Pixar's Elemental director Peter Sohn discussed why a key death scene was important to showcase in the movie.
Elemental chronicles an unusual love story between fire (Amber) and water (Wade). The pair went through their own ups and downs throughout the film, ultimately leading to a pivotal moment during its final few scenes.
After a flood spilled over into Firetown, Wade swooped in to save Ember and the blue flame, but they were trapped inside a small room with little air to circulate. As a result, Wade began to evaporate, seemingly dying.
However, Wade came back to life after Ember discovered that his moisture was still capable of crying, leading Ember to enumerate the different scenarios to make Wade cry and revive him.
Elemental Director Explains the Importance of Wade's Death
Speaking in the latest issue of Empire Magazine, Elemental director Peter Sohn defended his decision to initially kill off Wade before bringing him back.
While admitting that a "big death" like that was "such a risk," Sohn explained that Wade's initial death was intended to create "a real sincere moment for Ember to feel the loss:"
“A big death is so sensitive and it’s such a risk because you could throw your whole audience out. But this idea formed to have our cake and eat it too with the sacrifice that happens for Wade. It wasn’t like, 'Let’s fool everybody.' It was a real, sincere moment for Ember to feel the loss.”
In the movie, Wade and his family engage in a unique game that involves crying. This is where each of them says different scenarios or things to try to make their family members cry.
Sohn discussed how this Crying Game came to be, noting that it all boiled down to "a little vacation" and a push from Elemental executive producer Pete Docter about reminding him that his movie has a heart:
“There’s a version of the movie that was really dark because I was going through grief personally. Pete Docter, my EP, was like, ‘Was this always the thing that you wanted to do? I remember your original pitch with heart.’ And so after that, I went on a little vacation and drew all these ideas.”
During the Crying Game, though, it was hard for Wade and his family to make Ember cry. However, Wade managed to emotionally crack her by professing his love to her.
Sohn shared that they were "hoping that it felt that the world sort of disappears from them" instead of Wade forcing Ember to cry for the game:
“We didn’t want to make it feel like Wade was gaming Ember to make her tearful. We were hoping that it felt that the world sort of disappears from them.”
The Pixar filmmaker then offered high praise to story artist Anna Benedict with the idea, acknowledging that the team "all felt it:"
“She had tried this experiment out, and quickly sketched it out in an evening. And we all felt it.”
Why Wade's Death Perfectly Captures Elemental's Core Story
Wade's death scene in Elemental was quite shocking, and it even surprised some viewers.
While some fans noted that Wade's death might be too dark for a Pixar film like Elemental, Sohn's explanation of why it was necessary served as a perfect response to that critic.
The way the movie resolved Wade's demise was also powerful as it stayed true to Elemental's core lesson of allowing emotions to break free and not thinking about other people's opinions.
During that moment, Ember managed to embrace her feelings for Wade, and coincidentally, this moment led to his revival which cemented the movie's happy ending.
Speaking with The Wrap in June 2023, Elemental screenwriters John Hoberg and Kat Likkel talked about Wade's death scene.
Hoberg revealed that Wade's demise was their contribution to the movie:
"Our first version was the fourth version, and he didn’t die in the previous three, so I guess that was our first contribution: killing Wade."
Meanwhile, Likkel confirmed that Wade being killed off permanently was never in the cards, pointing out that the kids during the test screening "were just inconsolable:"
“The kids were just inconsolable. Seeing Wade go away forever would have killed me."
With Wade and Ember alive and free at the end of Elemental, some have speculated that a potential sequel could be next.
In fact, Hoberg and Likkel even confirmed in an exclusive interview with The Direct that there was a "very early kind idea" of introducing the pair's steam baby in the end that would've served as the launchpad for a sequel.
Elemental is now streaming on Disney+.