Elemental (2023) Review



It’s no big secret that Pixar Studios has become the premiere powerhouse animated studio for nearly the past twenty-five years; producing some of the more memorable and beloved animated feature films that have seeing a theatrical release. While other studios have indeed produced hits (i.e. DreamWorks, Illumination Entertainment, Warner Bros Animation, Sony Pictures Animation, etc.), Pixar, a subsidiary company underneath the Walt Disney Studios banner, has capitalized on being the leading studio of children’s animated feature films; utilizing the bright and color world of cartoon storytelling to be made for the young audience, but finds a way into the hearts of older viewers; sparking strong themes of family, childhood, love, life, and difference of opinions. Some of their films, including Toy StoryFinding NemoMonsters Inc., UpInside OutCoco, and Soul have certainly demonstrated this notion as well as strong family friendly films of quality stock such as Cars and The Incredibles.. Now, following their previous release of 2022’s Lightyear, Pixar Animation Studios (as well as Walt Disney Studios) and director Peter Sohn present the 27th Pixar animated film with the release of Elemental. Does this latest film find its place amongst the studio’s illustrious cartoon library of memorable endeavors or does it fail to meet the high expectation from Pixar’s signature position of endearing children’s entertainment?


Years ago, fire elements Bernie Lumen (Ronnie del Carmen) and his wife, Cinder (Shila Ommi) arrive in Element City, with the pair eager to make a fresh start in this new metropolis home where water, earth, air coexist in harmony. Settling down in the outskirts of the city (in Fire Town), Bernie quickly establishes his own convenience business, bringing fire-like burning goods to his fellow people, with the area soon thriving with other fire elements that have migrated there. Soon, the couple welcoming a daughter into their life with the arrival of Ember (Leah Lewis), hoping to raise a child who is capable of taking over the family business when she’s old enough to manage it. Ember is very eager in wanting the responsibility, but she’s unable to control her temper, raging and flaring “going purple” too many times when she becomes overwhelmed, with her recent outburst popping water pipes beneath her dad’s shop. Accidentally flowing into the building through the pipes is Wade Ripple (Mamoudou Athie), a fun and sappy water element who is an inspector forced to report these issues to his superiors, which will certainly put an end to Bernie’s dream. Trying to persuade Wade to the report, Ember gets close to the aquatic man, learning she has something in common with the gentle individual, with the pair pursuing a courtship that feels right to them, while their elemental backgrounds difference threaten to destroy their budding relationship.


Sorry if the opening paragraphs sounds quite familiar from what I wrote in my review for OnwardSoulLuca, and Turning Red. It’s not because my lazy or just “cut and copy” everything, but it definitely fits all these reviews in what I want to say. So….it goes without saying that when a Pixar movie gets released, there is reason to the excited for. As mentioned, (but it’s almost common knowledge), Pixar Studios have certainly become the “leading” animation studio for a better part more of two decades. I certainly grew up with their movies, with the original 1995 Toy Story capturing my ten-year-old attention with its then state-of-the-art CGI animation and memorable characters. After that, I remember seeing the change in Disney’s releases (the latter half of their “Renaissance Era”) and the rise of Pixar’s animated features, with Pixar becoming the more dominant powerhouse than its parent company. Much like how Disney had their signature style of princesses, musical songs, and colorful animal sidekicks, I love how Pixar has their own personal signature; mixing ever stunning 3D animation and wholesome storytelling together in way that never undermines their quality of cinematic filmmaking as well as well-rounded entertainment for all. Plus, the tender themes and message that many of their theatrical releases promote are highly valuable and indeed more memorable than any other children’s cartoon movies out there. Some of my personal favorite Pixar releases have Toy Story 3Monsters IncInside OutIncrediblesCoco, and Finding Nemo. That being said, Pixar certainly has had one or two missteps along the way, with such movies like Cars 2 in 2011 and The Good Dinosaur in 2015, which are, more or less, considered the “black sheep” of the Pixar category. In addition, I personally think that Pixar relies too heavily on trying to expand upon its already established brand / series (i.e., Toy StoryCarsIncredibles, etc.) and needs to focus a bit more creating original content. However, that’s a minor quibble. In the end, Pixar Animation Studios still continues to be one of the premiere animated studios out there and has no sign of stopping anytime soon. And that’s a good thing!

