16 Oct, 2023 What’s streaming: Disney/Pixar’s ‘Elemental’ teaches good lessons, but beware pitfalls
By Summer Lane
Photo: Deposit, Editorial Use Only
She’s fiery. He’s weepy. She lives in Fire Town. He lives in the Water District. They come from different worlds, despite being residents of one overarching collection of all four elements, “Element City.” This, reader, is the basis for a romantic comedy from Pixar this year that spent little time in theaters and recently popped up on Disney Plus as a streaming option.
Ember Lumen is the daughter of immigrant parents who have worked their entire lives to build a small business known as “The Fireplace.” Ember is set to take the reins on the lovingly run enterprise from her dad soon…but her temper just keeps getting in the way! That is, until she meets Wade Ripple, a teary-eyed but tender-hearted city inspector who just happens to sweep her off her feet.
The only problem? She’s fire, and he’s water. And, like Ember’s mom so potently points out in the film, “Elements don’t mix!”
The film is an exploration of immigration, prejudice, familial expectations, coming-of-age crises, young love, and identity. The animation is spectacular, and the environmental design work that went into Element City is truly impressive. But is this a family-friendly film? Amid an era of Disney films that have not-so-secretly pushed agenda items on kids, is this movie safe to watch with little ones?
I watched this film with my nearly five-year-old daughter, and I was fully prepared to be barraged by a mosaic of social justice narratives, but I was pleasantly surprised to find otherwise. The theme of the film centers around Ember’s family business. It’s reminiscent of the tale of many immigrants who arrived in America via Ellis Island (as my family did!) and sensitively relates the dark side of what immigrating to another country can feel like – scary, uncertain, and sometimes, unfair, or even cruel. The film deftly highlights what prejudice looks like in a kid-appropriate way. “Fire” people are banned from entering certain spaces in town because they’re too “dangerous.” Elements don’t mix – they don’t intermarry and they don’t really associate too much.
It’s a carefully organized and constructed world, and Ember is fine with it.
Just kidding – she’s not! Her temper keeps getting the best of her, and it’s not until she meets (and falls in love with) Wade Ripple that she realizes that, perhaps, elements CAN mix!
Thanks to fans around the world for making a splash! Disney and Pixar’s Elemental is the most viewed movie premiere on Disney+ this year! pic.twitter.com/JcfAxQFBI9
— Pixar’s Elemental (@pixarelemental) September 20, 2023
There are a lot of good lessons in this film. First, it’s a sensitive and fair depiction of immigration challenges. It does not come across as a politically fueled take on illegal immigration (which is what I expected). Rather, it carries a sentimental tone of the historic past of legal migration here in the U.S. during the early 1900s and beyond. It’s also a story about being loyal to your family, but learning how to break free of unfair expectations and embrace the gifts and talents that you have been given independently of them.
It’s also a tale of selfless young love. Wade wholly loves and cares for Ember, and while she struggles to reciprocate her feelings throughout the film, it is her love for him that changes her life and ultimately, works a miracle in the movie. It was a refreshingly sweet little love story that even brought me to tears at one critical point in the film (I won’t spoil it for you!), and while I was sure I wouldn’t be interested at all in the movie, I kept watching, watching, and watching…I wanted to see how it ended! It hooked me in. And for that, I will give Disney and Pixar credit.
What doesn’t work
This is a pretty clean film, compared to the drivel that’s out there these days on most streaming platforms. However, there are some negative elements that may prompt parents to take pause before diving in and watching this movie. First, Ember’s mom is a psychic fortune teller – she does psychic readings and predicts whether people are perfect “matches” for each other. I wasn’t crazy about this element, but it’s a Disney movie, so I understand that magic and fortune-telling are expected here (I’m not saying that I like it!). Depending on your threshold for these kinds of things, you may or may not be comfortable watching this with your littlest children.
Second, while visiting Wade’s family in the Water District, Ember meets Wade’s sister, who is lovingly snuggled up against her girlfriend in more than one scene. The sister’s partner is also introduced as “her girlfriend.” This flew right over my daughter’s head, but it might not be something you’re comfortable with. It was a totally unnecessary scene – a needless insertion of DEI into what was otherwise a kid-friendly movie, and a reminder that even the most harmless Disney flicks are often infused with a small spark of ideological messaging that we, as parents, need to be mindful about. We shouldn’t be afraid of it – we just need to be aware. And you, as the parent, can make the decision on whether your kid should be watching it.
I will say that other than the two unfortunate elements discussed above, the film itself was creative and thought-provoking. It had some good morals for kids to think about: loving someone else more than yourself, the importance of family and cultural traditions, loving your neighbor, and acknowledging personal gifts and unique talents within the context of high-stakes family pressure.
Overall, it was a warm-hearted family film that, despite its “woke” girlfriend scene (which you can skip at home) and fortunetelling moments (also easily skippable), had solid lessons for kids about life, love, and the people who make us who we are.
While Disney celebrates its 100-year anniversary this week, it’s a shame that the company that was built by Walt Disney and produced some of the most iconic cinema of all time can’t focus wholly on the quality of its storytelling and leave the progressive and radical ideology out of their films altogether. “Elemental” was a good movie with good lessons, but it would have been a lot better if they had left the radical agenda in the garbage bin in the backlot.
The opinions in this article are specific to its author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the entire Counter Culture Mom team. This specific article was written by Summer Lane, and may not be reproduced, except to quote for reviews or interviews, without the express permission of the author.
Summer Lane is the #1 bestselling author of 30 books, including the hit Collapse Series and Resurrection Series. She is an experienced journalist and columnist who reports on news within the U.S. and abroad. She is the Associate Editor for Right Side Broadcasting Network. Additionally, she analyzes politics and policies on The Write Revolution.
Summer is also a mom and wife who enjoys rural country living, herding cats, and gardening. She is passionate about writing about women’s issues, parenting, and politics from a theologically-grounded perspective that points readers to the good news of the gospel.
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