‘Elemental: Limited Edition Steelbook’ 4K Ultra HD movie review
Disney and Pixar’s latest animated effort eventually sizzled to blockbuster status in theaters and now looks to entertain home theater audiences with the ultra-high definition disc release of Elemental: Ultimate Collector’s Steelbook Limited Edition (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, rated PG, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, 103 minutes, $39.99).
The story finds fire elements Bernie and Cinder Lumen (Ronnie Del Carmen and Shila Omni) leaving their homeland and arriving straight off the boat to the port metropolis Element City to hopefully build a new life for their soon-to-arrive child Ember (Leah Lewis).
Now mingling in a foreign land with xenophobic citizens represented as air, water and earth, they find difficulties adapting until residing in a borough of other fire brethren and opening a store of ethnic delicacies called the Fireplace.
Their daughter, with a fiery temper, grows up and after accidentally bursting a water pipe in the store’s basement, she gets a visit from bumbling and weepy city inspector Wade Ripple (Mamoudou Athie) writing up the store for various violations.
The infractions are enough to close the shop down, but Ember and her new buddy Wade make a deal with his boisterous boss Gale Cumulus (Wendi McLendon-Covey) that if they can stop a major leak in the city’s plumbing, she will forget the issues.
Their teamwork leads to a friendship with sparks of a romance, but can they survive meeting the in-laws in the mildest subplots of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” in cartoon history? And, will fire and water finally mix?
Viewers mainly get a not-so-subtle Disney-ized lesson in the complexities of immigration in a big city while injecting its common themes of love of family, friendship, tolerance, inclusivity and generations working together to conquer the challenges in life.
“Elemental” does not carry the emotional strength of other classics such as “Soul,” “Up” and “Inside Out,” and falls a bit short on action and laughs, but it won’t disappoint the pre-tween crowd and some of the adults on family movie night.
4K in action: Whatever Pixar was lacking in the averagely inspiring narrative, its computer-wielding artisans more than make up for in the stellar and magical animation.
The UHD presentation, in a so welcomed screen-filling aspect ratio, brings to light a world saturated with color and lifelike textures as seen often by the element-controlled characters.
Taking the case of bringing fire residents to life, Ember is an amazing example.
Viewers watch constantly undulating tendrils of red and orange flames composing the body and defining facial expressions with her ability to transform into a wall of flames, the ability to change color as her emotions flare and tricks such as turning fine particles of sand to glass.
A scene worth big smiles includes Ember in a city park changing her color by stepping on minerals offering neon greens, reds, yellows, blues and purples.
Better yet, and equally worthy, another scene finds her melting broken glass in a vibrant pink and orange vase. But the pinnacle moment finds Ember finally getting to witness the mysterious and uber-colorful Vivisteria flower in quite a psychedelic experience while she floats around in a watery bubble.
Equally impressive are the water humanoids. All are translucent, reflective and gelatinous with a pale-bluish tint and are able to dissipate into their watery medium.
They give off steam when touched by fire folks, or release boiling bubbles in the torso if fire gets near, and are able to create a real lifelike wave during a sporting event.
Cool visual tricks offer Wade creating a rainbow by spraying a wash of himself across a park sky, and eating an ember and burping a bubble of water that turns into his mouth screaming his displeasure.
Also stunning are the air people represented as clouds with tufts like cotton candy, puffing and able to fly off into the heavens; or earth beings with brown-and-tan prickled textures and often seen with plants growing out of their head.
Overall, the rich colors of blues, greens, pinks and purples explode on screen throughout, be it the panoramic skyline of Element City (especially at night), the multihued textures of the flora and fauna of city park or the action in Cyclone Stadium.
Best extras: Before watching the film, owners of the two-disc set should pop in the Blu-ray and play a preshow short that was actually seen in theaters.
Pixar pulls out some familiar characters from “Up” to deliver the roughly eight-minute “Carl’s Date,” featuring the crotchety old man widower (again voiced by actor Ed Asner, in his last role) preparing to go out with an elderly lady friend and getting some help from his dog Dug.
After watching the film on the 4K disc, owners will immediately go back to the Blu-ray to listen to an optional commentary track featuring director Peter Sohn, visual effects supervisory Sanjay Bakshi, supervising animator Mike Venturini and one of the directing animators Gwendelyn Enderoglu.
Mr. Sohn explains it took seven years to realize the project with its roots based on his Korean family’s arrival in America.
The group then focuses on the story themes, the regions of Element City, and the artistic and technological challenges of the animation.
They are often specific to exploiting the natural reaction of the elements’ composition such as of fire responding to wind or using cooking oil to unleash a wall of flame or allowing a bulbous burning Bernie to wear an overtly textured shawl.
The commentary makes for a very informative supplement and exposes the minds of some amazing craftsmen and how their freedom to create at Pixar has turned into some groundbreaking and meticulous visualizations.
Complementing the commentary are a pair of featurettes (roughly 21 minutes total) covering the creation of Wade and Ember and virtually building Element City, as well as a collection of deleted scenes introduced by the animators (20 minutes of narrated sketches).
The discs are found in the limited edition steelbook, exclusive to Best Buy, that is mildly memorable.
The front cover’s metallic illustration displays the torso and above of Wade and Ember almost touching hands in front of a backdrop of Element City complete with a rainbow in a very cotton candy-colored palette.
The back of the case only offers a symbol of a flame surrounding a water drop with a shaded blur background.
The interior spread once again features Wade and Ember within an orange-and-dark blue backdrop standing together in a hot air balloon (fueled by Ember) with the nighttime city beneath them.