Disney/Pixar has recently faced a period of decline. Gone are the days when the studio delivered blockbuster hits like Toy Story, Cars and The Incredibles. The once-powerful production company has lost its momentum, releasing films that failed to connect with their intended audience.

This downward trend began in 2017 with Cars 3 and has persisted through films like Inside Out, Turning Red and, surprisingly, Lightyear. The surprise lies in the fact that Toy Story was a monumental success. With a well-established character like Buzz, the studio had the opportunity to create a compelling backstory. However, both Buzz’s background and its action sequences were mishandled, resulting in a lackluster action film.

Various theories have attributed it to the influence of woke culture, claiming the inclusion of certain belief systems alienates a portion of the audience. Others believe the studio has lost its originality, and the magic that once defined Pixar films has diminished over the years. Concerned parents have expressed disapproval of recent films, deeming them too mature or inappropriate for children.

Throughout this scrutiny, Disney, as the parent company, bears the brunt of the criticism. Although Disney acquired Pixar more than two decades ago, changes in Disney’s management have significantly influenced the direction of Pixar, including the controversial departure of John Lasseter due to misconduct allegations. While these claims may hold some truth, Lasseter’s exit undeniably drained much of the creative energy from the studio he played a key role in establishing.

Its latest offering, Elemental, is helmed by director Peter Sohn, who is known for his work on The Good Dinosaur (2015). The film follows the journey of Ember Lumen (Leah Lewis), a young fire elemental who resides with her parents, Bernie (Ronnie del Carmen) and Cinder (Shila Ommi), in an apartment above the family-owned convenience store. Nearing retirement age, Bernie envisions Ember taking over the business, placing immense pressure on her and fueling her explosive temper.

During one of Ember’s outbursts, the supposedly empty pipes in the store sustain damage, resulting in a flood that engulfs the basement. Unexpectedly, this introduces Wade (Mamoudou Athie), a city inspector and water elemental, into Ember’s life. Initially, their dynamic mirrors the clash between fire and water, but as they join forces to save the store from closure and uncover the cause of the flooding, a blossoming love ensues.

However, Bernie harbors a deep-rooted animosity toward water elements, which places Ember at the center of a tale reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet. As their love story unfolds, Ember and Wade must navigate the challenges created by her family, while striving to protect their burgeoning relationship and the store Ember holds dear.

FUTURE’S SO BRIGHT — In Elemental, fiery young woman Ember lives with her immigrant parents in Firetown—a borough of Element City, where fire-, water-, land- and air-residents live together. © 2023 Disney/Pixar.

At first glance, Elemental might appear to delve into cultural issues with a heavy-handed approach. The underlying theme of animosity between fire and water serves as a metaphor for the persistent racial issues that plague our world today. However, the film’s focus on the power of love to overcome obstacles is skillfully woven into the narrative, without forcefully imposing this message onto the audience.

It allows viewers to interpret the story’s parallels to reality and draw their own meaningful connections. Director Sohn’s approach engages viewers of all ages, captivating them with a profound tale that leaves a lasting smile on their faces and in their hearts.

One of the major concerns with Elemental is the subtle glorification of destructive behavior, despite its emphasis on love as a unifying force. Wade, being a water elemental, possesses the ability to extinguish Ember and essentially end her existence. Likewise, Ember’s heat can cause Wade to evaporate if they remain in close proximity for too long. Both characters are aware of this danger, yet their addiction to each other leads them to willingly put themselves in mortal peril simply by being together.

The film, unintentionally perhaps, conveys a message that prioritizes personal gratification over safety, suggesting that one should disregard their well-being in pursuit of pleasure. This underlying theme raises questions about the intended message of Elemental. While it may not have been the filmmakers’ intention, the notion remains present within the narrative.

Elemental is a commendable film that Disney/Pixar can take pride in. I would rate it four out of five stars. It presents a Romeo and Juliet narrative with a unique twist, substituting race with elemental types. The movie is clever, enjoyable and thought-provoking. My 8-year-old daughter adored it, expressing her hope of finding a love like Ember and Wade’s.

However, it might be beneficial to discuss with your child the importance of avoiding self-destructive behavior. Nonetheless, the film carries a wholesome message that deserves to be shared with your loved ones.