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The elements don't mix in the underwhelming Elemental.


Six years after the abysmal The Good Dinosaur, director Peter Sohn gives it another go in Elemental from Disney and Pixar. John Hoberg, Kat Likkel, and Brenda Hsueh pen the film's screenplay from a story by Sohn. The film takes place in Element City, where fire-, water-, land- and air residents live together.

Leah Lewis voices the character of Ember Lumen, a harsh and sharp fire element who enjoys working at her family's convenience store in Fire Town. However, she struggles to control her explosive temper. Due to her nature, she cannot touch the water as it would extinguish her, and thus she always carries an umbrella to protect herself.

The free-spirited Wade Ripple (voiced by Mamoudou Athie) is a fun, sappy water element which makes his own choices and works as an inspector living in Element City. He crosses paths with Ember after a plumbing accident at a convenience store owned by Ember's bigoted father, Bernie (Ronnie del Carmen).

Naturally, a series of events leads to the two falling in love. While Ember and Wade cannot touch each other, they must protect their identity against strong men and women and their own families while attempting to make their relationship work.

It's no secret that The Good Dinosaur was Pixar's first box office bomb. I still remember my son, who was seven then, immensely bored with the film. Nevertheless, Peter Sohn has always done impressive voice work, and I went into Elemental with an open mind.

Elemental starts out promising enough with an opening sequence that pays tribute to New York's Ellis Island. I didn't recall seeing the trailer for this film. However, from the film's first act, I perceived that the filmmakers intended to create an allegory on bigotry, immigration, and assimilation, with a romantic subplot as a secondary plotline. Essentially the topics mentioned above are what Elemental is about.

Surprisingly we don't have an antagonist who is a character of a governor from the sunshine state. Instead, the creative team behind Elemental paints out-of-touch beliefs as the big bad. There is nothing wrong with taking that angle. However, from a narrative structure, the film is missing something.

I will credit Leah Lewis, and her voice work as our heroine. I wasn't familiar with Lewis, so it did help invest in her arc. Sadly the same doesn't go for the usually reliable Mamoudou Athie. When you see the design for Wade, it screams Seth Rogen. Why Pixar didn't hire Rogen in the first place is beyond me. Athie is more of a dramatic actor and needs to have the comedic chops required for the character.

The jokes in the film, like "Get off your lazy ash" and "Make like a stream and flow away," weren't very funny, but Rogen could have made them work. Additionally, the writers' use of symbolism for racial issues in the movie is very mid. Phrases like "Go back to Fireland" and "Never let them water us down" felt overused and contrived, causing my teenage son and me to roll our eyes at the attempts to be metaphorical. The only bright side to seeing the film on the big screen was seeing Up characters Carl Frederickson and Dug return in the short Carl's Date, which had more emotion in five minutes then the entire run time of Elemental.

Since its first feature in 1995, Pixar could pride itself on delivering better-animated films than some live-action releases. Lately, though, their magic isn't burning as bright, with Elemental serving as another burnout.

Final Grade: C-

Elemental opens in theaters on June 15th.




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