Elemental (subtitled Forces of Nature in some countries) is a 2023 American computer-animated romantic comedy-drama film produced by Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. Directed by Peter Sohn and produced by Denise Ream, it was written by Sohn, John Hoberg, Kat Likkel, and Brenda Hsueh, with Pete Docter serving as executive producer. The 27th feature film produced by the studio, the film features the voices of Leah Lewis, Mamoudou Athie, Ronnie del Carmen, Shila Ommi, Wendi McLendon-Covey, and Catherine O’Hara. Set in a world inhabited by anthropomorphic elements of nature, the story follows fire element Ember Lumen (Lewis) and water element Wade Ripple (Athie), who meet and fall in love after Wade is summoned by a plumbing accident at a convenience store owned by Ember’s father, Bernie (Del Carmen).
Following the release of The Good Dinosaur (2015), Sohn began working on the project. He pitched the concept of Elemental to Pixar based on the idea of whether fire and water could ever connect or not. Elemental draws inspiration from Sohn’s youth, growing up as the son of immigrants in New York City during the 1970s, highlighting the city’s distinct cultural and ethnic diversity while the story is inspired by romantic films like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), Moonstruck (1987), and Amélie (2001). For research, the production team spent many hours watching point-of-view city tours on YouTube like Venice and Amsterdam for inspiration. The animation tools were utilized to design the visual effects and appearance of each character, particularly Ember and Wade. Production on Elemental lasted for seven years, both in the studio and at the filmmakers’ homes with the story being finished remotely. Thomas Newman composed and conducted the film’s original score, marking his fourth collaboration with Pixar after Finding Nemo (2003), WALL-E (2008), and Finding Dory (2016). With a budget of $200 million, it is one of the most expensive animated films ever made.
Elemental debuted out of competition as the closing film at the 76th Cannes Film Festival on May 27, 2023, and was released in the United States on June 16 in RealD 3D, 4DX, and Dolby Cinema formats. Despite opening below projections, the film ultimately became a sleeper hit and grossed $444 million worldwide. It received praise from critics for its animation, though its screenplay was considered underwhelming in comparison to Pixar’s previous films.
Peter Sohn, who previously directed the feature film The Good Dinosaur (2015) and the short film Partly Cloudy (2009), pitched the concept of Elemental to Pixar based on the idea of whether fire and water could ever connect or not. Sohn also says the idea for the film was inspired by his experiences as the son of immigrants in New York City in the 1970s. He stated: “My parents emigrated from Korea in the early 1970s and built a bustling grocery store in the Bronx.” He also stated: “We were among many families who ventured to a new land with hopes and dreams — all of us mixing into one big salad bowl of cultures, languages, and beautiful little neighborhoods. That’s what led me to Elemental.”
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Sohn says the film’s seven-year development period with Elemental is closely tied to his relationship with his family, when the idea first started, following the release of The Good Dinosaur in 2015. It is also revealed that Ember was born in Element City, but grew up in a fire town, since the neighborhoods are sort of split up in different ways. He stated: “I am quite emotional about getting the characters and the story out for sure.” He also stated: “This movie is about thanking your parents and understanding their sacrifices. My parents both passed away during the making of this thing. And so, it is hugely emotional, and I’m still processing a lot of it.”
Sohn stated at D23: The Official Disney Fan Club: “The concept of the city itself started off with Ember.” He also stated: “We thought, ‘What’s the best city we can build to support Ember’s journey of identity and belonging?’ It started by thinking about a city that would be hard for fire, and so we based it off of water. The idea is that Water got to this area first, and then Earth came, so it became a delta. Then, they built a water infrastructure with water canals and elevated water channels everywhere, making it even tougher for Ember. Then, Air came in after that, and Fire was one of the last groups to come into the city.” Ember and Wade have chemistry, despite the differences. When Sohn first pitched the story and started developing it, he asked himself: “What’s fire?” Sohn also stated: “People can see it as a temper. People can see it as passion. As a practical thing, fire burns and sparks—but what does it mean to burn bright? There are all these ingredients to what we already perceive as fire, and that started to form Ember’s personality. It’s the same thing for Wade. Water can be transparent. What does that mean? He wears his emotions on his sleeve. He goes with the flow. That helped form these personalities that were already pretty opposite, and then we had to find that Venn diagram of where they overlapped. That’s the hopeful magic. I hope people can buy into the sparks, the chemical reaction, that could form a relationship.”
