Early Version of ‘Elemental’s Ending Hit Test Audiences Hard: ‘The Kids Were Just Inconsolable’

“Seeing Wade go away forever would have killed me,” said Kat Likkel

IT’S “ELEMENTAL” -- In a city where fire-, water-, land-, and air-residents live together, a fiery young woman and a go-with-the-flow guy are about to discover something elemental: how much they actually have in common. Directed by Peter Sohn (“The Good Dinosaur,” “Party Cloudy” short) and produced by Denise Ream (“The Good Dinosaur,” “Cars 2”), Disney and Pixar’s “Elemental” releases on June 16, 2023. © 2023 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.
Ember and Wade in "Elemental" (Credit: Disney/Pixar)

Note: The following John Hoberg and Kat Likkel interview discusses major spoilers for “Elemental.”

With “Elemental” now in theaters, audiences are seeing the beauty of both Element City and the love story between a fire element named Ember (voiced by Leah Lewis) and a water element named Wade (voiced by Mamoudou Athie). They’re also seeing how emotionally charged and, at times, sad their love story can be.

Screenwriters John Hoberg and Kat Likkel came onto the story in 2019, after three previous versions of the script had already been workshopped. Speaking with TheWrap, the pair laughed about how their version was the first to introduce the concept of Wade dying to save Ember.

“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,” Hoberg said.

Throughout the movie, the audience sees Ember and Wade not only fall in love but, in Ember’s case, struggle to make their relationship work because of their elemental differences. Eventually, Ember’s city of Fire Town is threatened by a massive flood, trapping her and Wade in a storage room. Because of her heat and his liquidity, it doesn’t take much to get Wade boiling, and he begins to evaporate and die.

It was a gamble that, according to Hoberg and Likkel, resulted in a rather uncomfortable early test screening. The screening was early days, so audiences were only able to watch a mix of hand-drawn animation and CGI. And some of the savvier audience members were aware that the filmmakers, or those associated with the making of the film, would be in attendance.

“That point where Wade dies, there was a woman sitting in front of us with her kid,” said Hoberg. “She turned around and literally was like, ‘The f–k?’”

“The kids were just inconsolable,” said Likkel. Hoberg had to wave his hands and imply to the woman that the story would end happily and, as the story progresses, Wade is all right. The concept of killing Wade off completely was never a possibility, according to the pair.

“Seeing Wade go away forever would have killed me,” said Likkel.

“Elemental” is in theaters now.