Pixar, once the king of North American animation studios, has long suffered the weight of its own success, in addition to the consequences of the pandemic and the strategy changes of The Walt Disney Company that, according to analysts, have “devalued” the brand. With ‘Elemental’ they wanted to go all out again, with a great Premiere at the Cannes Film Festival that would remind us that his place is there, in the cinemaand among the greats.
The film by Peter Sohn, who had to take it upon himself to save ‘Arlo’s Journey’, is a very personal story for him because it is based on his own experiences as a second-generation immigrant in the United States. Candela’s story and that of her parents is that of her family: that of a Korean couple who came in search of the American dream. And the weight that it places on the son who believes that he has to honor that sacrifice at the cost of his own dreams.
Since its announcement, “Elemental” has earned the recurring joke that Pixar was repeating the same idea over and over again. “What would happen if the elements of nature had feelings?”. The base may sound unimpressive at this point, but ‘Elemental’ is very different from the “toys with feelings” or “feelings with feelings” of previous titles. In Ciudad Elemento we find a romantic comedy, a family story and an urban adventure, all at the same time (everywhere).
The most notable aspect is this romantic comedy with an apparently impossible “match” between a fire girl and a water boy. Sohn is based on the very nature of the four elements to create the archetypes of his protagonists. Candela is passionate and full of energy, but she also has a short fuse. Nilo is much more fluid, he adapts well to different situations, and is transparent, pure sincerity, but he also spreads easily. An overwhelming chemistry (heh) arises between themthose opposite poles that attract each other and that make us forget what could happen if they come together.
The subject of physics and chemistry has also been quite recurrent in the reviews that came from Cannes. Yes, it’s true that ‘Elemental’ sometimes asks for big leaps of faith, but it’s also making its own rules, playing with the basic notions of Knowledge of the Environment so that the boys and girls can leave with some lesson learned, but without putting dikes into the sea in the narrative sense. In the end we are talking about people of fire who are almost eternal flames and people of water who maintain their shape without occupying any container.
The story is enchanting, enough that we don’t dwell on those leaps of faith too much. ‘Elemental’ uses many clichés from romantic comedies but in a positive and almost homage sense, so that little by little we also fall in love with Candela and Nilo. Musical montages, “guess who’s coming to dinner tonight”, suspicious parents , misunderstandings, first dates… In this aspect Nilo is discovered as a tremendously charismatic character: an empathetic, sensitive and thoughtful boy who is hilarious thanks to the work of Mamoudou Athie in the dubbing.
One of the keys to romantic comedies is their simplicity. Maybe it’s one of the reasons why he’s called “a lesser Pixar”, but in ‘Elementary’ he hides many other layers beyond girl meets boy. The immigration plot has a lot of very well developed ideasfrom that burden felt by the children of immigrants (the relationship between Candela and her father is very interesting) to the very way in which Ciudad Elemento isolates all the people from the fire in its ghetto, without any interest in integrating them as if they did it with the people of the earth or the wind.
It also houses topics such as vocation, dreams, art versus trade. The plot may be “simple”, but ‘Elemental’ has much more to it than meets the eye. And exudes sincerity. We feel this story comes from the heart of Peter Sohn. It is her tribute to his family, and that flame burns very brightly.
Element City itself as a setting, yes, it is quite reminiscent of Zootopia in approach, and although it is visually captivating, is a bit underused. It doesn’t help the comparisons either that one of the supporting characters is basically Flash the lazy-turned-mud official. But aesthetically it is full of details, from the kitchen utensils that inspire the neighborhood of fire to the test tubes and decanters that give shape to the very posh neighborhood of water.
‘Elemental’ comes to theaters very shortly after ‘Spider-Man: Crossing the Multiverse’ has once again exploded the conceptions of animation and has demonstrated the narrative capacity of betting on limitless creativity. But in Pixar they do not remain anchored in the same as always with the aspectabove all, of its protagonists.
Pixar’s computers are on fire
It is hypnotic to see what they have achieved with Candela and Nilo, and with their family and friends. The response of the flames to the surrounding stimuli, the always moving hair of the people of the water, the fluidity, the facial expressions, the physical humor that they allow. It is a new leap in quality for the study, which continues to keep an eye on the most secondary details.like that the water in the settings is so incredibly real and thus helps to distinguish it from the water of the characters.
However, In Ciudad Elemento, four tribes coexist, and the two that are not fire and water feel much less worked, not only in design or animation but also in the script. The characters of land or air that have an appearance with dialogue are very forgettable.
In addition to the visual, the film has an impeccable sound section with dubbing work, at least in the original version, very good, but above all highlights the soundtrack by Thomas Newman, with an unexpected inspiration in sounds reminiscent of India and instruments like the sitar. It gives it a mystical touch and turns certain scenes into really beautiful moments. Also great is the main song, ‘Steal de Show’, by Lauv.
I have a lot of admiration for Peter Sohn since he had to take over ‘Arlo’s Journey’ with very little time to get something that could be released in theaters. Although it is not on the list of the best Pixar movies, at least it did have a visual idea that set it apart (the hyper-realistic settings) and his story had really emotional moments (I cry every time I see the river scene).
Pixar has allowed him to tell, this time, a story completely his own from the beginning, and he has poured tons of love towards his parents, his story and his roots in Candela’s story. Obviously it is difficult to compete against the past of a studio that has come to leave so much of its mark since its very first film, but we are not even remotely facing a forgettable film. Make up for the fact that I don’t reinvent the wheel very cutely. The love story between Nilo and Candela is burned into the fire when we leave the cinema, something that few current romances have been capable of doing.
‘Elementary’ premieres in theaters July 14.
The best: The chemistry between Candela and Nilo. The animation of the people of fire and water. Family history. The soundtrack.
Worst: How underdeveloped are the people of land and air. Element City knows little.