REVIEW: Luca (2021)

“Luca” Still Image – Photo: Disney / Pixar.

Directed by Enrico Casarosa — Screenplay by Jesse Andrews & Mike Jones.

Pixar’s Luca, which is available to watch right now with a Disney+ subscription, is a, pardon the pun, fish-out-of-water coming-of-age story about Luca (voiced by Jacob Tremblay), a teenage sea monster, who is curious about what exactly happens above the surface of the water. His parents — voiced by Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan — tell him to stay away from the surface out of a fear that the sea monster-fearing humans might catch him. But Luca, like another Disney-protagonist once sang, wants to be where the people are.

So Luca eventually ventures above the surface, where he meets Alberto (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer), a free-spirited teenaged sea monster, who spends most of his time collecting human treasures at the bottom of the ocean or living on a tiny island just off the coast of the Italian city of Portorosso. In an effort to avoid being punished by his parents for having gone above the surface and experienced being transformed into a human being (whenever the sea monsters are even splashed by water they revert back to their natural selves), Luca and Alberto travel to Portorosso in an attempt to acquire a Vespa that can help them see the world. Soon they befriend Giulia (voiced by Emma Berman), a teenaged human girl, who needs their help in an attempt to win the local triathlon.

I certainly won’t be the first or only film critic to call out that this film at several moments reminded me very much of both Disney’s The Little Mermaid and Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name. I think that the similarities are impossible to ignore, and I have even heard that the director has come out to deny that he ever intended for the film to be any kind of romance film. Anyway, it certainly isn’t a romance film, but I absolutely do think that the film’s central theme about letting people see who you really are — your true rainbow colors, if you will — can certainly be read as an LGTBQ+ allegory, although that theme could’ve definitely been more pronounced. It certainly is interesting that, at one point, one character remarks that “Some people will never accept him, but some people will.” Perhaps Pixar would be bold enough to actually make a sequel that aligned itself more closely with the aforementioned allegory, which could give audiences the kind of representation that so many people have been hoping and clamoring for.

Luca is director Enrico Casarosa’s first feature-length film as an animated director, and he is best known for his Oscar-nominated Pixar short film, La Luna, about a family of Italian men who assemble fallen stars on the moon. That was a very cute short film about doing things your own way while working in the family business, and there are some similarities between La Luna and Luca. Obviously, they both appear to be inspired on an Italian upbringing, but, perhaps more apparent, some of the character models in La Luna resemble the designs of characters in Luca — with the most notable one being the fact that father in La Luna is the spitting image of Giulia’s father, what with their big bushy moustaches and the fact that you can’t really see their eyes. On top of that, some of the waking dreams that we see Luca have are in a way reminiscent of La Luna‘s trip to the moon.

I think Pixar is at its best when its filmmakers and animators conjure up some kind of high-concept plot that challenges our understanding of everything from our feelings or reactions to our soul or the soul of supposedly inanimate objects. This is why I love films such as Toy Story, Soul, Coco, and Inside Out. Although Luca is about sea monsters, it is a much more simple story concept. The only times that it ever felt like it reached its full potential were in the aforementioned dream sequences that were paired with Dan Romer’s beautiful score. Like I stated earlier, it is a fish-out-of-water film in a very literal sense. As such, it also fees like more of a children’s film, even though there are certainly references — movie posters and whatnot — that did put a smile on my face and will probably have delighted several adults all over the world.

However, my one major problem with the film is that on top of it being fairly simple, it is also fairly familiar. There are moments here and there that surprised me, and the film is incredibly charming, but, in the end, it all comes down to a triathlon event that is fairly predictable. I would also argue that the subplot involving Luca’s parents also felt a little bit tired at this point. Similar subplots were seen in both Coco and Onward.

Enrico Casarosa’s Luca, though simple in concept and familiar in certain story elements, is a delightfully charming film that does its job, even though it doesn’t reach the heights of Pixar’s best films. Admittedly, it is probably towards the bottom of my personal ranking of Pixar films. However, even low-tier Pixar films are quite good, and I would definitely recommend this one. I think its gorgeous interpretation of the Italian coast, its surprisingly beautiful score, and the friendship between Luca and Alberto at the heart of the film makes it a film that you should not miss if you have a fondness for Pixar films.

7.5 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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