Tags Posts tagged with "Disney/Pixar"


Lake, voiced by Ava Hauser; Ember, voiced by Leah Lewis; and Wade, voiced by Mamoudou Athie, in a scene from 'Elemental.' Image courtesy of Disney/Pixar

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Elemental marks Pixar’s twenty-seventh animated feature. The most successful include the four Toy Story movies, Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc., Cars and its sequels, WALL-E, Coco, Inside Out, and most recently, the unusual but fascinating Lightyear. 

Director Peter Sohn pitched the idea for Elemental to Pixar after the release of The Good Dinosaur (2015). The son of immigrants, Sohn took inspiration from his childhood in the culturally diverse 1970s New York City, as well as romantic films such as Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), Moonstruck (1987), and Amélie (2001). 

In a 2022 Variety interview, Sohn explained: “Maybe it’s because when I was a kid, I really didn’t appreciate or understand what it meant to be an immigrant, to come to the U.S., and all the hard work that [my parents] did to give my brother and me our lives […] On the other side, I married someone that wasn’t Korean, and there was a lot of culture clash with that in my world. And that brought to me to this idea of finding opposites. And the question of what if fire fell in love with water came.”

While perhaps not the most brilliant of the studio’s output (Toy Story, Coco), Elemental is a surprisingly clever, heartfelt story of opposites uniting. Set in a world of the elements—fire, water, earth, and air—daughter of Fireland immigrants, Ember Lumen, becomes involved with water element Wade Ripple, an easily flustered water inspector. 

After Ember causes a plumbing accident in her father’s convenience store, The Fireplace, Wade appears in the soaked basement. An adventure ensues throughout Element City, with the unlikely pair joining forces to solve the immediate situation, then becoming involved in solving a greater problem within the community. Ember learns to curtail her destructive temper, but equally as important, she learns to speak her truth.

The film tackles multiple issues with style and finesse. The story’s foundation focuses on honoring one’s culture and the sacrifices often entailed. But it also celebrates the individual’s pursuit of personal happiness. Much of the screenplay (by John Hoberg, Kat Likkel, and Brenda Hsueh) addresses bias and hostility regarding the treatment of immigrants. Boldly shown in the prologue, Ember’s parents, newly arrived, are shut out of living quarters controlled by people of earth, air, and water. There is also the issue of the burden often placed on first-generation children to continue what their parents have started. The film smartly addresses this with great sensitivity without resorting to preaching.

Ultimately, Elemental is a traditional rom-com, with all the hurdles and pitfalls, and even a dating montage—but an entirely unique setting. (This more adult slant in the film lost some of the younger audience members who became restless as the film progressed.) However, the gloriously exquisite animation is a joy, the anthropomorphizing creating a perfect blending of human and “other.” The visual puns are matched by the cleverly ever-present, sometimes subtle—and often not so subtle—wordplay.

While not as starry as many of the Pixar catalogue, the vocal talent is first-rate. Leah Lewis embodies Ember’s struggle with wry wit and genuine charm. Mamoudou Athie presents Wade’s growth from mildly neurotic underachiever to hero, never losing his kind center. Ronnie del Carmen and Shila Vosough Ommi play Ember’s parents with the right blend of love and whimsy, arcing from frustration to acceptance. 

Catherine O’Hara is delightful as Wade’s mother, Brook Ripple, featured in a hilarious dinner party where Ember is both welcomed and mildly embarrassed by the overly and overtly emotional Wade clan. This scene leads to Ember’s pointed comment on Wade’s rich-kid-follow-your-heart family, said with vexation tinged with a hint of jealousy. In what amounts to a cameo, Wendi McLendon-Covey’s Gale Cumulus, Wade’s employer, makes a bigger-than-life impression in an appropriately grand performance.

Starting with the premise “Elements don’t mix,” touching on the bonds and struggles of parents and children, building to a love that crosses boundaries, and culminating with a message of acceptance and love, Elemental may never become a classic, but it sits easily—and proudly—in the Pixar family.

Rated PG, the film is now playing in local theaters.

*A bonus, “Carl’s Date,” precedes the feature. The Up short marks one of the final works of Ed Asner, who passed away in 2021. The sweet piece shows a gentler side of the curmudgeonly Carl as he prepares for a date while being advised by the “talking” dog, Dug. It is an ideal complement to the romantic elements of Elemental. 

