Director Pete Sohn shares his inspiration behind Disney•Pixar’s “Elemental”
It was when Pete Sohn was in early grade school that he imagined something that would inform his next Pixar film.
“When I saw the Periodic Table of Elements when I was a kid, all I thought about was how the table was a whole bunch of apartment complexes where all these people (elements) lived next to each other,” Sohn said to a small group of invited press at Pixar’s studio in Emeryville, California, to get a first-look at “Elemental,” which is due out in theaters this summer.
Sohn elaborated more on the analogy by sharing that these “buildings” and “people” he imagined reminded him of his life as the son of Korean-immigrant parents in New York City. Through the crazy activity of the city, there were moments that were seared into Sohn’s mind that reminded him that he was different, and sometimes not in the best way.
That theme of differences also threaded through another aspect of the film: his relationship with his non-Korean wife. “My grandmother’s dying words were ‘marry Korean!,’ […] which also was this clashing of cultures,” Sohn continued.
However, Sohn didn’t want to tell plainly a story of differences. Instead, he and his team landed on the idea of opposites attracting to drive the core narrative forward.
“The simple yet complex question of whether the key elements like fire and water could “mix” or connect allowed us to address everything else the film needed: the characters, the situations they would face, and even the physics and look of the world we would need to build to house all of it,” Sohn said.
Sohn also said his story of fire and water challenged the creative and technical teams at Pixar like never before. But he rested in knowing that everyone, many second and third-generation people who worked on “Elemental” resonated with it hitting topics like immigration and romantic love.
It was with all these pieces of inspiration straight from Sohn’s life that he pitched Pixar leadership which eventually led to “Elemental” getting greenlit in early 2020. Now nearly four years later and Sohn just recently finalizing the last shots, Sohn is hopeful that his new film would speak to many.
“I wanted to tell a story for everyone who has made a sacrifice or taken a risk and set it in the hustle and bustle of the big city. I think my mom and dad, and even my so-called ‘non-Korean’ wife would be proud of what we have made,” Sohn said.
Disney•Pixar’s “Elemental” hits theaters on June 16, 2023, and later on exclusively on Disney+.