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My Daughter And I Watched Elemental Together And Cried (But For Very Different Reasons)

 Ember crying in Elemental
Ember crying in Elemental

The following contains SPOILERS for the end of Elemental.

Pixar movies have had a rough time at the box office of late. During the pandemic, they weren’t even released in theaters, with three original Pixar films being instead shunted to Disney+ for free. Since Pixar has made the shift back to theaters, films have continued to struggle. There is light at the end of the tunnel though, as Elemental, a movie that struggled at the box office initially, has since rebounded and is expected to ultimately be considered a success. But having watched Elemental at home recently, there’s something to be said for that experience.

I already loved Pixar's newest film. I wrote CinemaBlend's Elemental review and I sang its praises. I complained when Elemental was having trouble finding an audience. I’m also the dad of a six-year-old. I’ve taken her to the theater a couple of times, but for the most part, we watch our movies at home. Due to her father’s current obsession with the absolutely incredible score to Elemental, she became curious about the movie. Despite the fact that it might be one of Pixar’s more serious movies due to it largely being a character drama, I decided to give it a try with her by my side. By the end, everybody was crying, though not for the same reasons.

Ember looking sad in Elemental
Ember looking sad in Elemental

Elemental’s Ending Is Pretty Heartbreaking For A Little Kid

Your mileage may vary with your own kids, but Cable, as I will be calling my daughter, is a pretty sensitive kid. When she does decide to watch a movie she’s never seen before, she asks if it has any “scary parts,” which for her means almost any scene with any amount of tension whatsoever. From action sequences where a hero might be hurt to a moment where a villain is particularly scary, she can get upset if anything goes bad for anybody in a story.

For the most part, Elemental isn’t an issue in that regard, and she seemed to enjoy the movie well enough. She occasionally needed to ask me questions about what was happening that she didn't quite understand, which is the main reason we don’t go to the theater often. However, I was far from surprised considering the fairly grown-up subject matter of two people falling in love.

But things took a turn at the end. When the flood started, I began to be concerned we had made it to a “scary part.” She handled it like a champ though; she was certainly concerned for the characters, but not getting upset over it. That changed when Ember and Wade found themselves trapped behind rubble. The fire and the water did not mix as well in such close proximity, and for a moment, we thought Wade was gone.

Of course, as somebody who has seen countless movies in my life, there was never any question the first time I watched Elemental that Wade would ultimately be okay, but my daughter certainly didn’t have that luxury. For a couple of minutes, she was absolutely inconsolable. There may have been parts of the story she didn’t quite understand, but she understood what was happening there.

All I could do was give her a big hug, but I couldn't say much. I was in tears too at around this same point in the film, but my thoughts were not of Wade, they were of Ember and her father.

Bernie and Ember in Elemental
Bernie and Ember in Elemental

Elemental Is A Tough, But Beautiful Watch For A Dad

I may have teared up a bit when my daughter did, not because I was sad for Wade, but because the fact that she cared so much about this fictional character means so much to me. Cable is incredibly empathetic, and if I’ve done anything right, or at least have succeeded in not screwing something up, it’s this.

But of course, there’s so much more going on in Elemental that Cable doesn’t quite understand yet. It’s the story of a daughter who is trying to live up to the expectations of her father, or at least what she perceives as her father’s expectations. She’s torn between what she sees as a duty and her own life, and she truly seems to want to make her father happy, leading to the realization that what she wants and what she believes he wants are not the same thing. While Elemental is an immigrant story, you don't have to be one to understand this part of it.

I certainly want my daughter to make me proud, and I want her to want to make me proud too. I think every parent feels that way. Like the empathy she so strongly shows, I hope I can instill other lessons in her to help her lead a good life as a good person. That much would make me as proud as I need to be. At the same time, I hope we share things in common. My love of theme parks and movies aren’t just my favorite entertainment; as my actual job, they’re literally part of my life, and I want to share that with my children.

But in the end, I hope I’m like Bernie. I want both my daughters to be happy being who they are, and if that means they embrace things other than what I have, I can only hope I will be as supportive as he was. He clearly did want Ember to take over his shop and pass down what he had built, but there wasn’t even a second thought once he realized that wasn’t going to happen. The shop had been for her because everything had been for her.

Ember and Berie bow
Ember and Berie bow

Elemental's Final Scene Is One Of Pixar's Greatest

In the final moments of Elemental, I was an emotional wreck both times I watched the movie. Ember, heading out to begin her new life, turns and gives her father “The Big Bow,” a sign of respect for the elder which the elder is expected to return. Bernie’s own father refused to do this a generation earlier, unable to support his child because he did not support their choice, not realizing that to do one means doing the other. This moment isn't for Ember... not really. It's Ember giving her father the chance to make the other choice, to be the father that he wanted his to be.

My relationship with my own father wasn't like this. If anything, mine set a bar so high that I have routinely failed to reach it. But I hope that I have done, and will continue to do, enough. My daughter's respect matters to be, I hope one day to earn it.

I know my own daughter doesn’t really understand this moment. Perhaps if Elemental's continued success helps it stand the test of time and she watches it again in the future, she’ll see it differently and understand her dad a bit more. I can see Elemental being a movie that we watch together a few more times over the next several years, each time learning something new about ourselves and each other.