"Elemental" review: Pixar's timely high-concept bonanza is underwhelming

“Elemental” review: Pixar’s timely high-concept bonanza is underwhelming

Everyone has their favorite Pixar movie: mine is Coconutwith Wall-E AND Ratatouille very close seconds – and no matter which title you prefer in the game-changing animation studio’s catalog, almost every one of them feels unique. (THE Automobiles AND History of the toy sequel aside, although even some of these were fresh and original).

But in recent years, Pixar, which Disney bought for more than $7 billion in 2006, hasn’t been able to deliver the goods it once did. Soul it was ambitious but sounded too much like a jazz riff Inside out. Luca it was fun in the Italian sun but also too light. Light year it was an unnecessary spin-off of a huge franchise that should have ended up as a trilogy.

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The bottom line

Too elementary.

Place: Cannes Film Festival (closing evening)
Release date: Friday June 16th
Launch: Leah Lewis, Mamoudou Athie, Ronnie Del Carmen, Shila Ommi, Wendi McLendon-Covery, Catherine O’Hara
Director: Peter son
Screenwriters: John Hobelg, Kat Likkel, Brenda Hsueh

1 hour and 42 minutes

Which brings us to Elementary. The studio is 27 years oldth characteristic, it has, well, all the elements that make up a great Pixar film: a high-concept tone that could only be rendered via cutting-edge computer animation; a serious overarching theme of ethnic conflict and racial tolerance; humor for children and adults, although this is geared more towards the 10-year-old and younger set; a storyline that hits all the right beats at exactly the right time.

It’s all there, so much so Elementary it may be Pixar’s first work to appear to be generated entirely by artificial intelligence. Not just the artificial intelligence that calculates all the images, but literally an algorithm that puts together a perfect Pixar film. The problem, of course, is that originality is mostly absent here, as is the thematic risk-taking that has driven films like Wall-E (the planet almost dies!) or Inside out (Bing Bong dies!) or Coconut (People die!).

In ElementaryPixar’s usual ambitious leap into the unknown is more of a safe dip into calm waters – water is one of four elements that drive the story, even if only two of them really matter here – and a lot of it feels extremely familiar. That doesn’t mean it won’t be at least a modest summer hit when Disney releases it in mid-June, following a Cannes premiere on the festival’s closing night. But the wow factor has been lost at this point, and what we’re left with looks like just another Pixar film.

It takes about a minute or two to realize that the film, directed by Peter Sohn (The good dinosaur — a mid-level Pixar) and written by John Hoberg, Kat Likkel and Brenda Hsueh, is a gigantic, very expensive ($200 million, to be exact) metaphor for immigration and exclusion. Sohn said the story was inspired by his own family’s experiences when Koreans arrived in New York, a place that here transformed into a jaw-dropping megalopolis called Element City — basically the Big Apple populated by the likes of Earth, Wind, Fire and Water, with the latter dominating the others.

Arrived by boat in the city equivalent of Ellis Island, an immigrant couple, Bernie Lumen (Ronnie Del Carmen) and his wife, Cinder (Shila Omni), have arrived from their hometown of Fireland to give a new life to their young daughter, Ember (Leah Lewis). Without much money or connections, and as members of the Fire minority, they end up in the working-class neighborhood of Fire Town, where Bernie opens a grocery store called Fireplace that caters to other Fire people like himself.

If you’ve had enough of all these winky names and pretty easy jokes already, there’s a lot more to come in a film that struggles to find humor in its urban parallel universe of walking conflagrations, H2O blobs, cloud puffs floating and what basically look like old tree stumps. (Earth gets decidedly little attention here, with most of its characters looking dull as dirt. Or is that just another pun?)

A quick opening montage – de rigueur in most Pixar films since On — shows Ember growing up with loving parents in a community far from the city’s water-controlled power centers. His father wants him to take over the family business, but when he’s in his 20s, Ember’s explosive tantrums reveal that he may want something else out of life. When a city inspector, the clumsy and liquid Wade Ripple (Mamoudou Athie), unexpectedly passes through the pipes of the shop, it really isn’t love at first sight, especially after he writes quotes that could shut down Fireplace.

But as Paula Abdul famously predicted, opposites attract, and so Ember and Wade start to grow fond of each other, even if they can’t make any physical contact because, well, you get it. The Pixar story algorithm kicks in at that point, with the two facing all sorts of obstacles as they fall in love despite their inherent differences, prompting Ember to hide the affair from a proud father who’d rather she stay in Fire Town.

Water has always been a tricky substance for animators, and what Sohn and his team do with it, especially once Ember starts touring downtown Elemental City with Wade, can be impressive to see. The expansive color palette includes a billion shades of blue, turquoise, and green that this partly color-blind critic almost felt assaulted by, and the whole setting feels like Shanghai’s Pudong district nestled in a giant aquarium. Another innovation involves characters whose faces and bodies are filled with constant internal movement, teeming with flames or seething with fluids.

This, and some delightfully entertaining sequences — most notably a visit Ember and Wade pay to the latter’s overbearing bougie mom (Catherine O’Hara) — can’t, however, make up for the film’s major flaw, which is that it feels entirely predictable. . Maybe we’ve all seen too many Pixar movies by now, and so if Element were the studio’s first-ever release instead of yet another, it would feel more surprising, bolder.

That said, the parable of immigrants that Sohn and his army of animators have crafted feels worthy and timely, especially at a time when America seems to be slipping into a xenophobia not seen since perhaps the 1920s. By far the most moving element Element is the character of Bernie, a hard-working foreigner who does everything he can to support his family in the big city, breaking his back in his modest convenience store while striving to preserve some of the traditions of his homeland.

Her story turns out to be more engaging than an Ember and Wade romance that goes exactly where you think it will go, highlighting the many hardships, personal or social, faced by people of different races trying to stick together. Had Pixar perhaps taken more risks with that storyline, they could have pleased a smaller demographic than that required for such a project to be profitable, but they could also have made a film on par with some of their best work. Instead, all the elements fit perfectly into place, so much so that the water eventually puts out the fire, and we’re left without much of an impression.