Starring: Voices of: Leah Lewis, Mamoudou Athie, Ronnie del Carmen, Catherine O’Hara.
Runtime: mins. Reviewed in Jun 2023
Reviewer: Fr Peter Malone msc
Follows Ember and Wade, in a city where fire-, water-, land- and air-residents live together.
Much nicer than anticipated, especially as the trailer didn’t seem all that attractive. The city settings seemed to be excessively gaudy and overly colourful. And what about those creatures we are introduced to – sharp fiery characters, seemingly flabby water creatures? What kind of story could Pixar, with its strong animated film traditions, be introducing us to? (Although, we should have been ready, because we had that psychological fable, Inside Out, and the teenage story of ambitions, Turning Red.)
This reviewer had the great advantage of watching the film with a group of families. And was surprised sometimes at the delightful laughter from some of the younger audience, appreciative chuckles for what seemed to be the most obvious puns (the damp artist who painted in Water Colours), giggles at some of the sound effects like the mother with her sharp stiletto heels crunching on the steps… Sometimes we adults underestimate the power of delight in simple things. And, in many ways, this is quite a simple story, easily appreciated by the younger audiences (though parents and grandparents could happily enjoy it as well).
The adults, as did this reviewer, may be thinking about this unlikely romance in terms of the Capulets and the Montagues, different and hostile families. Ember is the Juliet character and she is fire. Wade is the Romeo character, a gently malleable water creature. So, a scientific, metaphysical, romantic question: can fire and water be compatible?
Ember is feisty, her family coming to live in the city in the special quarter, Firetown, setting up a store, managed by Ember’s father, who wants to bequeath it to her. She is self-conscious, wanting to be a dutiful daughter. But, a representative of the city council, comes to examine the store especially problems with broken pipes and water sometimes gushing into the store, and danger for the fire family. Wade is exceedingly conscientious, wants to report to the authorities, Ember hurrying after him but failing to stop him.
But, with Wade, there was an immediate attraction and we know that he is soon going to fall in love. We enjoy watching the various encounters between the two, Wade being taunted to eat hot food but then literally letting off steam as he enjoys it. And Wade has the wonderful ability to shape-change, even seeping through stone crevices! The couple do see a lot of each other, Ember going to Wade’s family and experiencing waterworks of gushing tears and how water works. And Wade fills a giant bubble with care so that Ember can travel through the underwater. And, when they inspect water seeping through a rock wall, Ember discovers that fire meeting water can produce glass.
Actually, it is rather enjoyable writing this review and bringing to mind some of the engaging sequences, and being surprised at how entertaining they were.
But, a crisis is needed. Ember is to take over the management of the store when her father retires. He is counting on it. But, Wade and the supervising authority, amazed at Ember’s ability to make glass works of beauty, urges her to be herself and follow her dreams. We know that is going to happen – but there are some fiery encounters which would indicate that fire destroys water.
The film finishes happily on all counts – though, as we sit there, wondering whether there could be a sequel, and what would fire-water children be like (or actually be produced).
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