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Elemental Movie Preview: The Pixar June Release

Disney and Pixar’s upcoming Elemental movie was previewed for the press recently and Vital Thrills got a chance to chat with the filmmakers and see footage early. Opening on June 16, the film centers on Ember (voice of Leah Lewis), a fire elemental in a city of elements, and Wade (voice of Mamoudou Athie), a water elemental she meets and falls for.

Press was shown a few scenes to give us an idea of the film. If you’ve seen the trailer, you have seen Elemental City, a place where people made of earth, air, fire, and water live together despite their differences. It has a Zootopia feel to it, with each town or parts of public transportation adapted for each element’s particular needs.

Elemental Movie Preview: The Pixar June Release

In the first scene, we see Ember’s parents immigrating to Elemental City. We are shown that the fire elementals are the most recent people to come to the city, and they’re not treated particularly well.

If you’re familiar with the story of the immigrants of Ellis Island in New York City, you’ll recognize the moment when their “unpronounceable” names are changed to make it easier for the people live there to pronounce. People are not kind, and the couple moves to a specific area of the city that is home to just fire elementals.

Elemental Movie Preview

They open a restaurant called The Fire Place serving wood snacks and coal nuts. Their little baby is Ember. She wants to help but she has a fiery temper and almost goes “full purple” meaning that her anger has hit a rough spot.

Dad is getting ill later on, so Ember is trying to run the shop, but it’s clear that it isn’t her thing. (She’s also hit on by a little Earth kid who is proud of the flowers he’s now able to grow under his arms.)

Elemental Movie Preview

Ember has been brought up being told that elements don’t mix and that she should stick to her own area of the city. However, when she’s taking care of the store during a sale, the pipes burst in the basement. Wade shows up in the water that appears and gives her a ticket for bad plumbing.

He’s very emotional when he sees her family pictures, and she tries to chase after him. She attempts to talk to his boss, but it isn’t working. She goes with them to a Cyclone stadium where air elementals are playing a sport, but ends up being more fascinated by Wade’s ability to cheer up one of the players.

Elemental Movie Preview

In another clip from the Elemental movie, the two of them walk around Element City, and her mom, who is a fortune teller, smells something on her and begins to suspect romance. She goes to see Wade and we get a sort of montage of the couple getting to know each other.

It’s changing Ember and making her happy. They show each other what they can do with their elements.

In the final clip, Ember goes to meet Wade’s water family, and while the parents are very nice to her, there is sort of an ignorance about the right thing to say and their prejudices are very much on display. By the way, Wade’s little brothers are Marco and Polo.

In a press conference for the Elemental movie with director Peter Sohn, who also has a story credit, and producer Denise Ream, we learned a bit more. Each of them were asked which element they’d be. Ream was water, Sohn was as well, despite the fact that he wished he was fire.

Sohn said of animating the elements, “The most enjoyable or easy, it was easy, that was fire. Bringing Amber to life was very difficult problem but the most thrilling to see her come alive for the first time ’cause she was our main character and she was holding the burden of the story. So that was really exciting. I think the most challenging was water.”

Ream added, “Definitely water’s always hard from a visual effects perspective, but then adding, you know, trying to create a performance out of it and the reflective nature of water.” Sohn said, “If you ever look at really water, water can be any color in the rainbow ’cause it’s a mirror. And so we were dealing with those same issues when lighting it.”

The filmmakers had to create a whole new city for the Elemental movie. Sohn said of the inspiration, “Yes, we saw architecture from around the world. We were looking a lot at Port Cities in terms of trying to find gateways, into a country, understanding how a country welcomes people in other sort of immigration hubs around the world. And that was just for the port, but then iconic buildings that felt romantic or beautiful or memorable.

“Literally I mean, we had seven years on this film. We researched most everything, buildings in Brazil that had wonderful earth designs in them and then really slick buildings in the Middle East that had watery shapes through them. Yeah, we scoured everything.” Ream added that New York was another city that inspired them.

In terms of the biggest personal challenges, Ream said, “I think that when we were sent home basically managing and producing a movie this complex remotely without being with the crew was a big challenge. I felt like I had one hand tied behind my back. So that was a challenge, personally.” The film was made during Covid, of course.

Sohn added in his own awful challenge. “For me it was honestly the passing of both my parents. I didn’t realize how much it would affect the production of this, but in the beginning of the development, my dad went and then toward the end my mom went. And I mean, both of those times shook me in a way that you just, like I don’t know if it was an upbringing, but like, we’ve just gotta keep working, keep working, keep working. But, I definitely slipped off the rails there, but you know, to honor them, you know, I put as much love and work that I could into the film, but that was the biggest personal challenge.”

For Sohn, this was a very personal film. He said of the switch from the traditional roles (the young woman with the fiery temper and the young man being very emotional), “I think it was just the early drawings of understanding what was fun about fire in general. And then just the personality types of my wife and I. And she’s half Italian and I’m Korean.

“And not to say that Italians are fire, but my wife particularly is very passionate about things and I’m much more of a sap. And so that’s how that started. And then raising a daughter and what that means as a father. And then my understanding of my own relationship with my parents. And so that all started fueling into to those reasons.”

The city is a character as well in the Elemental movie. Sohn said, “There’s an internal story issue. The internal storyline is trying to build a city that will support what Ember’s going through. Part of her journey is understanding her identity, how she ties to her own culture, and then to the culture of the city that she has lived in or been a part of. And so trying to make Fire Town the neighbor that she is like a hearth where she’s very comfortable.

“And then the city itself outside downtown, and I mean outside Fire Town in downtown into Element City proper is that it would be a little bit harder for Ember, but it would be a struggle for her because the main infrastructure would be water. But through this journey with Wade, she begins to see the city in a new light. So we needed to discover parts of the city that were beautiful and meaningful to her, and both positive and negative. And they were all designed with that in mind.

He continued: “So when a place felt a little bit more dangerous of Ember, we pushed the design of the buildings to opposite the set and the idea of it to be not only memorable, but also to be dangerous. But then when there are moments where Ember and Wade are connecting, there’s more glass or there’s more reflectiveness, or there’s more beauty, or there’s different shape language that Don Shankar production designer was pushing for. So it was all tied to Ember.”

Ream said, “I would also add that we went to a lot of locations in the movie, and so there was a high degree of complexity. So the sets department had a pretty big challenge with covering all of these different areas we had to do a lot with kinda a little time.”