Rafu Staff Report
Disney-Pixar’s new animated feature, “Elemental,” is dedicated to director Peter Sohn’s Korean immigrant parents.
The story is set in Element City, where fire, water, land and air residents live together. Ember (voiced by Leah Lewis) is a tough, quick-witted and fiery young woman, whose friendship with a fun, sappy, go-with-the-flow guy named Wade (Mamoudou Athie) challenges her beliefs about the world they live in.
The 27th feature film from the Emeryville-based studio was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in May and was released on June 16.
Sohn, who co-wrote the story with John Hoberg, Kat Likkel and Brenda Hsueh, said in a statement: “I’ve worked at Pixar for 23 years and never has a story felt so personal. I’m the child of immigrants. My parents left Korea in the late 1960s and came to New York, where they created a beautiful life and community for my brother and I.
“Like our main character ember, I felt this intense calling to honor my family and their sacrifics. They gave up so much, so I can do this for them, right?
“I was drawn to animation from an early age. If there was any money left over from our family strore, my mom would take my brother and I to the movies. Because her English was limited, we’d lean over and translate what was going on.
“When we saw animated films, I don’t remember translating anything for her. The medium was so powerful and transcendent of language that there were moments that brought her to tears. It hit me, ‘Wow, animation can do that.’
“‘Elemental’ is a love letter to my parents, thanking them for building such a supportive foundation for my brother and I. Unfortunately, I lost both of them during the production of this film and I miss them every day. If your loved ones are still with you, please take a moment to thank them.
“Mom and Dad, this is for you.”
CNN contributor Jeff Yang wrote, “‘Elemental’ may not be a perfect film, but it’s the perfect one for a moment when Asian Americans are finding the confidence and platform to dig ever deeper into the complicated and unruly aspects of our reality.”
Sohn previously wrote and directed the Pixar short “Partly Cloudy” (2009) and directed the Pixar feature “The Good Dinosaur” (2015). He also worked on “The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille,” “WALL-E,” “Up,” “Toy Story 3,” “Brave,” “Monsters University,” “Inside Out,” “Finding Dory,” “Cars 3,” “Coco,” “The Incredibles 2,” “Toy Story 4,” “Onward,” “Soul,” “Luca,” “Turning Red” and the upcoming “Elio” and “Inside Out 2.”
He co-directed the English-language version of Hayao Miyazaki’s “Ponyo” in 2009 with John Lasseter and Brad Lewis.
Russell, the boy in “Up,” was based on Sohn’s appearance. Sohn provided Russell’s voice for the short “George and A.J.”
As a voice actor, Sohn’s roles have included Emile, Remy’s brother, in “Ratatouille”; Squishy in “Monsters University”; Transitron in the TV special “Toy Story of Terror”; Forrest Woodbush, a styracosaurus, in “The Good Dinosaur”; Sox, a robotic kitten, in “Lightyear”; and Ganke Lee in Sony Pictures Animation’s “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.”