‘Elemental’ barely skims the surface, while latest ‘Spider-Verse’ digs deep

Ember (Leah Lewis) and Wade (Mamoudou Athie) explore their differences in Pixar’s “Elemental.”

Jeff Mellinger Screen Shots(July 16, 2023) — Pixar has always been known to push the envelope of ideas on which to base a movie.

When I heard they were doing one where the main characters were the five feelings inside a girl’s head, I thought they would never pull it off. Then “Inside Out” turned out to be one of my all-time favorite movies.

I also was hesitant to believe that a film based on a city of souls training and awaiting assignment in their human bodies would work. Yet “Soul” was magnificent.

Now comes “Elemental.” Pixar has hit a bit of a downturn of late and, sadly, “Elemental” reaches too far to turn things around.

Elemental City is home to the four elements: fire, water, air and earth, all personified. At some point, elements began to leave their natural homes and build one city where they could all live together. In theory, this could have been a great idea. However, the screenwriters decided to force it into a romantic comedy.

Each element seems to have really cool abilities. Water people can form and unform, almost at will. Fire elements can light pretty much anything on fire. That they don’t accidentally set ablaze everything they touch is a glaring hole. Unfortunately, not much time is spent with air and earth, so we see little of what they can do. Nor do we truly get to know any air or earth characters.

Mixing the elements

Director Pete Sohn, who directed the so-so “Good Dinosaur,” concentrates his efforts on the budding relationship between Ember, the daughter of fire immigrants, and Wade, a charming water guy. It is well-known to them that different elements are not supposed to mix, and the movie plays well as it shows how they try to make it work. Especially noteworthy is that being a child of immigrants, Ember has had a tough time figuring out who she is and who she wants to be.

Ember and Wade have some nice moments together. When they have to solve a problem both of them accidentally caused, they make the pairing work. Yet it is clear Pixar’s bread and butter is not in the world where two adults from different worlds find each other and comedy ensues.

Had Pixar decided to truly explore everything about Element City, perhaps even making the film about its origin story, “Elemental” may have worked better. The animators and designers created a beautiful world. With so much going on in the background of the city, I just kept wishing for a different movie in the foreground. C+

Back to the Spider-Verse

Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) returns to the Spiderverse in another visually stunning animated film based on Marvel Comics Spider-man character.

Miles Morales is the most important character to debut in Marvel comics this century. They are, however, taking their sweet time waiting to add him into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The good news is that while waiting, we have been treated to two gloriously animated films starring Miles (voiced by Shameik Moore).

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” was a visual spectacle, buoyed by a solid plot and great voice acting. Utilizing a deep pocket of spider-characters like Spider-Man Noir and Spider-Ham gave the film an extra touch that most MCU films lack.

Five long years later, “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” tops its predecessor in nearly every way. The creators take the animation to a level I have never before seen in film. Every character gets their own completely different animation, yet it works seamlessly. There must have been at least 200-300 different Spider characters in the film.

When this many separate characters appear in one comic book, the artist typically puts their own spin on the look of each character. In “Across the Spider-Verse,” the characters all look as if they were ripped from the pages of their own comic, drawn by each artist who knows them best. Spider-Punk (Daniel Kaluuya), Spider-Man India (Karan Soni), Spider-Woman (Issa Rae) and Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac) all appear as they would on the cover of their own series.

A tangled web

The plot puts more emphasis on the multi-verse this time around. Miles has gone back to his job of protecting his city until he gets visited by Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) for the first time since they met in the first film. She is now part of a secret group of Spider characters that patrol the multi-verse. However, she was under strict orders not to visit him.

When Miles follows her back through a portal, he unwittingly causes major problems. One of these problems is a very cool, if bumbling, villain known as Spot (Jason Schwartzman). Spot got horribly injured in a science experiment gone wrong and now his body is pure white with black spots. These spots can turn into portals that lead him to pop up in random places. When he battles with Miles, both of them go in and out of the portals to the delight of viewers.

The directors pull out all the stops with the action sequences. Most of them could never be attempted in a live-action film; animation is the perfect medium for this series.

There is a final film upcoming to complete the trilogy. Ideally, we will not have to wait another five years for it or Morales’ debut in the MCU. For now, “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” is near the top of what Marvel has to offer. A

Jeff Mellinger

Jeff Mellinger is a screen writer and film buff. He holds a BA in Film Studies and an MFA in film production. He lives in Concord.