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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

‘Elemental’: Hope for a new age of Pixar

Image courtesy of The Walt Disney Company
Featured art from the “Elemental” press release

Pixar is known for making some of the most iconic characters and stories in animation history for decades. Movies like “Toy Story,” “Cars,” “The Incredibles,” “Inside Out” and “Wall-E” are movies that are fun for the whole family and are excellent examples of pure storytelling.

However, like all companies, Pixar has fallen victim to the age of nostalgia with the production of sequel films that often fell flat for many audiences, like “Cars 2,”  “Monsters University,” “Finding Dory,” and “Incredibles 2.”  Even some of its original films at the time,  like “The Good Dinosaur” and “Brave” underperformed.

As we enter 2023, though, Pixar seems to be returning to its roots of producing new original stories for a new generation of families. Now, as an older sister to a 6-year-old brother, I find myself watching more Pixar films than the average college student. I can say with full confidence I have seen every Pixar movie released at least once. I wish I could say that these new movies had reached my levels of expectations for the animation company that I loved so much, but I couldn’t. That is, until my mother took me and my excitable younger sibling to see “Elemental.”

On the surface, “Elemental” seems like a classic kid’s movie concept. Elements like air, fire, water, and earth aren’t necessarily new ideas, which was my first thought upon seeing the trailer. I was swiftly proven wrong by this film.

Our main character Ember is about what you’d expect from a character made of pure fire: hot-headed, strong-willed and with a little bit of a spicy attitude. Wade and all of our water characters were a different interpretation than I was expecting. Water is an element I associate with being cool, calming, and mysterious. This is certainly not Wade. Wade is warm and emotional, often seen crying throughout the film, especially when it comes to Ember and his feelings for her.

On that note, let’s talk about the story, which is direct in concept and flawless in execution: something that Pixar was known for and this movie managed to recapture. Simply, it’s a love story where two polar opposites fall in love against all odds.

The two meet when Wade enters the shop Ember’s family owns through a leaking water pipe, a big problem for people made of fire, as you’d expect. Wade is a building inspector who flags problems with Ember’s family’s shop immediately and goes to report them. A chase sequence later, Wade learns that Ember’s family built the shop from nothing and that they were the first fire settlers in Elemental City. Wade, touched by Ember’s family story, wants to help her make sure the shop is saved and ensure her family legacy lives on. A true beginning to a beautiful love story.

While the two try to stop a leak in Elemental City that’s causing the water in the shop, they learn more about each other and their lives as fire and water. Watching as Ember a stand-offish character unable to keep her guard up around Wade, who practically melts in Ember’s presence the longer they’re together, is just so realistic. Wade is so smitten and amazed by Ember, all she can do and who she is. It’s truly just the purest love I’ve ever seen depicted on screen in animation.

Of course, conflict ensues because the idea of a water person and fire person together raises some eyebrows, especially in Ember’s family. While spending so much time with Wade, Ember discovers what she wants out of life has changed. Rather than taking over the family business, she finds herself wanting something different but unable to even consider disappointing her father.

This causes an unfortunate rift between the two of them and Ember denies her love for Wade; it is a heartbreaking scene that the audience feels. Shortly after that scene, the water begins flooding Element City, putting all the fire elements in danger. Wade, even though his heart is shattered, returns to save Ember and the blue flame that is the heart of Ember’s family’s shop. Sacrificing his life…

No, not really! Don’t worry, they still tug at your heartstrings as we watch Ember say goodbye to her father. She and Wade leave the city so that Ember can use her real talents in flame art sculpting. 

This movie reminded me of the heart and soul of Pixar and how amazing its movies can be. This film is the first it has produced in the 2020s. It gives me hope for this new generation, and hope that my little brother will be just as amazed and in love with Pixar’s work as I was.

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