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Disney’s “Elemental” – Don’t Listen to Politics, Just Enjoy a Charming Film (a Review)

Leah Lewis as Ember Lumen, and Mamoudou Athie as Wade Ripple, in Disney Pixar's "Elemental."

All the criticism I have heard of the latest big film from the House of the Mouse is undue. Disney Pixar’s “Elemental” is ultimately a sweet, charming, very traditional family film about eternal themes, plus the great visuals and imaginative world you expect from a century of the king of cartoons.

Although it is grounded in real-world issues of xenophobia and racism, those are not smothering conditions that cloud up a story that is focused on resolving family expectations, self-awareness, and making a mixed relationship work.

Ember Lumen is the daughter of immigrant Fire parents who faced housing discrimination after fleeing a disaster, yet they persevered and created a home and successful business out of nothing. Wade Ripple is the bureaucrat son of an upper-middle-class first-generation Water family.

Reminiscent of “Inside Out,” the main characters’ personalities are witty reflections of their race – with the Fire protagonist dealing with anger issues and her unintentional danger to others, and the Water co-star mostly going with the flow but sometimes being an unstoppable force.

“Elemental” is also reminiscent of the imaginative reality / fantasy worldbulding of “Zootopia.”

Even watching the credits was charming, with plenty of pun products populating the margins.

And, there is restraint in not using big stars to voice the main characters…unless I’m just not up on who is big anymore.

I gave up on most 3-D movies since I decided the extra price isn’t worth becoming oblivious to the effect all to quickly – but I’ll bet this would be worth it, like Guardians of the Galaxy 3.

Disney was restrained in including only a brief single cameo of social justice / wokeism, and even then I’m not sure if I recognized it correctly. (And I must say, all the flack about “Lightyear” and “Strange World” was excessive. Fair depictions of alternative lifestyles are one thing, but social bullying and excessive propaganda – not present in them – are another.)

The movie starts with a 10-minute short, a spin-off of “Up,” with the talking dog and his balloon-wielding curmudgeon master…after Disney’s new centennial logo (that understatedly features rainbow fireworks).

Reviewer’s rating: Four out of five sentient states of matter.

And a historical note: Before our modern use of “element” meaning individual, identifiable substances, in Western culture there were only the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water. Though ancient, this concept embraces the four states of matter: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. (With faith comes the fifth sacred thing, the quintessence: spirit.)

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Raised in Ross County, Bearcat class of '87 at Paint Valley. Wrote a column on history and historic preservation for the Chillicothe Gazette right out of high school, then a bachelors in Journalism in the OU class of '91. After starting my one-man company "Intrepid Heritage Services" in Columbus in 1997 to offer historical research, tours, and talks, I retuned to Ross County in 2003. Have been working as a radio programmer and reporter at Clear Channel / iHeart Media Southern Ohio. Started working with the Scioto Post June 27th, 2023.