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Review: 'Elemental'

Disney Pixar has had an incredible track record when it comes to digitally animated feature films. They were impressive and deservedly successful at the box office.

I want to take a minute to elaborate, for the sake of clarity and context. That list includes: The Good Dinosaur, WALL-E, Cars, Toy Story, Monsters University, Ratatouille, The Incredibles, A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo, Coco and Soul.

It’s a string of hits that I always applauded, for the stellar writing and dazzling, state-of-the-art digital animation. With few exceptions, it seemed that Disney Pixar was incapable of getting it wrong. By and large, they got it right, time and time again.

But now comes Elemental, their latest feature film about a world comprised of four, age-old elements-- fire, water, land and air-- struggling to co-exist.

Conceptually, it’s a movie for the times in a world (our world) in dire need of a lesson about peaceful coexistence, acceptance and harmony. On that level, Elemental is elementally sound. It’s the kind of timeless, socially-relevant theme you’d expect from Disney Pixar.

It is also a movie about immigrants and their struggle to make a home for themselves in a new environment that is often less than welcoming. Again, it’s a story worth telling and a tale worth sharing, especially with young children.

Elemental is also about true love and the things that can keep young, star-crossed lovers apart. It’s a tale as old as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, or either of the two cinematic updates both titled West Side Story. It’s that tale of forbidden love made seemingly impossible due to cultural and ethnic differences that pull them apart.

In Elemental, we’re talking about the elements of fire and water, that is to say the character of a young lady by the name of Ember and a young man by the name of Wade. They are literally fire and water. Yet they somehow to fall in love with each other despite their differences—differences that could become self-destructive.

On the surface, it would seem that Disney Pixar had the makings of another sure-fire (forgive the reference) hit. It had all the right elements (there I go again).

The problem with the movie is that it falls far short of the writing quality that we have seen in previous Disney Pixar feature films. Additionally, it lacks the kind of visual magic that we have come to expect.

Curiously, Elemental looks like a movie that was made half a decade ago, with flat, throw-back, two-dimensional rendering of all the major characters.

At times, they don’t seem like they belong in the same movie that renders background images of crashing water and towering waves and fantasy cities and villages with stunning photo-realism. The juxtaposition is jarring and puzzling, moreover, it is flat-out disappointing when you consider what Disney Pixar is capable of creating on the big screen, which is pretty much anything that their animation team can imagine.

Just about everything in Elemental falls short of our expectations. In the end, it’s a movie with some commendable positive messages directed at a younger audience. It scores some points for that. But while it is well-intentioned, it lacks the entertainment value that we have seen before that appealed to both younger and older audiences.

To its credit, Disney Pixar is a victim of its own unrivaled success, to some degree. Over the course of its illustrious career, it has rightly become the gold standard when it comes to computer animated feature films. You could argue that no one else comes close when you consider the magnitude or consistency of their success

Realistically, one has to expect a misstep occasionally.

That is not to say that Elemental is a bad movie. Kids will embrace it. It will most certainly make money. It just won’t be on the list of all those other Pixar movies that are so affectionately burned into our collective consciousness.

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