We speak with director Peter Sohn about Pixar's newest film about fire, water, friendship, and family
Ember is ready to start living her life in Element City. (© 2023 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.)

Summer is almost here, and so is movie season!

Opening today is the latest movie from the animation wizards at Pixar, Elemental. This film is a charming, fantastical love story about two very different characters.

It is also a movie about acceptance, forgiveness, and trying to balance being true to your family and being true to yourself.

A new home

Element City is full of all types of characters. (© 2023 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.)

At the centre of the movie is Ember Lumen. She is made of fire. Literally! Years earlier, her mother, Cinder, and father, Bernie, left their home in Fireland in search of a new life in the metropolis of Element City. Unlike their old Fire country, this new place has several races of people living side-by-side: fluffy cloud-like Air people, lush green Earth people, and sloshy Water people. (Fire, air, earth, and water are known as the four elements.)

On the outside, this huge city was a welcoming place of opportunity.

But there was also prejudice, especially towards the newer Fire people.

Bernie and Cinder are not welcome everywhere. Some folks in Element City are even afraid of them. In return, they become wary of others.

Bernie runs a popular shop called the Fireplace that sells authentic foods and goods from their homeland. Located in the heart of the Fire Town neighbourhood in Element City, it is his pride and joy. And one day, Ember will inherit the shop and run it herself!

Can fire and water mix?

Ember and Wade have a connection ... but it's complicated! (© 2023 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.)

Ember feels ready to take over. If only she could learn to control her fiery temper! It keeps blowing up whenever the pressure of the job gets to her. And she can't quite understand why.

After a very explosive episode, she gets a visit from a young city inspector, the watery Wade Ripple. Wade is very emotional and cries a lot ... especially after he realizes that he sees a bunch of violations in Fireplace. He doesn't want to, but it's his job! The Lumen's family shop could get shut down!

Ember can't let that happen. And now she and Wade have to find a way to work together to save the shop. Fire and Water working together? Can that even happen?

Lovely animation, lovely families

Like in real life, each of the lead characters' families tell us a lot about them. (© 2023 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.)

Both Ember's and Wade's families are a big part of their lives. They all love each other, but they are also very protective. As Ember falls for Wade—and also begins to wonder if running the Fireplace is the life that she wants—will her mom and dad accept her choices?


Peter Sohn is the director of Elemental. The film was also his idea. His life is similar to Ember's. His parents moved from Korea to Brooklyn, New York. They opened a vegetable shop and poured their energy and time into giving their kids the best life that they could. And with those gifts, Peter went on to work a Pixar, first as an animator, and then a director!

Elemental is his love letter to them. We spoke to him about flip books, confidence, and how he's always learning how to get better.

OWLconnected: How did you get into directing?

Peter Sohn: I did not grow up wanting to become a director. All I wanted to do was to draw pictures and make that 'flip book' magic come alive!

OC: Fun! How do you mean?

PS: When I was a kid, there was a book called the Illusion of Life at the library. In the corner of some of the pages was this flip book. That idea of these images where, Okay, when a single frame is paused, it's not moving, but then flipping through the images created this life. That little magic trick blew me away as a kid and kept me going for 40 years.

OC: That is so cool!

PS: From that idea, all of my notebooks and homework had those flip books doodled on them. My brother just found some [I had made], actually! And it's funny looking back at those because that has been the fuel (for my career). But not for directing, it was just about making drawing come alive.

OC: And that was your career as an animator! So how did you get the confidence to be a director who is calling all of the shots? Pixar movies are huge productions!

PS: I used to draw by myself and never show it to anyone. And my parents weren't big fans of going into the arts (as a career) at all—it was sort of a no-no. So when I finally decided I wanted to build a portfolio (a collection of images an artist uses to showcase their talents), I still didn't want to share anything. Am I good enough?

And once I was able to get into a school and was among other artists, my confidence level dropped at first. I was surrounded by so many amazing artists, I was thinking, What am I even doing this for? But then you start to try to answer that question for yourself.

And for me at Pixar, it's been this learning process. For the last 23 years (at Pixar), I've been moving from job to job here, driven by that hunger to learn new things and get better.

OC: Leading to Elemental?

PS: Working on this film, there were a lot of moments where I felt confident. But you still falter (slip), because you're still searching with your heart. Even now with the film being done, I'm very confident that I and my crew gave everything that we've got into making it, but I also can't say that I was totally confident all through the making of this movie.

OC: Well, you certainly succeeded in making some really original characters. Can you talk about what it takes to create a believable character that is just made of fire?

PS: When I first started this thing, I was just drawing up ideas: What about a dragon? What about this? And then this little fire character came out (of my pen). I was like, Who's this? And you're just doing this little Sherlock Holmes work on this character. What if the fire did this? What if when it goes through a door, it doesn't need to open the door, it could burn a hole through the door!

You just keep drawing fun, silly ideas. And then, you start to ask yourself, outside of these fun ideas, how can we make it so you can connect with this fire character? There's a YoYo Ma quote that I love: Music is just communicating emotion. That's what we're trying to do with a character like Ember. Find out how she can communicate emotion.

Thanks, Peter!

We agree that the crew at Pixar figured out how to communicate emotion through Ember, Wade, and all of the characters in Elemental. Get a taste of this success in the trailer below!

Elemental is open now in theatres.

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