From the movie’s website: “Disney and Pixar’s ‘Elemental’ is an all-new, original feature film set in Element City, where fire-, water-, land- and air residents live together. The story introduces Ember, a tough, quick-witted, and fiery young woman whose friendship with a fun, sappy, go-with-the-flow guy named Wade challenges her beliefs about the world they live in.” Given the movie’s anticipated plot references to the challenges of inter-elemental relationships, cultural norms, and boundary-crossings, xenophobia, and belonging, the ABHMS Intercultural Ministries Team viewed the film together in San Juan, Puerto Rico, just prior to the ABCUSA Biennial Mission Summit. Following are our initial reviews and reflections of the film.


Elemental did not shy away from portraying the realities of cross-cultural engagement. While the community groups in this film are defined as the four elements of fire, water, earth (land), and air, there were many references to historical and contemporary collective realities, culture-group norms, and interpersonal exchanges with which viewers can resonate. The film rightly presented such human intersections as sometimes awkward, messy, and hurtful; that sometimes our prejudices toward people groups rob us of getting the opportunity to know individual persons; and sometimes the assumptions that are made are gut reactions based on misrepresentative narratives of the other. The endearing characters of Elemental, however, take the chance to be learners of the new and find themselves surprised by empathy, love, and appreciation of the other and affirmed by being seen for all of who they truly are.


The PG-rating of the film allows it to be an entertaining jumping-off point for viewers of all ages to discuss together, lightly and deeply, their own perspectives and experiences of communal and self-identity, family and traditions, devastation and immigration, belonging and exclusion, life privileges and purpose, rebuilding and redefining life and community, and barriers to and blessings of connection and love in many forms. Ultimately, it is a film that challenges the belief that the lead character Ember declares, “Elements just don’t mix!” It is a film that recognizes that there are truly some fundamental differences between people, which are rooted across many generations and are often perpetuated by societal structures that are not easily recognized or shaken. Yet, even small risks toward one another, with one’s full selves, can bring about something new altogether.


In the comments are specific reflections of our team members. Spoiler alert: please be forewarned that some of these reflections may reveal more details about the movie than a reader may want to know before seeing the movie firsthand. Read ahead at your own risk.




Photo by Bilal O. on Unsplash