A scene from 'Lightyear'. Image courtesy of Disney/Pixar

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“To infinity and beyond” takes on a different context in Pixar’s excellent Lightyear. Instead of a pithy catchphrase, the words become a heartfelt exchange between Buzz Lightyear and his friend and commanding officer, Alisha Hawthorne. This adjustment encompasses the tonal shift from Buzz’s cinematic origin in the world of Toy Story.

Here, Lightyear is the favorite film of Toy Story’s young Andy Davis, who received a Buzz Lightyear toy in 1995 when the movie was released. Lightyear is a meta-spinoff of the Toy Story series but its own entity. Buzz Lightyear is not the action figure but the source character himself. He is less the stiff, oblivious punchline and more a mildly but easily exasperated military careerist. The Star Command Galactic Ranger and Alisha explore the planet Tikana Prime, which is overrun with attacking vines and insectoid creatures. In trying to evacuate, Buzz damages the vessel, leaving the crew marooned as they conduct repairs. 

What follows is a classic science-fiction story dealing with the variegations and complications of time travel. Each time Buzz attempts to go into hyperspace, a time dilation of the four-minute journey passes as four years on Tikana Prime. Buzz fixates on liberating the stranded team. Meanwhile, the crew continues to live and flourish, developing a community that does not include the alienated (and often alienating) Buzz. 

A scene from ‘Lightyear’. Image courtesy of Disney/Pixar

The societal growth is shown most vividly in Alisha, who marries and raises a son with her wife and eventually passes on her love of being a ranger to her granddaughter, Izzy. While Buzz obsesses on the world left behind, Alisha thrives in the world that is present. (This beautifully integrated LGBT element caused it to become the first children’s animated film to be given an NC16 rating in Singapore, equivalent to an R rating in the US.)

The film is not without laughs, but they are often of a subtler variety. Alisha chides Buzz for his constant self-narration, reminding him that no one ever listens to his logs. Buzz receives a robotic service animal, a feline named Sox, whose running commentary and support function as an emotional connection for the lonesome Buzz. Underneath the “I’m Buzz Lightyear—I’m always sure” is a lost and slightly damaged ranger. 

After sixty-two years of failures, Alisha’s replacement, the insensitively bureaucratic Commander Burnside, shuts down Buzz’s attempts. By now, robots have invaded the planet under the control of the mysterious Emperor Zurg (the only other character from the Toy Story canon). A laser shield has been the sole protection from the machines overrunning the vulnerable community. Bruised but undaunted, Buzz goes rogue to complete the mission. He encounters ragtag members of the colony’s defense force who eventually become his team.

There is nothing strikingly new in Lightyear. In its beautiful, rough cinematic animation, it conjures the Lucas universe. Sly references permeate the canny, straightforward screenplay by Jason Headley and Angus MacLane. The stock characters are written with wit, but more importantly, humanity. The revelation of the antagonist provides a powerful “ah-hah” moment, giving Buzz a personal epiphany. 

Chris Evans provides the voice for Buzz Lightyear in the new Toy Story spinoff.
Image courtesy of Disyey/Pixar

Chris Evans embodies Buzz with the right balance of bombast and guilt, never sacrificing the pain for a laugh. Uzo Aduba’s Alisha is the perfect foil: smart, clever, and fully aware. The trio of under-trained recruits form Buzz’s eventual entourage. Keke Palmer captures Izzy’s mix of eagerness and fear. Taika Waititi’s Mo Morrison possesses the right touch of wide-eyed naïveté. Dale Soules, channeling her Orange Is the New Black persona, ideally assays the elderly paroled convict with a penchant for blowing things up. As Sox, Peter Sohn is simultaneously warm and deadpan—with several references to R2-D2. (There is an amusing bit with Sox providing sleep sounds.)

MacLane has directed Lightyear with a sure hand and a clear vision. He has led his voice actors and animation teams to create a story that echoes the importance of belief in others with striking and often thrilling visuals. Told through a man out of time (landing in a world where the sandwich is rethought), Lightyear finds its head and heart in ideas of life and home. More Star Wars than Toy Story, the film plays on an adult level but offers much for young audiences to enjoy. It is most on the nose (i.e., children’s movie) in the lessons of teamwork. But the ideas are smoothly introduced in action (no catchy theme songs like “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”). Like with Encanto, the layers only enhance the watching experience.

With Lightyear, Pixar has found a fresh, enjoyable, and original concept. The creators adeptly transformed a character from one universe to another. Handling the shift with style, Lightyear celebrates wonder, adventure, and, ultimately, integrity. Rated PG, the film is now playing in local theaters.