Stray Thoughts on Pixar’s Elemental

I loved Pixar’s Elemental a lot, but I get how it missed the mark with some audiences. First off, the marketing point: while the romcom aspect was advertised, the diaspora inter-generational story is the real gem. Father-daughter relationship, as a core story driver, opened on Father’s Day weekend, but no marketing about that part.

But the bigger point is setting up the social context. I happen to have some lived experiences to make up for the insufficiency, but the diaspora parts driving the motivations needed to have been set up deeper, and more devastating in the opening segment depicting the parents’ immigration; full-on Up level, with a Minari story. The casual racism, the systemic disadvantage, most of all the sacrifices of life goals, culminating in decent but semi-isolated sub “town” instead of full integration.

The racial tension here is not race-vs-race but race-vs-racially disadvantaged social system (from hard infrastructure to soft bureaucracy). It’s a great point, but again not better explained in the story for everyone to digest. If the latter is not clearly communicated, it will appear the former is simply being avoided (cue all the analogies to the naivete of… Zootopia).

I think the intentional ambiguity of race codes was a miss. The fire people could have been more blatantly Asian (better yet, Korean) while still being metaphors, so that people consider the real-life sociocultural aspects beyond the individual characters. Yes, there is the business balancing between cultural specifics and “broader appeal”… but here’s the thing: another animated movie, Across the Spider-verse, talked about the issues of the name Chai-tea and a Puerto Rican kid in Brooklyn getting B on Spanish. And it was glorious on so many levels.

That final scene. The grand gesture of mutual acceptance. I teared up a little, but wish it had a more friendly buildup so everyone could grasp the emotional gravity of it too. All in all, more aggressive attempts at sociocultural representation would have made the movie so much better. Actually, that would make just about any movie better.