Review by Cole Groth
The decline of Disney animation has been somewhat tragic to watch. With both their in-house studio and Pixar churning out flop after flop in Lightyear, Strange World, and now Elemental, it seems like the tides are shifting against what was once the biggest animation powerhouse in cinema. Unfortunately, Pixar’s latest is annoying, trite, and heavy-handed. It’s no surprise that what is potentially the studio’s worst film is directed by Peter Sohn, who also directed The Good Dinosaur, another all-time failure.
Elemental doesn’t have much of a plot. We’re thrown into Element City, a Zootopia-like combination of the different elements: fire, water, earth, and air. Element City is a generic-looking home for our heroes, Ember Lumen (Leah Lewis) of a fire family and Wade Ripple (Mamoudou Athie) of a water family. The two eventually form a romantic pairing that goes against all odds as they try to discover if fire and water truly can mix, going against all societal norms.
If it isn’t already clear, Elemental is a bold metaphor for race-mixing. It’s so incredibly obnoxious in its presentation and ultimately misses the mark. Any good intentions here are squashed by over-the-top dialogue like “you speak really well for a fire girl” and the clearly bigoted views on other elements that Ember’s dad has. It’s an exhausting experience that seems to have no clear target audience.
Typically, the animation for these films elevates them, but this time, Pixar has failed. Elemental is consistently ugly, suffers from poor design, and is let down by weak voice acting. Leah Lewis and Mamoudou Athie just don’t cut it. Their voices are too generic and feel like placeholders for voice actors with more talent. It doesn’t help that Ember and Wade are terrible characters.
Our two leads are unlikable and almost laughably one-note. Wade is introduced as an incredibly annoying inspector who makes it his job to shut down Ember’s store. He cries a lot and is the punching bag for most of the jokes. When he tries to be funny, it doesn’t work, and when he tries to be emotional and serious, he’s finally funny. Ember is brash, simple, and generic. She throws hissy fits at nearly every inconvenience thrown her way and comes across as pretty dull.
As far as scripts go, this is undoubtedly the worst from Pixar to date. From a screenplay by John Hoberg, Kat Likkel, and Brenda Hsueh, and a story from the three and director Peter Sohn, this script is full of awful dialogue and a story with zero direction. The romance plot is uncomfortably cringe, and there’s nothing else going on interesting story-wise. It’s a shame that there’s a whole world introduced here, and only two of the elements are explored. It feels like a very surface-level exploration of the city, with most interactions between the elements feeling played out and uninteresting.
Pixar movies have no right being this dull. Elemental represents the worst of modern animation stories. It’s entirely style over substance, and the latter is completely abandoned for a style that’s simply terrible. Kids will be bored by the slow-moving plot and uncomfortable moments of romance, and adults won’t like the weirdly inappropriate jokes and tone. It’s a predictable mess of a movie that feels like a first draft. With a $200 million budget attached to this, Disney’s got a bomb on its hands. Hopefully, they can learn from the failure that is this movie and focus their efforts on making something good for a change.
Elemental releases in theaters starting June 16.