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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Even though it's a fantasy, the movie serves as an allegory to teach viewers about the immigrant experience, discrimination, segregation, and cross-cultural relationships.
Focuses on importance of compassion, empathy, and perseverance. Encourages honest communication between parents and children, as well as romantic partners. Following your dreams while remaining loyal to your family and honoring your parents is a major theme, as is idea that people should be sensitive to others' cultural/racial background, upbringing, and class. Explores the tension between privilege and duty.
Positive Role Models
Ember is a loyal, loving daughter to devoted parents who believe her dream is to take over the family business. She struggles with her temper, but she uses mindfulness techniques to control it (with mixed results). She isn't particularly open-minded at first but learns to appreciate the rest of the elements and how the Fire folks can learn to collaborate and coexist with them. Wade is sensitive, emotional, and kind. He and his family cry easily and are more open with one another. He comes from a position of privilege but is open-minded (and open-hearted). Ember's parents have sacrificed a lot for her, and they want her to have a successful, happy life.
Diverse voice cast includes Chinese American actor Leah Lewis; Mamoudou Athie, who's Black; Filipino actor Ronnie del Carmen; Iranian-born actor Shila Ommi. Both director Peter Sohn and writer Brenda Hsueh are Asian American. The elements (fire, water, earth, air) are essentially stand-ins for human racial/ethnic immigrant and refugee groups in a caste system (with fire, whose cultural markers seem meant to suggest those of Middle Eastern countries, seemingly the outcasts). Characters use unwelcoming phrases that have parallels with racist/classist statements -- e.g., "elements don't mix," "go back to Fireland," "Fire doesn't belong here," etc. Ember's parents are given new names by officials who can't pronounce their real names when they first arrive in Element City, and a water character says "you speak so well and clearly" to Ember, who clearly considers it a microaggression, since she grew up speaking the same language as the water family. (The water character looks embarrassed by his comment.) Wade has a queer relative whose girlfriend is introduced to Ember at a family dinner.
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Violence & Scariness
Many explosive bursts of fire, especially when Ember loses her temper. A couple of upsetting scenes show how a natural disaster involving water destroyed a lot of Fireland's homes and endangered its people. Rushing water/large waves also put characters in danger, nearly destroy the fire community in Element City, and seem to kill one character (spoiler alert: they aren't dead!). In general, fire characters can cause damage to other elements if they get too close, and water characters can snuff out (usually temporarily, but occasionally for good) fire characters. A dying grandmother's wish is recalled (she seems to disintegrate into ash when her time is up). Yelling, arguments.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A married couple hold hands and embrace. Lots of romantic moments between main characters Ember and Wade. They spend a lot of time together; a few pivotal scenes of them trying to touch and then successfully touching, dancing, embracing. They kiss briefly. Two trees who are spotted plucking fruit from each other realize they've been caught and say it's "just a little pruning," which is repeated later in a jokey way. A few other couples are spotted on dates holding hands, hugging and even kissing (including in the end-credit sequence). A character says "you're so hot" and "you're smoking," but he means it literally, not in the suggestive way the fire character initially believes. A young tree character flirts with Ember and later another girl.
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"Dang," "what the...," and a couple of curse-word stand-ins, like "ash" ("lazy ash") and "fluffing," etc. Also "stupid," "crazy," "jerk," "dang," "oh gosh," "holy dewdrop," "God" (as an exclamation), "hanky panky," and element-based insults like "fireball" and "cloudpuffs." Language that makes it clear that other elements discriminate against fire people -- like "you don't have an accent," "go back to Fireland," and "you don't belong here."
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Products & Purchases
Nothing on-screen, but plenty of off-screen merchandise tie-ins include apparel, toys, figurines, games, books, and household goods.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Pixar's Elemental is a beautifully animated fable about the immigrant experience. It's set in Element City, where fire, earth, water, and air people coexist, but fire people are mistreated and discriminated against. That makes it hard for fiery Ember (voiced by Leah Lewis) to trust watery Wade (Mamoudou Athie), but as they work together to save her family's store, Ember starts to open her mind to the idea of cross-element friendship (and more!) while also teaching Wade about the injustices the fire folks have faced. There's more romance here than in non-princess Disney Pixar films, but Ember and Wade are young adults, not kids or teens. Characters hold hands, flirt, embrace, dance, touch, and kiss briefly. Language includes discriminatory comments said to fire folks (such as "go back to Fireland"), as well as insults like "stupid" and "jerk" and swearing stand-ins (e.g., "lazy ash"). Diversity and immigration are major themes of the story, as are prejudice; the importance of communication, empathy, and compassion; and the unique challenges faced by the children of immigrants and refugees. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Director Peter Sohn's beautifully animated allegory is a simple but sweet story that brings the immigrant journey and the first-generation experience to vibrant life. While the film's plot isn't quite as robust as those of Disney Pixar's most famous adventures, Elemental does touchingly delve into the challenges and triumphs of being the child of refugees and growing up immersed in a culturally homogenous community. It shows both the comfort and strength of being around your own people and the fact that wider society can be prejudiced. Ember's dilemma -- whether to sacrifice her own feelings in order to honor her parents or to follow her own desires but risk hurting those who raised her -- is authentic, if oversimplified. The nuances are right: Ember wants to be a "good daughter," to fulfill her duty, to take up the mantle from her stressed and tired father. But as she explores Element City, gets to know Wade, and discovers her more artistic side (she's a talented glass blower), she must figure out whether her future contains more possibilities than she imagined.
Lewis and Athie are both well cast, embodying two opposing examples of young adulthood -- one focused on pleasing their parents by pursuing a specific goal and the other willing to flit from job to job until they find "their thing." The parents' voices -- including Wade's widowed mom, voiced by the inimitable Catherine O'Hara -- are also expressive and humorous. And the movie's dating aspects are tender, if a little obvious. Wade and Ember's opposites-attract chemistry is funny until it's clear that Ember really is concerned that her family will disown her if she dates a "water guy." Wade's family, by contrast, is immediately Team Ember, heartily welcoming her (albeit a bit awkwardly, thanks to the clueless old uncle who makes a mildly racist comment). The main characters' slow-burn (pun intended) relationship aside, Elemental has astonishingly gorgeous and detailed animation. The various element folks are vividly colorful, with visceral textures and fantastic (and fantastical) landscapes and movements. The glass-making scenes are especially memorable, and the water-based disasters devastating. While the littlest viewers may not pick up on all of the story's nuances, they'll still understand the importance of inclusion, family, and love.