This brings me back around to talking about Elemental, a 2023 animated feature film and the latest addition to the Pixar Studio brand name. I can’t remember when it was first announced, but I do remember hearing about Pixar’s latest film I think sometime middle of last year. Come to think of it, I think it was around Disney’s D23 (or at least around that time period) in 2022, with the company announcing a slew of its upcoming releases, including a new Pixar film for the following year. While I did enjoy 2022’s Lightyear, many believed that the film did not live up to the lofty expectations set by the studio and felt it was subpar endeavor, especially coming off the heels of Turning Red. Thus, I look towards Elemental, Pixar’s latest film, to be more of a traditional project, one that wouldn’t rely on a franchise tag necessarily and starts off a little bit fresh. From the promotional work and in the film’s releases movie trailers, the movie looked to be right up Pixar’s alley, with a larger focus on two young individuals (from two different backgrounds) falling in love and dealing with their respective elemental issues in their attraction. Of course, this is a familiar narrative and (from the trailers) looked to be somewhat similar to Disney’s Zootopia, with anthropomorphic animated beings of different backgrounds live in a city and how opposites attract. Still, while that familiarity loomed in my mind, the film’s animation looked quite different and visually appealing and it was Pixar release after all (and all that entails with its cartoon motion picture pedigree). Thus, I was quite looking forward to seeing Elemental when it was scheduled to have a theatrical release on June 16th, 2023. I decided to check out The Flash, which was being released on the same day, first before checking out Elemental, which I saw several after its release. And what did I think of it? Well, I actually liked it. Despite its weak story (mostly subplots) and some mechanics in its world-building, Elemental still manages to dazzle viewers with its imaginative and colorful visual presentation, solid voice acting, and heartwarming story of family and love. While it’s definitely not the “best and brightest” of Pixar’s releases, I don’t think it’s nearly as  bad nor as terrible as some are making it out to be. It’s a cute story that should’ve been tweaked in its storyboarding process.

Elemental is directed by Peter Sohn, whose previous directorial works includes Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur as well as providing voice works for other voicework from the studio’s past, including Lightyear, Monsters University, and Ratatouille. Given his background and familiarity of working with Pixar, Sohn does seem like a very suitable choice to helm such a project like this one. In fact, I found Elemental, despite the general mixed feelings about this from moviegoers and critics alike, to be the superior in Sohn’s work when compared to The Good Dinosaur, which I consider to be one of the weakest (if not the weakest) theatrical motion picture released from Pixar Studios. To that end, I think Sohn does a very good job in helming this film by approaching the feature with worldly sense of opposite attracting towards each other when everything / everyone else says they shouldn’t be together. Of course, Sohn draws inspiration from his own life, with Elemental taking some familiar tones from his youth as growing up the son of immigrant in New York during 70s as well as highlighting the city’s districts and cultural flair within each community. It goes without saying that Pixar (and sometimes Disney’s releases) usually have strong and / or relative themes that play an instrumental part of feature’s signature make-up or story plot. Elemental is no stranger to that and, for the better, is perfectly sound thematic message to display within the animated tale. Plot points beats of family, culture, tradition, and community play out in Elemental’s narrative as well as speaking towards love itself (i.e. love is love) and finding outside of one’s particular grouping of community. The movie also even hints tolerance and exclusion (racism) towards those who are different, with Sohn display all the fire elements mostly ostracized from most in Element City and settling in their own community district (Fire Town), which plays homage to immigrants finding dwellings within their own people (i.e. Little Italy, Chinatown, etc.). So, while the movie isn’t exactly perfect, I felt that Sohn’s heart / intentions are in the right place; finding Elemental to have strong thematic nuances within its social commentary messages and themes. Again, a very much better understanding (and entertainment) than what he achieved in The Good Dinosaur.

