When it comes to reviewing Pixar movies, one word I have never used is boring. Sadly, I have to use it to describe “Elemental.”
It takes place in a city where the four elements — fire, water, land, and air — live near each other. But the fire characters aren’t assimilated with the others, living instead in their own run-down section of town. “Elemental” tries but fails to be a commentary on immigration, including a name change forced upon two of the fire characters when they arrive at an Ellis Island-like entrance to Element City.
That couple (Bernie and Cinder) own and run a convenience store, The Fireplace. Because they’re all fire people, their natural enemy is water. But that doesn’t stop a romance from budding between their daughter, Ember, and Wade, a city inspector who gets sucked through the pipes into the basement of the store, then cites the family for several code violations. So, she hates him — until they develop a friendship and fall in love, despite the fact that touching each other could extinguish her and evaporate him. Talk about a steamy romance. No, wait, don’t, this is a Pixar movie.
Is that convoluted enough for you? Well, then wait until you hear Bernie speaking in pidgin English like Pat Morita in “The Karate Kid.” In fact, many of the fire characters are voiced by Asian actors with accents, which gives the whole thing a racist tinge. Perhaps Pixar thought this would make the movie more appealing in China, South Korea, and other countries in that region, but those parts will have to be dubbed by voice actors speaking the local language, so why lean into that in the US?
There are other problems with “Elemental.” Someone at Pixar apparently thought sexualizing Ember was a good idea, because she is animated as a very thin woman wearing a minidress — while Wade is just a plump drip of water who at one point says she “looks hot.” Ugh. The writers also tried a little bit too hard with every fire and water pun they could think of, but while a few are clever, most don’t work.
At the screening of “Elemental” I attended, there were several parents who brought their little kids (under 10), no doubt figuring that anything Pixar produces would engage them. But as the movie ran on and on for an hour and forty-nine minutes, I noticed many of those kids getting antsy, even getting up and running around the auditorium.
The last time I witnessed this behavior was in 2015 at a screening of Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur,” which was directed by Peter Sohn, who also made “Elemental.” This one’s not as bad as that was, but it’s nowhere near as good as Pixar’s classics, like “Inside Out,” “Ratatouille,” and the “Toy Story” movies. I bet those youngsters would be happier watching “A Bug’s Life” or “Up.”
Speaking of “Up,” the short shown before “Elemental” is “Carl’s Date,” about the crotchety old man (voiced by the late Ed Asner) preparing to go on his first date since his wife, Ellie, died. Carl’s dog, Dug (voiced by director Bob Peterson), offers tips on getting ready and, in one inspired sequence, talks on the phone to the dog of the woman Carl will be meeting. But the animation looks wrong, with Carl’s ears and forehead more angular (why do they suddenly have flat edges?), and the story ends before it gets interesting.
Because it’s a Pixar movie distributed by Disney, “Elemental” ends on a happy note, but it never circles back to a resolution of the immigration allegory. Worse, the rest of it left me wholly unsatisfied.
I give “Elemental” a 3 out of 10.