Life imitates art. On the screen, Disney Pixar’s latest, Elemental, is an animated rom-com, with a couple overcoming numerous obstacles to be together. In the outside world, the film’s up against it. Its debut in the US was Pixar’s lowest ever and, when the doors open in the UK on Friday, Tom Cruise’s latest colossus will already be breathing heavily down its neck. It can’t get a break. But it deserves one.
Put simply, Elemental is worth seeing for plenty of reasons, so Disney’s thinking behind hanging it out to dry are hard to understand. For the first time in five years, they present us with a film preceded by a short, a welcome return to the world of Up with Carl’s Date. The endearingly grumpy Carl (Ed Asner’s final acting gig before his death in 2021) is beset with nerves and guilt as he navigates the world of modern dating. His fragility under that crusty exterior, and his relationship with the faithful Dug, gears up our emotions for the work-out to come in what used to be called the main feature.
This takes us to Element City, where the population is divided into Airs, Waters, Earths and the most recent arrivals, Fires. They’re the target of suspicion and hostility and there’s an especially strong resentment between them and the Waters. Ember Lumen (a Fire) works in the family store and has always assumed she’ll take over when her dad retires. A freak accident results in her meeting a Water, Wade Ripple, a real softie to her suitably fiery temper. Everything is against them – Fires and Waters don’t mix, her dad isn’t keen, nor is the city as a whole, plus there’s what might happen if they actually touch each other. But it’s true love and, of course, they find a way.
Opposites attracting, defying convention, the immigrant experience – all familiar Pixar themes and they’re all done with heart and feeling but, after the lukewarm response to last year’s Lightyear, there’s a sense the studio has taken the safe option. The animation’s colourful and attractive, appealing to the younger members of the audience, and the touching narrative will leave you with a prickle or two in your eyes. It’s no Toy Story or Nemo, nor does it challenge like Turning Red, but it’s still a reassuring hug of a film. And, for that reason alone, it deserves an audience.
Elemental will be released in cinemas on 7 July. Find more reviews, news and interviews at SciFiNow.