Thematic aspects aside, Elemental still has plenty to offer as Sohn makes the feature a very cute and loving story that unfolds. As my synopsis of the feature above reads, it’s clear that the film draws inspiration from Disney’s Zootopia, but also from several romantic films like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Moonstruck, and Amelie. Thus, the familiarity that Sohn injects the movie with is indeed welcomed within the classic “boy meets girl” scenario playing out in the character’s relationship between Ember and Wade as well as (by extension) Ember’s father (Bernie). The script, which was penned by Sohn as well as John Hoberg, Kat Likkel, and Brenda Hsueh, takes that standard formula of a “love connection” between two polar opposites and runs with it, which does create some amusing moments friction and tenderness as well as some amusing cuteness to its tale love and family. Naturally, the movie hits a lot of the intended marks of both comedy and dramatic moments in the correct way. In comedic ring, Elemental utilizes a lot of puns of four elements for some physical / sight gags as well as verbal dialogue jokes that would make any dad-like humor funny. To me, the comedy in Elemental was good and was what I was expecting it to be, which I did laugh quite a bit during the movie’s runtime. As a sidenote (speaking of runtime), I did feel that Sohn kept the feature’s runtime relatively short and breezy with a cool run of 109 minutes (one hour and nineteen minutes). While I do feel that the movie could’ve utilized a longer time for more to explore more of setting and background nuances of the Elemental City landscape (more on that below), it still makes the movie feel breezy and gets in and out quicker than most. Anyway, the film’s dramatic parts are quite palpable and do certainly hit the right amount of the studio’s signature style. The movie does hit a few snags within how it present certain parts in this arena and Sohn could’ve managed things different (removing and expanding thoughts and ideas), but, for the most part, Elemental’s dramatic and tender moments do resonate enough to make for some wholesome usage of emotion and tenderness, especially when examine the relationship between Ember and Wade as well as Ember’s parental relationship with her dad. All in all, while not exactly the best that has come out of Pixar, I did feel that Sohn did a commendable job in bringing Elemental to life in creative and fun way.

While some division will be made by a viewer’s opinion about this movie, no one can deny how much the animation presentation of Elemental is incredibly breath-taking and stands out as ingeniously designs. It’s been stated that the development for this animated film began several years ago and it’s quite clear on that statement, for the feature’s animated style is quite unique and wonderous to behold. From onset to conclusion. Before that, however, the conceptual design and layout of how everything looks and appears in the film is astonishing as if the creative art direction team was giving some “free reigns” to bring Elemental City to life in such ingenious way. This, of course, makes some of the world-building elements quite dynamic and sometimes clever how certain things in and around the Element City play out as well as the inhabitants that dwell there. Furthermore, the animation style is quite amazing and dazzling to watch, especially on how it presents many of the film’s elemental characters. Naturally, with a larger focus on fire and water element denizens, those particular effects are rendered beautifully from the more fiery and grounded feeling of the fire elements to the more fluid and elongated shapes of the water elements. It’s just great usage of CGI animation, which provides plenty of character within its background setting and players throughout the feature.

Thus, the film’s key “behind the scenes” members, including Don Shank (production design), Jennifer Chang (art direction), and the entire team of animators, should be highly praised for bringing forth such creative and imaginative world that is bustling with such vibrancy and colorful ideas. In addition, the feature’s cinematography work by David Juan Bianchi and Jean-Claude Kalache are quite remarkable, especially for an animated film and allows some unique camera angles and dramatic poise to help build upon the feature’s characters and setting. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Thomas Newman, is one of great importance in the feature’s narrative and is important than just background music. Newman, who has worked on several Pixar releases, does quite an impressive job on his work on this particular animated film. Yes, he has all the right customary melodies and composition pieces for some of the more grandiose sweeping moments and soft tenderness dialogue pieces, but, much like the film’s thematic messages of immigrants and culture / traditions, has several pieces that use a cultural feeling that will sure standout to any person who loves film soundtracks.

