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The Ending Of Elemental Explained

Peter Sohn — the director behind "The Good Dinosaur" — and Pixar return with another visually stunning animated adventure in "Elemental," which boasts a culturally driven narrative and heartfelt love story. The film follows Ember (voiced by Leah Lewis), a young fire citizen of Element City who works in her father's shop in the hopes of taking it over one day. However, her life is suddenly upended by a water citizen named Wade (voiced by Mamoudou Athie) crashing into the shop and taking her on a new adventure to save her father's business from closure. Along the way, Ember and Wade develop real feelings for each other that turns their sudden friendship into a whirlwind romance — which only further complicates their lives.  

"Elemental" is a refreshing new story from Pixar full of great laughs, warmth, and some surprisingly relevant themes that make it a deeply connective experience. There are plenty of big revelations in Ember and Wade's growing relationship and within their personal arcs that ultimately make them incredibly relatable and loveable characters. The themes and emotions of their story also build toward a very memorable and heartwarming finale that sees them make momentous self-discoveries and life-altering choices. In a nutshell, there's a lot that goes on in the film's final moments, so let's delve into everything that happens in the ending of "Elemental."

What you need to remember about the plot

Before we jump into the ending of "Elemental" and dive deep into its many themes, let's do a quick recap of the big moments that lead up to the finale. Because Ember's parents are heavily discriminated against when they arrive in Element City, there are a lot of cultural tensions that mainly come from Ember's dad Bernie (voiced by Ronnie del Carmen). Not only does he show disdain towards anyone who isn't a part of the fire community, but he also instills a sense of legacy within Ember that makes her feel her only option in life is to take over his shop. However, once Wade drops into Ember's life, both of their perspectives on themselves and the world start to change.

After they discover and stop a leak that could wipe out the entire fire community, Ember and Wade develop feelings for each other that make them question societal perspectives of whether they can be together. They have a very beautiful moment where they discover that they can touch and are nearly unable to resist their feelings for each other. However, Ember isn't ready to pursue her feelings for Wade or her inner artistic talents if it means she can't take over the shop. Ember ends things with Wade, but they aren't split apart for long as something catastrophic occurs.

What happened at the end of the movie

While Ember is seemingly able to plug up the big leak with a glass structure, it eventually starts to crack under the pressure. When it breaks, a giant river rushes towards the fire community, causing a flood to occur that nearly wipes out all the fire residents. Luckily, Ember manages to warn most of the fire citizens before anything too bad happens, but she notices that the shop is starting to flood. To save the beloved blue flame that her father brought from their homeland, Ember runs into the shop to protect it, but is nearly snuffed out in the process. Thankfully, Wade — who is previously shown to leave Element City — arrives to save Ember and the flame from drowning. 

Unfortunately, the pair become trapped in a tough situation. Ember risks being wiped out by the flooding water while Wade starts to evaporate because of the contained heat. To save Ember, Wade decides to sacrifice himself. By the time others come to rescue them, Wade has completely evaporated. Ember is understandably distraught, but sees that Wade isn't completely gone when she makes him cry. Because there's still residual water, Wade hasn't dried out yet. With some help, Wade cries enough to spring back to life. This leads to Ember and Wade sharing a kiss and solidifying their love.

What else happened at the end of the movie

After Wade and Ember save the fire community and start their relationship, we get a glimpse at how things have changed since that day. Bernie no longer runs the shop and is happily retired while two of his most sarcastic customers have taken on new roles in their favorite place. Clod (voiced by Mason Wertheimer) has found a new love interest outside of Ember, and even Gale (voiced by Wendi McLendon-Covey) has taken a liking to Fern (voiced by Joe Pera). As for the film's central couple, they're about to leave Element City to follow in their families' footsteps of starting somewhere new. Ember is set to take an internship position at an art company and Wade travels with her to support every step of her journey. 

While it's no surprise that Wade's goodbye to his mom (voiced by Catherine O'Hara) is full of tears, Ember's goodbye to her parents is equally as tender. Although there's a lot of nervous feelings about Ember no longer being around, her parents are proud of what she plans to accomplish and can't wait to see the new life she builds elsewhere. Before heading onto the boat, Ember decides to pay her father respect by doing the ceremonial bow that her grandfather wouldn't do for him when he left their homeland. Although the mindsets of these characters seem unbreakable at the start of the story, they eventually open up to a place of acceptance.

What the end means

From the start, it's clear that "Elemental" is drawing inspiration from immigrant perspectives. While there's a lot of hope radiating from Bernie and Cinder (voiced by Sheila Ommi) when they arrive in Element City, they face a lot of backlash and discrimination. It's what makes Bernie so invested in preserving his culture and despise anyone who tries to, as he says, "water it down." So, his hesitancy to explore and get to know the cultures around him spreads to Ember as she gets older. In some ways, he grows to have the same hate and uncaring mindset toward those around him and it causes him to become stuck in his beliefs.

However, Ember's growth with Wade starts to change Bernie's mindset and it helps bring him back to the dream he had when he first came to Element City. Rather than following in her father's footsteps to solely preserve the fire culture and block out the rest, she carries on his original dream of bringing their ideas somewhere new while experiencing other cultures. This arc — focused on the obstacles of immigrants and their desires for a better life — comes together in a fulfilling, full-circle fashion.

