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The latest film from Pixar Elementarywhich explores a city where residents of fire, water, earth and air coexist while a romance blossoms between fiery young woman Ember and water boy Wade, it represents much more than a story of fantasy for many of its actors and creators.
Alongside the romance at the center of the story is the journey of a fire family, whose parents have emigrated from their homeland to start a better life for their daughter in Element City. It was one of the main themes of the film, says the director.
“The guiding light that got me through all of this was just this idea of appreciating the people in our lives who sacrificed something and took a risk,” said Peter Sohn The Hollywood Reporter Thursday at the film’s Los Angeles premiere. “To me, those people are my parents. They were immigrants from another world, they came here with nothing and built a life for my brother and me.”
Mamoudou Athie, who voices Wade, said he felt a connection when he first met Sohn and heard his story, as “we share a similar background, similar feelings about our background, similar feelings of debt to gratitude to our families. And I felt so connected to this piece and to his heart. I was like, ‘I have to have this part.’”
Athie admitted, however, that he was surprised the director wanted her deep voice “for such a youthful character. And he did, and I was really happy that he could hear beyond what is the standard.
Wendi McLendon-Covey, who voices the tempestuous Gale, noted, “Every actor wants to be in a Pixar movie because these movies live forever.”
“They are beautiful stories. They are iconically told and you say yes before you even find out what it is – or I did anyway. I didn’t even read the entire email before I said yes,” she said before adding, “when I finally saw it I cried so much at the end, it’s beautiful.
Tears seem to be a common theme, as Leah Lewis, who voices Ember, said on her first viewing: “I barely processed the movie because I was sobbing the whole time.”
Elementary marks Pixar’s first original, non-franchise film title to be released theatrically post-pandemic following disappointing box office numbers for Light year and several years of his films being sent directly to Disney+. It will be a major test for the iconic brand whether his films can still produce theatrical success, as the team has emphasized the value of seeing films like this on the big screen.
“We make them to be seen (in theaters), all of them, even the ones that have gone on stream,” said Pete Docter, Pixar’s chief creative officer. “We sit down and review them 40 feet tall, so it’s disappointing when people look at them on iPhones or whatever because there’s so much more in there. This film is no exception.”
Athie — who called the project “my favorite film I’ve ever done” — added: “You have to see it to understand. There’s something about the technology, they’ve never used technology like this before. I didn’t know what they were talking about until I saw a snippet of the film at D23 and thought, ‘I’ve never seen anything like it.’ And honestly, just to see a wonderful family film like this in theaters, there’s nothing quite like it.
Lewis noted the theatrical edge: “The fact that 19 villages were involved in the making of this film and also the special effects of every single character, it’s something you really have to do to see the detail and how great this film is because it’s a a very, very big, visually enticing kind of film.
The film also comes in a particularly successful period for animation, after the great box office success of The Super Mario Bros. Movie AND Spider-Man: Through the Spider-Verse.
“I have so many friends who work on all these films and the growing animation idea is a dream that when you get into this business you are always like wow, there are so many films out there, and I consider myself lucky that we’re we are also a part,” Sohn said of this moment.
Pixar president Jim Morris added of Universal and Sony’s recent animation successes: “In the film business, we’re always confident that everyone will go through the roof like that. We are very happy and proud for those films, our fellow directors, they did a great job. We have high hopes for it and there are a lot of movies out there right now, but we’re excited.
Elementary hits theaters June 16.