Unfortunately, Elemental does have its fair share of problems throughout its endeavor that, while not completely derailing the feature as some are claim to be, still holds the movie down from reaching the potential that the project certainly wants to achieve. How so? Well, perhaps the biggest one that many can agree with is found within the movie’s story, which is rather weak….to say the least. Yes, the courtship tale of Ember and Wade is very cute, wholesome, and is definitely driving force for majority of the feature’s narrative, yet there is some elements (no pun intended) that really don’t go anywhere, which renders the movie a bit underwhelming in a few key areas. There is a larger subplot involving a breaking point in a water canal, but it feels half-baked and comes off as meandering point that pushes things along. In truth, this subplot shouldn’t have been utilized in the movie (in my opinion) and could’ve been better purposed to more time with Ember and Wade’s relationship. Another crucial part of Elemental’s criticisms comes in the form of the lack of a main villain or some type of antagonist force. While Pixar has done several feature films that really don’t have much in the way of a villainous bad guy or a central opposition instrument(i.e. Inside Out, Soul, and Onward), Elemental sort of needed one, especially how weak that larger subplot is in the feature. There’s very little sense of urgence in the movie, especially in the latter half, and would’ve been better if there was some type of outside source that was threaten Ember and Wade’s journey and / or discovering some type of cover up about Elemental City (something akin to Zootopia). Because of this, Elemental (ultimately) feels that there is something lacking in the villainy department, which would’ve bolstered some of the suspense and excitement in the feature. Again, it’s definitely a cute story of a “girl meets boy”, yet missing something.

Another problem that I felt with this movie is that Elemental doesn’t push boundaries of what the studio has done in the past and can’t outmatch their older (and more memorable) endeavors. As mentioned in my opening paragraph, Pixar has certainly become a powerhouse juggernaut of theatrical cartoon motion picture for quite some time; producing big hits like Toy StoryFinding NemoInside Out, and Coco just to name a few. In truth, as I said earlier, Pixar has cultivated a somewhat high standard for cartoon movies of late by interjecting plenty of their signature heart and humor to these particular films that are usually meant for kids of all ages, but have an appeal to all. With that being said, Elemental does indeed have the studio’s classic signature style of emotional drama, witty humor, and likeable characters, but the film doesn’t exceed or try to break the certain mold held up by its predecessors. Sohn makes the film settle into a routine style groove of which the movie follows from onset to conclusion, can’t either overcome or outshine some of Pixar’s beloved past installments. Even the film’s more emotional and tender moments can’t rival the likes of Jesse’s backstory in Toy Story 2, Bingbong’s farewell in Inside Out, the opening sequence of Up, or Miguel singing “Remember Me” to his Mama Coco at the end of Coco. This has been somewhat of a recurrent problem with recent projects of Pixar that the newer projects can’t quite figure out the emotional “human” connection as strong as its older iterations. It’s quite easy to tell what Elemental wants to convey in emotions and drama, but takes the more safe route and doesn’t challenge itself to go beyond that; something I think that Pixar needs to do in its more future prospects.

