For many of us, we grew up on Pixar. Toy Story taught us the value of friendship. Finding Nemo and The Incredibles redefined what family was. Brave and Inside Out made us look inside and reevaluate what makes us who we are. And Coco and Onward explored death and the love we have for those that have moved on. Now Pixar is exploring an unapologetic immigrant story wrapped up in a love story in Elemental.
Remezcla got the chance to visit Pixar Animated Studios to learn about their latest project. And right off the bat, Elemental is visually stunning. It’s no surprise from Pixar who has seen a notable shift in the quality of its animation over the years due to new technology. And they have a powerhouse of animators and creatives like director Peter Sohn (The Incredibles, The Good Dinosaur) who know how to create a world you can’t help but want to know everything about.
And while the visuals of Elemental, or the reputation of Pixar, might be the first things that hook viewers to give this movie a chance, it’s the story that really cements that this a must-watch.
In Elemental, we’re introduced to Ember. She’s a second-generation immigrant who lives in Element City, where fire-, water-, earth-, and air-residents live together. Her father and mother, both Fire, came to Element City to give their daughter a better life. And it wasn’t easy. Fire is different (but not bad) and they were turned away multiple times before they found a place of their own, planted roots, and saw a community spring up around them.
Having grown up knowing her family’s history, living in a tight-knit community, and hearing what others think of Fire, Ember is protective and thinks she knows everything there is to know about this world. And it’s not until she meets Wade, who is a water-resident, that she starts to see the world a little differently. Personally, this background, upbringing, pride in one’s culture, and having our parents take on challenges so we can have a better life feels very Latine.
My parents came to the United States for a better life. They sacrificed being close to their loved ones and the only life they knew for the hope of a better one for me. And even though I don’t talk to my parents anymore, I’m still grateful for the risk they took, the traditions they made sure I held close, and the understanding that there was nothing to be ashamed of when it came to being Latina. And I know plenty of people in the Latine community who know this experience.
People from Cuba, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Brazil, and all over Latin America have made the sacrifice to immigrate to places like the United States for a better life. In fact, according to the Pew Research Institute, in a 2021 national survey, 83% of Latine adults say the U.S. has better opportunities to raise their children. And according to the Migration Policy Institute, 19.8 million self-identified Latinos were immigrants with 40.6 million as second-generation and U.S. born.
That’s why when I was sitting at Pixar, listening to the director Peter Sohn talk about how this movie was inspired by his family coming to the U.S. from Korea, opening their own tiendita, finding community, and having him…it hit me. I know this story and I know plenty of Latine people and others from different communities that understand the sacrifices their parents have made and the struggles to keep our culture alive in a new world while also trying to assimilate.
Ultimately, Elemental is unlike any other project that Pixar has done because of the sense of kinship one feels when one sees Ember, her family, and the community she grew up in. That kinship also goes for the way that she feels hesitant, yet curious, about starting a relationship with Wade who is outside of the community she lives in and the life she knows.
And sure, this is a movie about elements and there will be some that go, “It’s not that deep.” But animation is film. And like any other film, animation movies like Pixar carry the weight of telling our stories through a different medium that feels relatable. That’s what Elemental is. A relatable animated film that respects the immigrant story and honors the sacrifices our parents have made, the cultures we hold close to our hearts, and the communities that carry us forward in life.
Elemental hits theaters on June 16, 2023.