Love and understanding can be like fire and water in Pixar’s Elemental. Perhaps a bit too thematically blunt and light on big fun shenanigans for kid audience members, but it’s a heartfelt flick that may play better for the adults in the room. Disney delivers the film to 4K UHD with a bright and lovely HDR10 transfer, an impressive Atmos track, and a smattering of worthwhile bonus features. Recommended
It feels like we’re in a new phase of Pixar. The once gleaming gem of Disney’s subsidiary companies was a surefire box office draw ranking in hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars with each release. Then came the Pandemic. With audiences mostly stuck at home, Pixar’s latest and some of their best were scooted off to Disney+ without a wide theatrical run. Soul was magnificent. Turning Red was an unexpected delight. Luca was pretty good if the climax was decidedly undercooked and Lightyear just felt like a hollow ill-advised cash grab - so much so we're actually getting a Toy Story 5 now.
And now we come to Elemental. A sleeper box office success that offered kid-friendly audiences something else to watch besides superheroes, nukes, horror movies, and live-action dolls with an existential crisis. Elemental may not be as big and creative as something like Monsters Inc. and its themes and ideas feel a little too familiar with Zootopia and Inside Out but it’s a decidedly lovely little film, even if it might play better for mom and dad than the little ones in the room.
Uprooting their burgeoning family and leaving their traditions behind, flames Bernie (Ronnie Del Carmen) and Cinder (Shila Omni) move to Element City to live amongst the cosmopolitan Earth, Air, and Water. Only when they get there, open flames aren’t exactly welcome. But through true grit and determination, they make a home of their own opening a shop catering to other flames like themselves. Now they thrive with their daughter Ember (Leah Lewis) who is destined to take over the family store, but her combustible personality has a habit of causing quite a bit of trouble. The pressure mounts when Ember must work with water person Wade Ripple (Mamoudou Athie) to keep the city from shutting down the store after a burst pipe. But against all odds, Ember and Wade soon discover that while they’re literally fire and water, they’re more compatible than they would have ever believed.
I tried to catch this film in theaters with my three-year-old and we didn’t get far. A sensitive little soul he got through the Doug Days short Carl’s Date and made it a few minutes into the main feature before he said “want to go home…” (That’s what I save Cinemark Credits for!). Once the film hit Disney+ we gradually worked through it, and now that I’ve finished it, I can see why my boy wasn’t really enjoying it. As beautiful and intricate as the film is with lovely inventive character designs, the film isn’t a lot of “fun.” As the film dives into themes of immigration, xenophobia, cultural social mores, and parental and familial pressure, there isn’t a lot of time for the film to sit back and enjoy itself.
Pixar has always had some toes in various social issues waters, but their biggest and best films weren’t quite so heavy-handed with it. Finishing the film I actually enjoyed it quite a bit, it hit the feels in a number of places, and I found a lot of the subject matter relatable - but that’s because I’m in my 40s. My kid was more than happy to skip right back to Bluey and Toy Story 4. Pixar films have always had bits and pieces that would hit Mom and Dad harder than the kids (the first 20 minutes of Up anyone?), but this is the first time I can recall where the film feels decidedly more for the adults in the room than the kids. Not to say that kids can’t or won’t enjoy it, but the key story beats and character arcs might go past their heads. I'm not going to lie though, I got more than a little misty-eyed during the last act.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Pixar’s Elemental comes home with a two-disc 4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital set. As this seems to be a running thing these days, Disney sent us the Walmart Exclusive lenticular slipcover package. The more standard “retail” edition seems to be reserved strictly for Movie Club members. The discs are housed in a sturdy two-disc case with individual trays. 4K is pressed on a BD-66 with a BD-50 reserved for the 1080p and bonus features. The discs load to Disney’s standard language option letting you then move right into the movie or go to the main menu.
NOTE: Images were sourced from the 1080p disc, when we can we'll try to circle back to add 4K-sourced images and/or video sample.
Elemental lights a lovely HDR10 2160p fire on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. In keeping with pretty much any and every Pixar 4K release to date, this is another stunning option on the format. Colors are bright, bold, and beautiful letting a full range of primaries shine brightly. I was particularly impressed with the shading within the Water and Fire element people with the fluctuating shades of blues or orange/yellow. I also really loved the fine details in the Earth people - especially the “hairs” on Joe Pera’s Fern. You can tell a lot of care and attention was paid to these small pieces and it’s nice to see them with such clarity. Black levels and shadows are especially impressive. Between Ember’s fire and Wade’s water, there’s always a lovely amount of light and shading. Free of any compression issues, lines are fine and clean. All around another excellent Pixar transfer.
On the audio side, Elemental burns a terrific Atmos audio mix. On the scale of things it can be a bit on the subtle side, but for all of the world-building efforts, surround channels are virtually always active. From Ember’s big blowups to Wade’s drip-dripping, pinpoint placement for sound effects throughout the soundscape is appreciable. The score by the always-reliable Thomas Newman is another winner for his Pixar catalog never missing a beat to accentuate the emotional punch or the the excitement of the third-act climax. LFE is in decent shape overall. Maybe not quite as robust as something like Avatar on that scale but also not as muted as some of the previous Disney Atmouse releases. The Dialog is always clean and clear and that soundscape has plenty of moments to shine and really feel like a big expansive, world-building audio mix.
On the bonus features side, this is a pretty good assortment but also not something that’ll knock your socks off. The commentary is a great listen and Carls Date is another wonderful short featuring the late Ed Asner who apparently finished recording it just before he passed away. After that, we see some pretty routine filler that’s interesting but not exactly flashy or extensive.
After what I thought was a fairly soulless effort with Lightyear, it was nice to see Pixar return to form with Elemental. The film’s themes might have been a bit bluntly handled, and the “fun” quota is a little light for the youngsters, but I did dearly enjoy the film. It unexpectedly hit the emotions in meaningful ways and at the end of the day, I had fun with it. My kid might not have loved it but he’s still small. I’ll try it again when he’s a bit bigger. On 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, Elemental shines with a lovely HDR10 transfer with an impressive Atmos mix to match.