Mumbai, June 13 () “What if the elements we knew were alive?” This is the introductory question posed by the director of Pixar’s 27th full-length animated feature film. It acts as a quick summation of a unique concept, but it deceptively hides enough that you have barely begun to scratch the thematic surface.
While the plot revolves around a journey of self-discovery and budding romance between two elements (personifications of fire and water), Sohn laces it with not just visual gags, dazzling animation, slapstick humour and puns for a younger audience, but also deep and very mature themes of the immigrant experience, cultural identity, the discovery of self and generational trauma.
Drawing from his own experiences as a child of Korean immigrants living in New York, Sohn’s ability to condense this reflection into a narrative driven by the socio-economic and cultural experiences of its lead Ember (voiced by Leah Lewis) gives ample opportunity to not just give the story thematic expression, but also use elements (no pun intended) aesthetically to carve out deeply personal tales.
“I love movies like this. I grew up with movies that connected the whole family,” Peter said when asked about his inspiration to layer the plot with themes that resonate across ages.
“I grew up with parents who didn’t speak English and I did not speak Korean that well,” he added. “There were, however, these bunch of movies we could all enjoy together and that meant a lot to me growing up. These were some of my favourite movies as a kid. I rewatch them as an adult and find a lot more layers each time I do, enriching my experience each time.”
Peter also spoke about how every choice made on the movie, right from choosing the right voice-actors for various roles to developing a multicultural background score, were made keeping in mind how he could get as many cultural influences as possible without appropriating them or disrupting their source.
This gives credence to a lot of elements when you watch the film, especially Academy award-winning Thomas Newman’s delightfully fun yet moving background score. “It’s not about finding moments, it’s about energies,” Sohn said, recalling Newman telling him while composing parts of the score; “The film eats music.”
One of the very interesting elements of the movie is glass. Though not one of the main four elements, Ember is able to create it without giving it a second thought and as the movie progresses, glass comes to represent many things: opportunity, safety, competence, and expression.
Or as Peter puts it: “Glass is Ember’s identity. It’s in a way a reflection, her own creation, that gives her a distinct voice, much like how Wade (the water element voiced by Mamoudou Athie) acts more as a reflection of more sides of Ember which she might have not
always seen before. It’s not about a guy trying to teach her anything.”
When asked how young adults would look at the movie versus adults, Peter said: “Fire and water can’t touch that’s for my kids to see and wonder why, but the adults will look at that same thing and wonder what assimilation or appropriation is within a community when you aren’t from there. Every bit of ‘Elemental’ has been carefully crafted to have something for everyone.”