As a minor complaint / criticism, I felt that the Elemental missed out covering a lot of certain aspects within its world building nuances. As I mentioned above, I did like a lot of the world building ideas for the movie, with a vibrant and lively metropolis city where all the elements lived together and in cohesive form of existence and how the movie depicted many creative ideas of the society therein. That being said, the movie doesn’t get to fully explore Elemental City to its fullest extent. Are there special districts for where the different elements lived like Fire City or some type of middle ground common area? It would’ve been very interesting to see different places and locations within the city like how Zootopia did with its various districts (i.e. Tundratown, Savanna Central, Little Rodentia, and the Rainforest Districts). In addition, the film also misses out on showcasing the earth and air element individual characters. While the narrative showcases plenty of different angles of the fire and water elements (naturally, due to Ember and Wade’s story together), the other two elements are sort of pushed to the backdrop of the setting and are only called upon for amusing little sequences. Again, it just feels like a missed opportunity for Sohn and his team to display such different cultures and lifestyles within this elemental melting pot of a city. Who knows….maybe an Elemental 2 is in the works or even a TV series. Now, that would be interesting to see.

What definitely helps Elemental rise above (or rather overlook) some of those points of criticism is found within the voice talents that are ensembled to play all of these colorful characters. While the movie does lack the “star power” of which animated motion pictures are usually known for, the talents involved are certainly up for the task in Elemental and makes for some solid and energetic voices for these characters across the board, regardless of major or minor players in the narrative. Leading the charge in the movie is actress Leah Lewis, who plays the central protagonist character of Ember Lumen. Known for her roles in Nancy Drew, The Half of It, and Station 19, Lewis is a relatively unknown actress and isn’t quite the household name that many will know. However, sometimes that’s a good thing and sure enough works in Lewis’s favor in his vocal performance in this movie. In fact, she definitely captures the essence of her character, finding Ember to be a young adult who is caught in-between love and honoring her dad’s wishes. Ember also has a fiery temper, a short-fused of losing her cool and “going purple” when it flairs up, which Lewis nails the feistiness and frustration with her voice. Naturally, since Ember is the main principal character, she gets the most conflict and story journey arc in the film and Lewis is quite up to the task and gives a lot of dynamic range to play from. Overall, I believe that Lewis did a fine job in bringing Ember to life and brings enough relatability to the role.

The other main character that appears in Elemental is found in the character of Wade Ripple, a caring and sometimes sappy water element, and who is voice by actor Mamoudou Athie. Known for his roles in The Circle, Black Box, and Jurassic World: Dominion, Athie has bit more of name for himself (career-wise) than Lewis does, but he still quite up to the task in generating such a lively and animated voice throughout the movie. As Wade, Athie embodies softer character of the two main leads and gives Wade a more thoughtful and compassion individual, who’s emotion are quite more visible than Ember. This, of course, gives that classic notion of a character wearing “his heart on his sleeve” and gives some empathy towards him and his budding relationship with a polar opposite. Plus, he does equally match the hothead temperament to Lewis’s Ember as the pair fit each respective character with such delight and definitely helps us (the viewer) “buy into” the courtship. Perhaps the only problem with the character of Wade is that he isn’t fully explored as much as Ember is. Yes, he does have some characteristics and backstory narrative bits that are told (i.e. a more privileged family, a single parent, aimless career path, etc.), but most of these aspects aren’t brought to light by the time reaches its conclusion, which feels like a missed opportunity for the character. Still, for better or worse, I feel that Athie was perfect in voicing the role of Wade in the movie and definitely compliments Lewis’s Ember from begin to end.

In more supporting roles, Ember’s parents (Bernie and Cinder) makes for some great window dressing characters in the movie, with the feature utilizing them to help round out Ember’s plight / dilemma in both in and outside the inner family circle. Of course, the voice acting talents of both art department / actor Ronnie Del Carmen (Up and Inside Out) and actress Shila Ommi (The Illegal and Tehran) give quite impressionable character parental roles in the movie as Bernie and Cinder. Naturally, Carmen’s Bernie gets the most of the movie’s narrative and screen time, especially in his father / daughter relationship with Ember. He runs the family’s business, yet getting old, which fills him with pride knowing that Ember will one day take over the convenience store. Carmen gives that character plenty of wholesome fatherly pride in his performance as well as respectful towards his culture / community. Their definitely sympathetic nature to Bernie’s involvement in Elemental, despite his character’s view point slightly “old world” when it comes to his disdain for the other element beings. The character of Cinder isn’t as strong as Bernie in the story, but Ommi still manages to bring enough charm and humorous moments throughout the feature.

