Could Pixar be losing its shine in the animation world?
For many years, Pixar Animation Studios has been a leader in the animation industry, and the film industry at large. Producing fantastic animation ever since their early days with Apple’s Steve Jobs such as Toy Story (1995) in the ’90s — the animation giant has led the pack. After The Walt Disney Company struck their historic deal and brought Pixar Animation Studios into their fold as a subsidiary of Walt Disney Studios, it was game over for many other animation studios out there.
Now, Pixar Animation Studios frequently dominates at the Oscars and other awards shows, racking up an impressive 23 Academy Awards, 10 Golden Globe Awards, and 11 Grammy Awards to date. They often have multiple movies nominated in the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature ever since its inception in 2001, frequently beating out rival animation companies and studios like DreamWorks Animation, LAIKA Studios, Netflix Animation, and Sony Pictures Animation. 11 Pixar Animation Studios films have clinched the prestigious award, beginning with Finding Nemo (2003), The Incredibles (2004), Ratatouille (2007), WALL-E (2008), Up (2009), Toy Story 3 (2010), Brave (2012), Inside Out (2015), Coco (2017), Toy Story 4 (2019), and most recently with Soul (2020).
But the newest Pixar animated feature may change things for the studio — and perhaps not in the most positive direction.
The newest Pixar project has had details announced at the D23 Expo this year, and its first teaser trailer has now been shown to the world: it’s an animated romance called ‘Elemental’, featuring a love story between two “elemental” beings, produced by Denise Ream and directed by Peter Sohn, who also helmed The Good Dinosaur (2015). Leah Lewis will star as the voice of Ember, while Mamoudou Athie will play Wade. The official description reads:
In a city where fire, water, land, and air residents live together, a fiery young woman and a go-with-the-flow guy discover something elemental: how much they actually have in common.
The official announcement and trailer can be viewed here:
She’s Ember 🔥. He’s Wade💧. Welcome to Element City.
Watch the new trailer for Disney and Pixar’s #Elemental and see the movie in June 2023!
She’s Ember 🔥. He’s Wade💧. Welcome to Element City.
— PixarElemental (@pixarelemental) November 17, 2022
However, the public reaction to Elemental (2023) has been… less than enthused. With majority of the comments on its official Twitter announcement and trailer video poking fun at the concept, calling it lackluster and uncreative, predicting the “forbidden romance” plot, and turning the replies into an absolute sea of memes.
@Liam Quantum found the name “Element City” particularly uncreative, while @Tender_Sugar discusses a “human” equivalent:
@LiamQuantum: “Element City” y’all really couldn’t come up with any thing slightly more creative
@Tender_Sugar: It’s like calling your fictional town Human City because humans live there.
It's like calling your fictional town Human City because humans live there.
— Sugar (@Tender_Sugar) November 20, 2022
Chris Voiceman has some sarcastic criticism to offer, predicting the seemingly formulaic romance plot in a quote retweet that garnered 120K likes (more than the original tweet, with 80K), at the time of writing. They continue in their thread, pointing out glaring missed opportunities and confusing elements of the worldbuilding:
I can already tell you how this movie’s gonna go
“But dad I love her!”
“I’M SORRY SON, BUT FIRE AND WATER JUST DON’T MIX!”
Then they kiss and everyone realizes the world would be a better place if all the elements worked together and they all win an Oscar for best animated film
(in reply) Also this looks like the laziest Pixar setting yet. You telling me it’s a world full of different elementals and they all take the same public transit? No pipes for water people? Wires for electric people? What’s the point in just making it all the same as our world?
Also this looks like the laziest Pixar setting yet. You telling me it's a world full of different elementals and they all take the same public transit? No pipes for water people? Wires for electric people? What's the point in just making it all the same as our world?
— Chris Voiceman (@ChrisVoiceman) November 19, 2022
A much-agreed with post making fun of Pixar’s Elemental story on Reddit by u/fuzzy_dice_99 gathered a whopping 80K upvotes:
In Pixar’s Elemental (2023), two opposites have to go a journey together and annoy one another but then develop a bond. Then there’s a misunderstanding before the third act and they get mad and separate. Then realize they love one another and rescue each other at the end. Just a guess
In Pixar’s Elemental (2023), two opposites have to go a journey together and annoy one another but then develop a bond. Then there’s a misunderstanding before the third act and they get mad and separate. Then realize they love one another and rescue each other at the end. Just a guess from shittymoviedetails
While Twitter user @noferq threw some shade, likening the quality of the design and visuals to something from Illumination Entertainment — a studio known for “lower-quality”, more commercial (and less artistically lauded) products like the Sing, Minions and Descpicable Me franchises. User @clinicalia mostly agreed, and had critique for the predictable “forbidden romance” story aspect:
@noferq: the designs and visual gags are basically indistinguishable from an illumination trailer
(in reply) @clinicalia: I like the animation style, but the gags are pretty lame. I’m also just kinda not feeling the whole romance vibe they’re trying to sell. If it’s nothing but some “forbidden romance” story then it’s gonna be pretty mediocre.
I like the animation style, but the gags are pretty lame. I'm also just kinda not feeling the whole romance vibe they're trying to sell. If it's nothing but some "forbidden romance" story then it's gonna be pretty mediocre.
— gale (@clinicalia_) November 18, 2022
User @LeaderSpy pointed out the movie’s design similarities to a Flash animated computer game for kids from the early 2000s called “Fireboy & Watergirl: Elements”, and made a joke about the Pixar movie’s “gender swap” of the characters:
I’m glad their transition was successful
I’m glad their transition was successful pic.twitter.com/7jDDrvHEYy
— UniversalSpyCrab (@LeaderSpy) November 17, 2022
While @Im_gabby13 found another similarity — to child actor-Taylor Lautner vehicle, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D (2005):
Wait a damn minute..
Wait a damn minute.. pic.twitter.com/jhgec65dsS
— ガブリエラ (@Im_gabby13) November 17, 2022
Simultaneously, @WorldYea pointed out a huge missed opportunity that Pixar overlooked:
I’m going to lose it THIS SHOULDVE BEEN A MUSHROOM!!!! THE BINKY SHOULDVE BEEN A MUSHROOM IT WOULD’VE BEEN SO CLEVER it’s the perfect shape too
I'm going to lose it THIS SHOULDVE BEEN A MUSHROOM!!!! THE BINKY SHOULDVE BEEN A MUSHROOM IT WOULD'VE BEEN SO CLEVER it's the perfect shape too pic.twitter.com/ORgbj4Nk5s
— Nato / Rudy !!! (@WorldYea) November 17, 2022
It’s perhaps a little concerning that random users on Twitter are making observations like this about the once near-universally lauded animation company — pointing out less-than-creative decisions, picking apart the apparent problems with its plot, concept, and worldbuilding. It appears that many are getting tired of Pixar seemingly resting on its laurels, potentially putting out mediocre animations to bulk out their library of works, and make money off of their existing brand.
“Rival” of sorts, Walt Disney Animation Studios has consistently knocked it out of the park with their projects, like Don Hall-directed Strange World debuting over Thanksgiving weekend (check out our review here). From the unprecedented success of Encanto (2021) featuring Lin-Manuel Miranda’s explosive Colombian-inspired tunes, not to mention projects like Zootopia (2016) (Zootropolis in the UK), Moana (2016) and the mega-hit Frozen franchise cementing themselves as household names — nothing from Disney Animation’s side has appeared to waver in quality.
Time will simply have to tell if Pixar Animation steps up the game once more.
What do you think of Elemental‘s trailer? Could Pixar be slipping? Share your thoughts in the comments below!