From the famous axiom, first architectural and then universal, “less is more” On the edge of the equally well-known Ockham’s Razor, which gave the simplest the privilege of the most probable, modernity has been characterized by cleanliness, brevity, and clarity. In its eagerness to explain the world, a theory is brighter and more powerful the fewer elements it uses. Somehow, Pixar’s path in modern and popular animation has fulfilled since it took its first steps with the saga ‘Toy Story‘ with this principle: the more elaborate and precise the technology at their disposal, the more they have worked Lasseter and their heirs in the elegance of simplicity. And so even to dare with increasingly abstract concepts. Yeah ‘Upside Down’ gave shape, content and emotion to human emotions themselves, one step further, ‘Soul‘ drew the profile of death itself. And always with his own version of the clearest line.
‘Elemental’ it is, if you will, his most complex bet to date. And more confusing. It is hard to recognize what he is talking about because he talks about absolutely everything, about the elements that make up the world from an unprejudiced pre-Socratic perspective. As if it were a disciple of Empedocles himself, peter son, the director, imagines a world (and he imagines us) inhabited by beings that embody the four principles (water, fire, earth and air) that the philosopher (if memory serves) of Agrigento placed at the beginning of the beginning , in the most intimate part of matter. And from there he builds his story and each of his teachings.
The film wants to explain how it is possible for water and fire to understand each other, touch each other and, finally, love each other without, and here the most difficult thing, destroying each other. And this is valid as a metaphor for almost everything, including love itself, existence and, for that matter, the complete works of Sartre. But first we are told the story of a family that emigrates to a world that is not theirs and to a city that belongs to no one. And there, the aqueous, the earthy, the aerial (or aerophagic) and the fiery beings coexist, each one with its peculiarities and its incompatibilities. We talk about emigration, tolerance, respect… They already know the things of any electoral campaign.
The problem is neither the concept nor the technique used. The first is risky and the second, simply dazzling. What doesn’t quite work is the film itself unable to coincide in the same element, worth the redundancy, each of the infinite proposals it launches. It wants to be a romantic comedy, but it spends so much time explaining the rules of the city and the behavior of those who live there that, at times, it looks more like an illustration from an instruction manual. It wants to be a reflection on social inequality (the fiery ones live in the ghetto and the watery ones live in skyscrapers for the rich), but the mocking tone, almost a joke, deactivates any hint of criticism or depth. It wants to be a frantic adventure movie, but the unreality of the setting makes any hint of involvement by the viewer impossible.
What remains safe, how could it be otherwise, is the waste and virtuosity of the production. Each character is himself and a thousand different ones, always in continuous evolution and change. Only Pixar is capable of so much. On the other hand, and as we have already seen in major works such as ‘Luca‘ o ‘Red‘, that will is appreciated for the diversity that is also militancy in what is noble, what is just, what belongs to everyone.