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Pixar’s cast and creatives of “Elemental” reflect on their own immigrant stories that informed their work

Pixar’s “Elemental” is inspired by its director Pete Sohn’s life growing up as the son of Korean immigrants in New York City. It turned out that the cast who voiced his characters, wrote a song, and even produced the film also related and brought their own immigrant experiences as well.

Leah Lewis, who plays voices one of the main characters named Ember in the film, shared about her and her sister being adopted in China. “Growing up as an adoptee from Shanghai, China, I grew up in a Caucasian household that was so supportive of my acting career from the very beginning,” Lewis said. 

“I know it’s not something that a lot of my fellow Asian-Americans can relate to, but there are some good reasons for the doubt from parents who might not see a future in the arts for their kids because they just want for us to be safe and taken care of,” she continued.

Lewis’ co-star Mamoudou Athie, who plays Wade (Ember’s love interest), related to her immigrant story, but felt that everything changed when he got to perform as part of the ‘Elemental’ film. “As an adult, I better understand the sacrifice that my immigrant parents have and continue to do for me, and that meant that there was a lingering debt in my head to repay them somehow,” he said.

Athie continued, “Instead though after doing this movie, [life] is no longer a debt anymore. It’s more of a gift that I receive that I now want to pay forward to others and my family in being the best that I can be.”

For artist Lauv, who wrote a song for the film called “Steal the Show,” he related to his own immigrant experience in paying it forward to his family in a different way. “I found the most beautiful thing from the film was the balance between the ability to honor and respect cultural traditions while also going and following your dreams,” he said.

Producer Denise Ream recalled her immigrant father and got emotional thinking about his journey that allowed her to work at Pixar. “When you watch the film, I hope people can keep their hearts open to someone that may be different from you, and maybe just a show a little appreciation for parents or anyone that’s helped you along the way. Pick up the phone and call them to say thanks,” she said through tears.

And for Pete Sohn himself, he hopes that his immigrant tale of elements will bring an empathy to people so they can have stronger connections. “If our film can inspire that empathy for others and allow us to connect better with them no matter who they are or where they come from, I’ll be a happy man.”

Pixar’s “Elemental” is now playing in theaters and will then be streaming exclusively on Disney+ in the coming weeks.


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