The rest of the cast, including actress Wendi McLendon-Covey (The Goldbergs and Reno 911!) as Wade’s air element boss employer Gale Cumulus, actress Catherine O’Hara (Best in Show and Home Alone) as Wade’s mom Brook Ripple, actor Joe Pera (Joe Pera Talks with You and The Perfect Week) as earth element worker who works at City Hall named Fern Grouchwood, and actor Mason Wertheimer (Past My Bedtime) as the young and flirtatious earth element Clod, make up the minor supporting players in the movie. While most of these characters are limited by design, the voice acting behind them are spot on and do make for some small, yet memorable roles in Elemental.

Lastly, the film has a Pixar short attached to the feature that precedes it and is one that put a smile on my face. Yes, while the customary shorts are usually “one-note” endeavors (usually something type of new characters, new situations), this particular one was titled “Carl’s Date”, which is a cute animated short from the universe of Pixar’s Up and featured the characters of Carl and Dug from the memorable Pixar film. While I won’t spoil anything from it, I felt that the short was charming and fun to watch and it was great to see these two characters again and interacting with each other, especially with the late actor Ed Asner, who recorded his lines for this before his passing, reprising his character of Carl as well as Bob Peterson as Dug. All in all, it was wholesome little animated short that fun and entertaining to watch.


Faced with dutiful duties towards her family’s business and finding a new spark of love within another, fire element Ember embarks upon a journey of self-discovery when he comes into contact with water element Wade in the movie Elemental. Director Peter Sohn’s latest film takes the classic and familiar “girl meets boy” scenario of opposite cultural backgrounds and wraps it within animated tale of elemental takes of fire and water (quite literally in fact). While the movie is hampered by weak subplot narrative as well as not outmatching some of Pixar’s more memorable features, the film itself is still relatively entertaining and fun to watch, especially in the film’s visual animation, creative world building aesthetics, adorable story of young love, wholesome thematic messages, and solid voice acting from all involved. Personally, I liked this movie. Yes, I will admit that it isn’t quite as strong as some of Pixar’s past and as well as some of newer endeavors, but it is still a Pixar release and has plenty to offer within its narrative. As stated, the animation was incredible and the voice acting was solid across the board. The story, while in need of some working, still delivers a very wholesome story about love, tolerance, and looking beyond what’s on surface level aesthetics, which (again) can be extrapolated into today’s modern world of diversity challenges. Again, it’s not as bad as some are making it out to be, which is why I would give my recommendation for this movie to be “recommended” one and will definitely find its place amongst a comfortable “family film movie night” viewing experience. In the end, Elemental, while not the quintessential release from Pixar, still manages to speak to the studio’s signature style of emotion and heart by telling a sweet and charming story of family and love that emulates love is love and how opposite people can find a relationships in both in and out of their elements.

3.8 Out of 5 (Recommended)


Released On: June 16th, 2023
Reviewed On: June 26th, 2023

Elemental  is 106 minutes long and is rated PG for some peril, thematic elements, and brief language


  • I look forward to this story, the music, and fluid animation in particular. I read Pixar upgraded their hardware significantly in order to pull this off. 151,000 cores, I believe. Which is about 20,000 times more processing power than my MacBook M1 has😯🔥💧

    • Haha…oh wow! That does sound like quite a lot. The animation was incredible and definitely one of the best aspects that the movie has to offer.

  • My kids thoroughly enjoyed the first one and I think they’ll enjoy this one too from what you say about it. What you mention as the downsides of it were some of what I worried about, but they don’t seem like a deal breaker, especially for fans or kids that enjoy the world that has been built.

    • Glad to hear it. I don’t think it’s as bad as some people are making it out to be. It has its problems, but it’s still quite enjoyable to watch.

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