On May 16, 2022, Pixar announced a new film titled Elemental, with the anthropomorphic classical elements of fire, water, air, and earth as its central theme, with Sohn directing and Denise Ream producing. Sohn and Ream reunite after having previously worked together on The Good Dinosaur. On September 9, 2022, during the D23 Expo, Sohn, Ream, and Pete Docter presented a first look at the film. “Our story is based on the classic elements — fire, water, land, and air. Some elements mix with each other, and some don’t,” Sohn stated. “What if these elements were alive?” Shortly after the unfinished animation footage, a clip was screened, showing Ember and Wade on a date, walking through a park where Wade runs across water, sliding, and creates a rainbow.
Production of the film was completed on March 24, 2023, after the final frame was approved, and seven years were spent on it, both in the studio and at the filmmakers’ homes. According to story artist Jason Katz, the team finished their story while working remotely from home. Similarly, Sohn had tears in his eyes when completing.
The film is dedicated to Ralph Eggleston, Thomas Gonzales, Amber Martorelli, and J. Garrett Sheldrew, all of whom died in 2022, respectively.
- Leah Lewis as Ember Lumen, a tough, quick-witted fire element who works at her family’s convenience store in Fire Town, but has trouble controlling her explosive temper. If water falls on her, she would be extinguished, so she uses an umbrella to guard herself. The filmmakers stated that it was essential for Ember to be “relatable and likable, not scary and terrifying”. Lewis was chosen due to her role in The Half of It (2020).
- Clara Lin Ding as Little Kid Ember
- Reagan To as Big Kid Ember
- Mamoudou Athie as Wade Ripple, a sappy water element who works as a city inspector living in Element City. In terms of his density and movement, Wade is a lot heavier, and his body is more fluid and wavy than Ember’s body is. The filmmakers stated that Wade is “very emotional and cries at the drop of a hat”. Athie based his performance on his own ability to cry.
- Ronnie del Carmen as Bernie Lumen, Ember’s father, Cinder’s husband, and owner of their family’s convenience store in Fire Town who plans to retire to allow his daughter to run the convenience store. He is distrustful of water elements.
- Shila Ommi as Cinder Lumen, Ember’s mother and Bernie’s wife who is also distrustful of water elements.
- Wendi McLendon-Covey as Gale Cumulus, an air element with a big personality and Wade’s employer. Her surname is not included in the film’s credits, but it is mentioned in the film by Fern Grouchwood.
- Catherine O’Hara as Brook Ripple, Wade, Alan and Lake’s widowed mother and Harold’s sister who is very welcoming to Ember in a luxury apartment building.
- Mason Wertheimer as Clod, a young earth element who has a crush on Ember. Wertheimer made his feature film debut following the mockumentary podcast series Past My Bedtime (2022). Ronobir Lahiri as Harold, Brook’s brother and Wade and Alan’s uncle.
- Wilma Bonet as Flarrietta, one of the customers at the Fireplace.
- Joe Pera as Fern Grouchwood, an overgrown earth element bureaucrat who works at City Hall.
- Matt Yang King as:
- Alan Ripple, Wade’s older brother, Lake’s oldest sibling and Eddy’s husband.
- Lutz, an avid airball player who plays for the Windbreakers at Cyclone Stadium.
- Earth Pruner
- Jeff LaPensee as Sparkler Customer
- Ben Morris as Wood Immigration Official. His name tag reveals his name to be C. C. Stump.
- Jonathan Adams as Flarry, one of the customers at the Fireplace.
- Alex Kapp as:
- Delivery Person
- Earth Landlord
- P.L. Brown as Doorman
Although they were credited as “additional voices”, other members of Wade’s family appear in the film including:
- Innocent Onanovie Ekakitie as Marco and Polo Ripple, two of Wade’s nephews.
- Krysta Gonzales as Eddy Ripple, Alan’s wife and Wade and Lake’s sister-in-law.
- Ava Kai Hauser as Lake Ripple, Wade and Alan’s youngest siblings and Ghibli’s love interest. Elemental was noted for introducing Pixar’s first non-binary character.
- Maya Aoki Tuttle as Ghibli, Lake’s girlfriend.
June 16, 2023
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