for a more traditional relationship development.
The side characters in this film outside of Ember and Wade’s family members also bring nothing to the table except minor conflict which is disappointing considering that these characters are the only time we directly interact with the air and earth elements.
There’s also the fact that though Ember and Wade’s relationship is polarizing because they are physically and chemically a threat to each other, no other mixed-element couples seem to exist even though a water-air or air-earth relationship seems perfectly plausible.
Element City is undoubtedly an animation marvel to behold and makes for a gorgeous cinematic experience but logistically poses many questions to viewers about how the universe works.
Again, the focus on the elements of fire and water limits the prospects of how earth and air interact with and navigate the city which feels like a missed opportunity in terms of worldbuilding.
Even though the story relies heavily on overused tropes and missteps narratively in a few places, Ember and Wade’s romance will make your heart swell and suddenly the moments that maybe weren’t so great won’t matter as much.
Because that’s the magic of Pixar-their inherent ability to understand and convey complex and purely human emotions whether our characters are toys, cars, or sentient elements.
Elemental may not be remembered as one of Pixar’s best but it’s unfair to disregard it just because of the misleading trailers and box office performance. If you need a simple reason to give it a watch, go for the captivating visuals and stay for the awe-inducing romance.