Another possible explanation

The ending also provides closure for some of the film's themes surrounding xenophobia and complex social constraints connected to interracial dating that are seen throughout the film. As stated before, Bernie and Cinder face a lot of discrimination when they first arrive in Element City and there are some moments and visual cues that show how the fire community is mistreated. The film includes strong depictions of xenophobia through Bernie and Cinder's story but also showcases the social complexity of interracial dating. Before Ember and Wade briefly split apart, Ember tells Wade that he doesn't understand what she and her family go through in their city, and she's not wrong.

Wade hasn't had to experience the discrimination and cultural obstacles that Ember and the fire community have faced in Element City. Although his pleas for Ember to follow her heart are well-intentioned, he doesn't realize that Ember's priorities are a result of a need to preserve their way of life. While Element City's culture isn't completely changed by the end of the film, the characters' perspectives are. Ember and Wade are accepted as a couple and find more acceptance for each other's perspective to grow as individuals. Bernie is able to regain his vision for preserving his culture while also gaining new insights. Things might not be perfect, but relatable lessons have been learned. 

What has the cast and crew said

While the ending and story of "Elemental" and the arcs of its characters will undoubtedly leave an impact on some viewers, it clearly impacted those involved with making the film, specifically director Peter Sohn. For Sohn, "Elemental" is deeply tied to not only his own experience as the son of Korean immigrants, but also as part of an interracial relationship. In an interview with NPR, Sohn discussed all the ways that "Elemental" and its characters stemmed from his own life experience. Like Ember's parents, Sohn described how his own parents worked diligently in similar environments to provide for their family, and that even with language barriers, movies became a way for him and his mother to find ways to communicate. 

Sohn also talked about how Ember and Wade's romantic relationship is actually similar to his own through the cultural clashes that came with it. "I fell in love with someone that wasn't Korean," said Sohn. "I grew up in a family where they were like, 'Marry Korean.' My grandmother's dying words were ... 'Marry Korean' [which is used as a joke in the film]. ... There was a lot of pressure from that." Sohn's personal experience is what likely makes the film's ending and themes so powerful and meaningful — which is why "Elemental" is one of the timeliest Pixar films recently.  

What the ending could mean for the franchise

While the film's ending seems like a fitting conclusion for Wade and Ember's story, this doesn't exactly have to be the end. There's certainly still room for Disney and Pixar to return to the world of "Elemental" and expand the characters' stories. A sequel could easily follow Wade and Ember as they travel to a new world and make some interesting cultural discoveries with the new people and ideologies they encounter. Also, it's worth noting Disney and Pixar have shown a willingness to make mini-series spin-offs of their films such as "Dug Days" or "Monsters at Work." 

So, there could easily be a mini-series focusing on Ember's parents and the shop, or maybe even Wade and Ember in their new adventures. There are certainly ways for Pixar to return to the world of "Elemental," but now the real question is if "Elemental" succeeds enough to make Disney or Pixar want to expand on its world.

How's Elemental projected to perform at the box office

Even though Pixar is a household name, its latest film is quite the box office underdog heading into its opening weekend. Per Variety, "Elemental" is looking to collect around $35 million in its domestic opening weekend haul — which isn't all that uplifting. For comparison, that would give Pixar one of their lower opening weekend hauls — "The Good Dinosaur" and "Onward" both opened at roughly $39 million. "Elemental" hasn't exactly gotten glowing reviews across the board and faces a challenging competitor on the marketing and theater front in the form of Warner Bros' "The Flash."

It doesn't help, either, that it still faces some stiff competition from previous weeks, including "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse." An added blow to "Elemental" potentially being a box-office success is its hefty $200 million budget that isn't easy to make back for any film. It's safe to say that "Elemental" is a big box-office test for Pixar that could influence the company's future. 

What's Pixar's future within Disney

If "Elemental" doesn't end up having a strong connection with audiences and a poor box-office performance, it could definitely change the way that Pixar movies are viewed within Disney and how they're released. Prior to last year's disappointing "Lightyear," Disney had been putting Pixar's animated flicks onto Disney+ rather than giving them traditional theater releases and it's hard not to wonder if that'll be the case again at some point. Currently, Pixar's next films — "Elio" and "Inside Out 2" – are set for theater releases next year, but after that Pixar's future appears uncertain. 

We can speculate that one reason why Pixar has struggled at the box office in their last few outings is a side effect of their dominance in animation dissipating and Disney arguably mishandling their films. Disney releasing Pixar's movies straight to Disney+ has probably confused a lot of viewers as to when and where their new films are coming, which results in poor box office performances. Plus, it's worth noting that there are a lot of strong animation studios out there, including Sony Animation and Illumination, who are legit competition. So, Pixar's future is definitely on the brink of a big change. "Elemental" could easily be a tipping point.

Breaking down the awards potential for Elemental

Although "Elemental" might have a tough road ahead at the box office, it could be a big awards contender at the end of the year. With its incredibly timely and relatable themes that connect to immigration, xenophobia, and interracial relationships, it's surely going to be a film that'll stick with awards voters by the end of the year. Plus, the film's incredibly emotional ending that offers some great full-circle conclusions and highly tender moments will make it one of the most memorable animated movies of the year. 

However, it is worth noting that even though Pixar has quite a record of winning big awards in the past, "Elemental" has some big competitors that could overshadow it. We've already seen animated movies like "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" and "Across the Spider-Verse" make a big splash and there's still some highly anticipated animated flicks like Hayao Miyazaki's supposedly final film "How Do You Live?," Illumination's "Migration," and even Disney's "Wish." There's no doubt that "Elemental" is an award contender at the moment with the raw power of its themes, ending, and animation, and hopefully it can stay that way by the end of the year.