ELEMENTAL is thematic perfection. But what else do we expect from Pixar. Of course, there are on-the-nose moments because it's written for a family audience. Even still, it's a great watch. Let's break down the story elements.
How breaking down films helps your screenwriting
As a screenwriter, you no longer have the privilege of watching movies for pure entertainment. You can try, but it's our goal to ruin it for you. Kidding... well, not really.
Watching films and breaking down the beats is one of the best ways to learn screenwriting. Knowing which beats are present or lacking and how they are functioning or not functioning in any given story strengthens your ability to execute those beats in your story. It's a great exercise.
So the next time you're watching, pull up your notes app and jot down the beats. Are they tracking? Why or why not?
Let's get into elemental
- Interracial dating
- Carrying the burdens of your parents
- Sacrificing your dreams for your family
🟢 Backstory: Immigrants arrive to a new land that isn't structurally built for their way of life. They are frowned upon and build their own space in the ghettos outside of the city
🟢 Normal: Ember, our protagonist, helps her father run his shop that she's primed to take over when he retires. Due to her temper, he doesn't think she's ready.
🟢 Inciting Incident: Ember loses her temper and accidentally bursts the pipes in the store. Water rushes in revealing Wade, a water element, a crier, and a city inspector. Wade writes 30 citations against the store, which will shut it down.
🟢 Goal: Ember needs to fix the issue without her father finding our.
🟢 Trial & Error:
- Stop the citations. ✖️
- Beg for mercy. ✅️
- New goal - Find the leak that's sending water into Fire Town, and the citations will go away.
- Find the leak. ✅️
- Get the construction workers to fix it. ✖️
- Ember fixes the leak with sandbags. ✅️
- Until, they don't hold enough. ✖️
- Ember turns the sand into glass to hold the leak. ✅️
All the while, the b-story is progressing as Ember and Wade fall in love despite their natural differences. Wade teaches Ember that her temper is trying to tell her something. She admits that she doesn't want to run the shop but feels obligated to do so because of what her parents sacrificed for her.
🟢 Midpoint: Dad grants Ember the store. She's finally proven herself.
🟢 Rock bottom: Dad learns Ember caused the pipes to burst and is in love with Wade. He strips the store from her.
🟢 Redirection: Because the glass can't hold the water, Fire Town starts to flood. Ember and Wade must work together to save Fire Town (read: the shop).
🟢 Climax: Wade saves Ember and loses his life along the way. Though she doesn't save the shop, she admits to Wade that she loves him and admits to her dad that she doesn't want to run the shop. *Note (The protagonist doesn't have to reach the external goal. But the journey to trying should lead to reaching the internal goal. )
🟢 Resolution: Dad accepts Ember, though she doesn't want to run the shop. Ember is able to bring Wade back by making him cry (one of many setups that pay off).
🟢 New Normal: The store is restored. Dad retires and allows patrons to run the shop. The shop is frequented by elements all of kinds. Ember and Wade go off to take a glass making internship that Wade's mom set up.
ready to talk story?
Submit your script for Development Notes. Work 1:1 with a Story Expert to beef up your screenwriting portfolio and level up your screenwriting career.