(Emeryville, USA) In nearly 23 years at Pixar, Peter Sohn has done a bit of everything: animation, scriptwriting, voice acting, directing. Elemental is his most recent and personal work. La Presse met the filmmaker and producer Denise Ream in California.

“Several years ago, I attended an event in New York where I thanked my parents. I realized at that moment that they came here without knowing the language, without money, and that they built a new life for my brother and me. When I came back to Pixar, I told this story and was told, “This is your next movie!” “recalls Peter Sohn when asked about the origin of Elemental, Elementary in French version.

To write his screenplay, the 45-year-old filmmaker was therefore inspired by his Korean parents who immigrated to New York in the early 1970s, then by his relationship with his Italian-American wife.

Thus, Elemental’s Lumen family somewhat represents that of Peter Sohn. The couple formed by Bernie (Ronnie del Carmen) and Cinder (Shila Ommi) leave their native land of Fireland to settle in the Firetown district of the cosmopolitan metropolis Element City. Together, they open Fireplace, a convenience store-café, which is also a gathering place for the Fire community. Their daughter Ember (Leah Lewis) comes into the world in the aisles of the family business, destined to take over from her father.

The Flamboyants rarely leave their sector; “The elements don’t mix,” Cinder reminds her daughter. The meeting between the latter and Wade Ripple (Mamoudou Athie), an Aquatic, will however make him realize that Water, Earth and Air come together on a daily basis. By discovering the city with her new friend, Ember will suffer discrimination, but will especially realize that more than one path is available to her.

“I had fun with the periodic table of elements when I was in school. I saw it as an apartment building and each square was occupied by a different character that I drew, recalls Peter Sohn. This memory came back to me and I made a connection with the story of my parents. I thought to myself, “These elements could come from another country.” I didn’t know how to illustrate radioactive elements, so I chose earth, water, fire and air. »

Whoever also wrote and directed The Good Dinosaur and the short film Partly Cloudy had no idea that turning those elements into animated characters would be so complex. “Our studio can make toys, cars, humans, but the whole road to bringing these special effects characters to the screen was to be built,” says the artist who also worked on Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and Ratatouille.

“Peter wanted to both caricaturize the elements and showcase the depth of 3D animation,” adds producer Denise Ream. We started with Ember, which was really terrifying at certain stages of creation. It was important to us that she was made of fire, not that she was a person on fire. »

It took seven years to complete Elemental. Since Peter Sohn and Denise Ream determined from the start that the technical phase would be long and expensive, they took the time to polish the story. The director’s experience has always been the basis, but the duo wanted to obtain a variety of points of view.

Elemental is also – and even above all – a love story. Classics from different eras guided Peter Sohn and screenwriters John Hoberg, Kat Likkel and Brenda Hsueh in their choices of tone and mood.

“It Happened One Night, Working Girl, The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulain, Moonstruck, lists Peter Sohn. Family dramas like The Godfather, My Big Fat Greek Wedding and many more have inspired us. […] In seven years, so much has happened in the world, but empathy and compassion for others has always been central and will always be essential. »

As is tradition at Pixar, Elemental is preceded by a short film. Carl’s Date sees the return of two characters from the movie Up and the Dug Days series. Edward Asner, who left us in 2021, is once again the voice of Carl, while Bob Peterson once again lends his to Dug, in addition to writing the script and directing. La Presse met the latter at the studios in Emeryville.

“I’ve had dogs all my life and Dug’s voice is the one I’ve always used to talk to them. Their joy, their naivety and their spontaneity also inspired me, says Bob Peterson. When I was a camp counselor, one of the kids came up to me on the first day and said, “You’re my counselor and I love you.” I didn’t know him at all, but this extraordinary joy marked me and I told myself that I could use it one day. »

Dug, who is able to speak thanks to a special collar, expresses himself with an overflowing frankness and a constant need for approval. In Carl’s Date, he helps his master prepare for his first romantic date since the death of his beloved Ellie.

“The dogs are in tune with us. If we are sad they will be sad and if we are happy they will be too. I believe we can be inspired by their joy. They’re smarter than we think,” notes Bob Peterson.