Once, Pixar made us cry, because there is sadness in life. Now, Pixar gives us a character who cries, because that’s funny. A character whose family plays a game where the object is to make each other cry. “Butterfly. Windshield wiper. Half a butterfly.” Ho ho — recreational emotional manipulation, get it? Just like going to a Pixar movie! We cried because Pixar gave us consequences, many of them having to do with the passage of time and the inevitability of change. Here, the change — assimilation — is hardly inevitable, even if it’s probable, but the film’s whole project is the removal of consequences. Absolute absolution. Fire Dad wants to keep alive the flame that holds all his cultural patrimony, but all that seems to mean to dutiful Fire Daughter is taking over the family shop in Element City (which, despite its name, was “not made with fire people in mind”). Daughter also has trouble with her hot temper, which her chill new water buddy explains as “me trying to tell me something I’m not ready to hear.” Is this really why angry people are angry — because they are mysteries to themselves, and not because the world wounds them? Or is it just a setup for our heroine’s journey of self-discovery, from “I’m a bad daughter!” to…well, something else? Of course, the occasion for assimilation is often intermarriage, so all this “tradition of our people” nonsense can easily be made into background for a Water-Meets-Fire rom-com that, alas, is more soggy than steamy. And even there, the cultural differences get reduced to commercial — the couple’s big fight hinges more on questions of economic class than anything anyone might want to pass on to their kids. (2023) — Matthew Lickona
This movie is not currently in theaters.