As the Cannes Film Festival gets underway, dozens of films from across the globe are preparing for their world premieres. This year, Disney has two films that will screen out of competition: “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” and Pixar’s “Elemental.” For Pixar, this is the animation studio’s fourth feature to premiere at the international film festival, following three of Pete Docter’s films: “Up,” “Inside Out,” and “Soul.” That’s a high bar for “Elemental” to meet as one of three of those was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture and all three won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. While we won’t see any reactions to the full feature until its world premiere on the festival’s final day (May 27th), let’s look back on Pixar’s previous Cannes debuts to see what “Elemental” has to live up to.
In 2009, Cannes selected “Up” as the first-ever animated film to open the festival — and the first film in 3D. Even in a potentially contentious crowd, the film received rave reviews. Docter’s first film since “Monsters Inc.” wowed the crowd, who praised its score, screenplay, and unforgettable opening sequence. The Cannes world premiere kicked off a wildly successful run both at the box office and with awards. On the heels of the controversial “Wall-E” snub, “Up” became the second animated film to ever receive a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards, albeit in a newly expanded Best Picture lineup. The film also scored nominations for Best Original Screenplay, Sound Editing, Animated Feature, and Original Score, winning the latter two Oscars.
For Docter’s next feature film, “Inside Out,” Disney aimed to repeat the success of “Up.” The film premiered out of competition at Cannes, giving audiences a creative and emotional look at what was going on inside the main character, Riley’s head. Like “Up,” it garnered enthusiastic reviews, with many saying the film was one of Pixar’s best offerings to date. After its Cannes debut, it went on to out-perform “Up” at the worldwide box office, though it couldn’t break into Best Picture when the Oscars rolled around. Still, “Inside Out” scored a nomination for Best Original Screenplay and a win for Best Animated Feature. Disappointingly, Michael Giacchino’s wonderful score missed what would’ve been a deserved Oscar nomination.
Finally, “Soul” was among the Cannes lineup in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite many festivals closing during this time, “Soul” landed in festivals where it could, including the BFI London Film Festival and Rome Film Festival, before eventually premiering on Disney+. The rocky road to its premiere, through no fault of the film itself, made its awards run a bit more interesting. For a while, it seemed as though “Soul” could break into Best Picture amidst depleted competition, but ultimately it couldn’t make it in. Instead, “Soul” received three nominations at the Academy Awards for Best Sound, Original Score, and Animated Feature. Like “Up,” it took home wins in Best Original Score and Animated Feature.
“Elemental” is the first non-Docter film to premiere at Cannes, but thematically it could be right in line with them. Pixar invited Next Best Picture to take an early behind-the-scenes look at the film, including 40 minutes of footage, and it promises an imaginative and emotional journey. In this world made primarily for water people, a family of fire people must build a new life for themselves. Peter Sohn’s first film since “The Good Dinosaur” is very personal as it is inspired by his parents’ immigrant story and his experience marrying a woman outside his parents’ culture. The metaphors are clear, though they seem to be handled well from what we’ve seen so far and Pixar appears to be quite confident in the film. Will it find success at the box office? In a crowded year of animated films, will it be able to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature? We’ll know more when it premieres in just a few short days.
Tickets are on sale now for Pixar’s “Elemental,” in theaters on June 16th.