Parents' Guide to

Elemental

By Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 6+

Heartfelt, romantic fable about immigrant experience.

Movie PG 2023 103 minutes
Elemental Movie Poster: Ember and Wade look at each other, against a black background

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 8+

Based on 48 parent reviews

age 13+

Fun film that's not really for sub 13 y/os

Preface: I come from a religion that accepts and loves LGBTQ+ persons, but also believes the sexuality is a gift of God that is to be affirmed as it is exercised within the legal and spiritual covenant of a loving and monogamous marriage between one man and one woman. Review: The film is visually stunning and addresses the long running question, can people of different cultures be together? Why this film gets a 13+ rating is it features a same sex couple in a pivitol scene as well as a non-binary character. I don't believe children under 13 need to be exposed to this. Additionally, the film has too many almost swear words moments and mean language. This is very typical of modern Disney movies nowadays. Otherwise, fun film.
age 10+

This movie attempts to address immigration, discrimination and xenophobia. While I appreciate the intent, the result is jarring and problematic for a young audience. There are multiple depictions of discrimination and derogatory remarks, primarily made against the fire people. The movie starts with the fire people landing in element city and having their names changed because they aren’t pronounceable by the majority. No one will rent housing to the fire people. The fire people build their own separate community since they aren’t welcome in element city. A core plot point is how Ember wasn’t allowed to go to a museum exhibit as a child because no fire people were allowed inside. Wade’s privilege allows him freedom to express his emotions and move easily through the world. The plot often follows a white savior trope, with Wade’s family connections being what gets Ember “out” of fire town. Because she is talented, because she is “discovered” by the water people, she gets to follow her path. While the movie could perhaps be a jumping off point for a thoughtful conversation with older kids about immigration, identity and belonging, I think 6 is too young. There are too many directly discriminatory comments which don’t come with a sufficient moral signal to the audience. Most of the discrimination just happens and there is limited/no discussion of the cost or wrongness of it. For example, when Wade’s uncle declares that Ember “speaks so well and clear” (a common micro aggression against immigrants and Black people) the follow up response and body language is too subtle to be caught by most viewers, esp. kids. I was shocked to see this phrase used in a children’s film. But I was even more shocked to see it used without a strong rebuttal or any moral lesson. The dinner party goes on. Ember ends up saying she had a great time. I could go on but, to summarize: it feels like Pixar threw a bunch of ideas about the immigrant experience at this movie and didn’t think through how viewing them without appropriate context might internalize negative stereotypes for young viewers. If parents want to watch this with their kids, I suggest they proactively use it as an opportunity to have conversations about immigration an discrimination. Parents should be prepared to do the work to fill in the gaps in what appears on screen.

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (48 ):
Kids say (41 ):

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.

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