⭐⭐⭐½ based on 1 review.

tl;dr: A little blunt and lacking character depth, but the animation is beautiful and the core themes are solid. At the end of the day, it made me cry, even if it didn't really make me think.




Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

I think it's fair to say that we've been thoroughly spoiled by past Pixar movies. There is no other animation studio who could pull off a solidly paced, beautifully animated (those diffraction effects: 👩‍🍳😘), interestingly designed, topical, and fun kids film, with plenty of laughs and tears, and have me come away and think "yeah, but did it fundamentally challenge core parts of how I view the nature of humanity or the concept of morality? 🤷‍♀️".

Sure, the thematic undertones are fairly overt, and can be a little blunt at times, but whilst I can see the justification that this feels lazy compared to films like Up, WALL-E, or Inside Out, have you looked around recently? The times have changed, and possibly a little bluntness is in order. Another critique I've seen is that the central romance is cute, but it isn't all that emotional, but I think that slightly misses the point. Sure, Wade is a little wet (pun only mildly intended), but that's not the central relationship we're meant to care about, that's meant to grow. The love story here isn't about Wade and Ember – that's just another by-the-numbers teen romance; a knock-off Romeo & Juliet. The love story here is about Ember and Bernie, her father. It's about a parent's desire to make a better world for their child, and the unintended weight that desire can have. It's about the pedestals we put our parents on, and the crushing reality they can face as we grow up. And it's – very clearly – a story about immigration and generational anxiety. And that story is told well. That story had tears streaming down my face. The kiss is pretty and feel good, but the genuflection's between father and daughter at the end? That's the emotional sucker punch. That's the Pixar moment.

So would I have liked a little more world building? Absolutely. A little more imagination? Sure. A little more plot depth? Definitely. But I'm also glad that there was no villain here. The big bad of a Disney movie turns out to be: institutionalised, systemic racism. No one was deliberately trying to send water into Fire Town, but no one with funds or power cared enough to notice, and no one within that district trusted the system enough to raise the alarm. I'd have loved for this to be a little more clearly addressed in the finale. Even just a moment where Gale or someone slightly senior has that "shocked Pikachu" moment where they realise that this is pretty awful, actually, but oh well.

And look, is that message about racism dampened a little by the reality that the Fire people are quite literally incompatible with the other three races, given that they set one on fire and evaporate the other two? Yeah, it's not the best analogy, but the fear that Ember has from the very real danger she is in whenever she leaves Fire Town, a danger created by a society that hasn't tried to provide any form of compromise despite the obvious issues, I think that's a good conversation starter for kids. As are so many of the other points the film makes, including the fact that her and Wade are, ultimately, not as great a threat to one another as everyone believed.

So it won't be considered a Pixar classic. It won't stick in my mind for years or even months. And I think that Zootopia did most of the plot better (though, ultimately, that is as much a story of class as it is race, in my eyes at least and, again, I do like that there's no clear villain here, it's messier than that). But I enjoyed myself. I laughed. I cried. I cringed a little, admittedly, but even Up has some corny moments. And whilst I have no need to do so, I wouldn't hate watching it again.

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