Pixar's Elemental had an original plan to feature one of the main characters as the movie's villain.
Elemental's emotional core was anchored by a story diving deep into themes of immigration, family, and romance.
Interestingly, the movie didn't feature any real antagonist. Instead, Wade and Ember, the two main protagonists, were held back by the limitations that they put themselves on as well as certain outside forces, such as the huge water leak in Fire Town.
Elemental’s Original Villain Twist Explained
In an exclusive interview with The Direct, Pixar's Elemental writers John Hoberg and Kat Likkel talked about the movie's surprising original villain.
Hoberg confirmed that an earlier version of Elemental featured Wade's mother as the film's main antagonist. In the movie, Wade's mom, Brook Ripple, is portrayed by Catherine O'Hara.
The Pixar writer explained that the initial story revolved around Wade being part of a "powerful family" that "controlled the water flow" of Element City, with plans of putting a canal through Fire Town:
"Well, there was a version where Wade's mother was an antagonist. And it was an early version. And it was almost like Chinatown where there was once where Wade's mother was part of a powerful family that controlled the water flow, and they wanted to put water, like a canal, through fire town. But Bernie had stopped it from happening."
However, Hoberg said that "none of [them]" really responded to Wade's mom serving as the antagonist, considering that "it's such a love story."
Moreover, the writer noted that Bernie served as the movie's "well-meaning antagonist in some ways:"
"And so then there's this kind of big secret thing that was going on. And then none of us really responded to the antagonist in it. Yeah, it's such a love story. And then ultimately, I mean, in a lot of movies like this, the dad might be the antagonist, right? Where he's angry and doesn't want them together. And so in some ways, I kind of thought of it as he was a well-meaning antagonist in some ways, because the best of intentions actually were putting a cage around Ember without even having any idea. And it all came from his own trauma with his father, and they were both freed from that in the end."
Hoberg also described Berine as the movie's "benevolent, unknowing antagonist:"
"But I think Bernie, in some ways, is a benevolent, unknowing antagonists might be the closest thing we have to that in the movie, which we struggled with in storytelling."
Likkel then reflected on the Elemental team's conservation on how "everybody had someone in their family that they had to try to live up to:"
"Well, interestingly, at Pixar, you have such a multicultural group of people there who come from all over the world. And, so all of us got the chance to talk about, you know, all those dynamics in our different families, and how they're similar how they're different. And across the board, everybody had someone in their family that they had to try to live up to, you know, it just like it didn't no matter where you came from, everybody had that. It's a very universal family dynamic."
Hoberg chimed into explain that the dynamic within families is an interesting aspect to explore:
"I feel like as families, we often without meaning, what sort of unnecessary like we, we actually accidentally cause members of our family to think that we don't approve of them sometimes when we do, and all these things that happen in families. And I think that's what was so interesting to explore."
The Elemental screenwriter also opened up about Ember's journey throughout the film, pointing out that it's important for the character to discover "what she really wants instead of knowing [about it] first thing:"
"Because I had one version we talked about would Ember, kind of go on the rooftop and sing about how what she really wanted was to leave Fire town at the very beginning, not really saying, but and, ultimately, we were like, we think she's a more mature person or an older person. And Pete said that when he was like 25, or 26, he really started to think about what the family pressures were. And that's when he really got to know who he was and what he wanted. And that was an important thing for all of us that Ember discovers through the journey what she really wants instead of knowing [about it] first thing."
Meanwhile, in a separate interview with CinemaBlend, Elemental director Pete Sohn confirmed that one version of the movie had "a villain named Drip who has trying to take over the city:"
"This film took so many different versions, you know? We had a villain named Drip, who was trying to take over the city. And when we showed that version everyone was like ‘Oh we miss the connection between fire and water."
Why Elemental Doesn’t Need a Real Villain
In the movie, Wade's mom, Brooke Ripple, served as the character's main support system, with her helping her son with her relationship with Ember.
That said, it would've been odd to see Brooke as Elemental's villain, though, seeing Catherine O'Hara portray an antagonistic force could've been an exciting sight.
The fact that Elemental's final version didn't have a main villain is quite fitting since it managed to zero in on more important things, such as Wade and Ember's love story and the movie's message about immigration and family.
While it is unknown if a sequel will be made, there's a strong chance that a proper villain will be introduced in a potential follow-up that would shake Wade and Ember's dynamic.
Elemental is now playing in theaters worldwide.