Thursday, December 7, 2023

A First Look At Pixar’s “Elemental”

After reenvisioning a legacy character with last year’s “Lightyear,” Pixar is bringing us an entirely new world, unlike anything we’ve seen before in their latest film, “Elemental.” This original piece of storytelling explores a city whose inhabitants are made up of unique elements: fire, water, earth, or air. Before the film’s release on June 16th, Next Best Picture was given an extraordinary opportunity to see early footage and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of “Elemental” at Pixar Studios. Here is what we discovered…

Director Peter Sohn (“The Good Dinosaur”) described his desire to make a film appreciating the sacrifices our parents make for us. He’s found a perfect avenue for such a story with the highly original world of “Elemental.” This is, first and foremost, an immigrant story, albeit told through people made of fire, with the story’s main characters Ember (Leah Lewis) and Wade (Mamoudou Athie). Before Ember is born, her parents make their way to a brand new country, a melting pot full of water, earth, and air people, along with fire people. Ember grows up watching her parents work themselves to the bone, building a shop from the ground up to give her a good life. As the son of Korean immigrants, Sohn reflected on how personal this project was from beginning to end. So many of his own experiences, and the experiences of many who worked on the film, found their way into the relationships and world of “Elemental.”

“Could fire and water connect?” This idea of opposites attracting was the seed of Sohn’s earliest concept for the movie. In addition to being an immigrant story, the film also functions as a romantic comedy, a genre that Pixar has only briefly dabbled in with “Wall-E” and “Toy Story 4.” Sohn listed “Moonstruck,” “The Big Sick,” “Amélie,” among others, as inspirations for the relationship between Ember and Wade. In true Pixar fashion, this film promises to tackle mature themes, such as immigration, xenophobia, and even interracial relationships. Still, they’re handled gently enough for families, with plenty of humor and heart, just as previous Pixar classics such as “Inside Out” and “Soul” have been able to accomplish.
Since the advent of computer animation, animators have lamented that fire and water are the two most challenging elements to animate. Naturally, making a film whose characters are made entirely of those elements brought a new level of difficulty to the brilliant minds at Pixar. Many artists involved in the movie shared the numerous challenges this complicated world posed to their teams. Visual Effects Supervisor Sanjay Bakshi noted that Sohn initially insisted that these characters weren’t simply typical Pixar characters set on fire – they were characters made of fire. The same goes for the water, air, and earth characters too. That significant difference impacted everything about how the characters moved and emoted. “We haven’t had a challenge to the scale of ‘Elemental’ in a while,” Bakshi described. Directing Animators Gwen Enderoglu and Allison Rutland noted that they animated by considering energy over anatomy, which genuinely comes across when viewing the final animation. The scenes we were given a sneak preview of (about 20 minutes worth of footage) were gorgeously stunning, with character work that felt distinctive and, altogether, remarkable.

“It was a dream to work with Thomas Newman,” Sohn says of his “Elemental” composer. In seeking to craft a score that reflected the immigrant experience, Newman created impressive sounds representing the different cultures within this world. Sohn described getting “movie goosebumps” when he heard the first notes paired with the animation of the opening scene. While we have not seen the entire film, the ingenuity of Newman’s score was already evident. It could bring the fifteen-time Academy Award-nominated composer his first-ever win for Best Original Score. Utilizing an assortment of different elements (no pun intended), the score captures a wide variety of cultural expressions that help bring this world and the characters to life.

“Elemental” promises to be a sweet blend of classic Pixar, with two lovable misfits on a journey together, and new Pixar, using a deeply personal story to convey universal truths in a manner both kids and adults will appreciate. While it’s far too early to know how the film will perform this awards season, it’s always safe to pencil in Pixar for a Best Animated Feature Oscar nomination. Since the Oscar for Best Animated Feature was created in 2001, Pixar has never gone more than two years without winning the category. With “Encanto” and “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” taking home the last two trophies, Pixar might be due for another win. However, with “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” Disney’s “Wish,” the return of Hayao Miyazaki with “How Do You Live?,” and who knows what else all happening this year, it’ll be a competitive campaign, no matter how incredible the final film turns out to be. Regardless, this early footage and behind-the-scenes look has us particularly excited to see the whole film, which will come exclusively to theaters on June 16th, 2023.

Check out some new photos from the film below. What do you think of the new trailer for “Elemental?” Are you excited to see the film? What do you think of hat you’ve seen and heard so far? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.

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Daniel Howat
Daniel Howat
Movie and awards season obsessed. Hollywood Critics Association Member.

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