Director Peter Sohn reflects on how ‘Elemental’ went from a Pixar letdown to a major hit

Film still from 'Elemental'

Pixar’s “Elemental” experienced a tumultuous journey, facing early setbacks with disappointing reviews following its Cannes premiere and a sluggish start at the box office. Despite these challenges, the film, directed by Peter Sohn, evolved into a major success, securing its place as one of Pixar’s remarkable stories.

Initially debuting with a discouraging 58 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes after its Cannes premiere, “Elemental” went through a remarkable transformation. The film’s critical reception improved, reaching a fresh 70 percent on the platform, showcasing its ability to resonate with audiences. The box office performance also started slow, with a modest debut of $29.5 million against a $200 million budget. However, “Elemental” defied expectations, steadily climbing the global box office ranks throughout the summer, ultimately securing the ninth position for the year with an impressive haul nearing $500 million.

Director Peter Sohn acknowledged the challenges faced by the film, particularly in a competitive landscape dominated by various films and streaming platforms. The impact of Disney+ and the broader array of movie choices posed significant hurdles. Sohn speculated on factors contributing to the film’s performance, including the high cost of movie tickets, the absence of a simultaneous international release, and the influence of word of mouth.

Film still from 'Elemental'

“Elemental” proved to be a unique success story, notably flourishing in Korea, where it became the most popular foreign film of the year. This achievement held personal significance for Sohn, as his parents hailed from Korea, adding an emotional layer to the film’s success.

Reflecting on the Cannes premiere, Sohn acknowledged the mixed reviews and pondered whether the decision to showcase the film at the prestigious festival was the right one. Despite the initial challenges, he appreciated the experience and the attention it brought to the film.

The film’s success also tied back to Sohn’s personal connection with Pixar, as his short film “Partly Cloudy” was attached to “Up,” and now “Carl’s Date,” the final story in the “Up” series, accompanies “Elemental,” completing a full-circle journey.

Sohn discussed the changes in the animation industry over the past decade, noting the increased diversity and the broad range of storytelling styles. The proliferation of animated content, while exciting, also poses challenges for audiences navigating the vast media landscape.

Film still from 'Elemental'

“Elemental” introduces a non-binary character, Lake, reflecting Pixar’s commitment to portraying diverse experiences authentically. Sohn emphasized that the film aims to be inclusive, offering a gateway for everyone to connect with its narrative.

As “Elemental” becomes available for home viewing on Disney+ and other formats, Sohn shared delightful details in the animation and hinted at classic Pixar Easter eggs hidden throughout the film. Expressing gratitude for the collaborative effort of the crew, Sohn conveyed his excitement about Pixar’s future projects and the innovative stories emerging from the studio.

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