Luca maybe one of Pixar’s simplest films to date. It doesn’t exactly take us to a fantastical new world (Coco). It doesn’t ponder weightier themes of individuality and existentialism as the thematically meatier productions (Inside Out, Soul). What it does have, however, is a lot of the emotional resonance and stylish computer animation we’ve come to expect from the studio.
An Italian Tale
Luca is maybe the most Ghibli-Esque of Pixar productions given the setting and character designs. It takes place in a mid-20th century Italian fishing town. Not only is there a lively populace amid the rustic town but beneath the waters as well.
The film starts by portraying an undersea community of quirky sea creatures that would be seen on the surface as monsters. Luca (Jacob Tremblay) is a 13-year-old monster who obeys his parents (Maya Rudolph, Jim Gaffigan) by never going to the surface. It’s too dangerous as humans are terrified of the few times monsters rise above the water.
That all changes when he meets Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), an orphan who makes regular trips to the surface. It is only once Alberto drags Luca up to the surface that he’s able to communicate what the curious boy has been missing in his life. The surface isn’t dangerous but a wonderland of such exciting things as walking and gravity.
Vow for a Vespa
Being amazed at the surface world, Luca shares Alberto’s obsession with Vespas. Dreams are formed of traveling the wide world in such a vehicle. None of them are engineers but make earnest and heartfelt attempts to create their dream vehicle.
It’s only once they venture into the local town where they learn how to acquire an actual Vespa. It is here where they learn about the concept of money. The fastest method to acquire such funds is to win the town’s yearly marathon of swimming, biking, and pasta eating.
The Big Race
The big competition in the race is Ercole Visconti, the local bully with his cohorts and ego. The big ally for the duo is Giulia Marcovaldo, an eccentric girl about town with more than enough energy for the race. She agrees to work alongside the two boys just for the thrill of beating Ercole.
Giulia is the kind of summer friend everybody would want. She’s not only knowing enough of her world but willing to share it as well. Her vibrancy for training and many exclamations of holy cheeses makes her more than just a companion for a race.
In the great tradition of Disney adventures, the parents are absent from greater revelations but still not far behind. Giulia’s father is a towering build of stoic that is suspicious yet helpful of the boys when realizing they’re skilled at fishing. Luca’s parents try to find him on land, forcing the sea creature in disguise to keep on his toes (or fins).
The bonds that form between Luca, Alberto, and Giulia is relatable with their charms and drama. Luca and Alberto hit things off rather early that when Giulia enters their lives, Alberto naturally feels threatened for his friendship potentially breaking. Giulia has more to offer than Alberto simply cannot and fears this will be the end for both of them.
Naturally, they’ll all come together by the end to stand up to the big bully. More importantly, however, they’ll learn to be more accepting of others, choosing not to live in fear of concealing their identities.
Under and Over The Sea
In what is sure to be a surprise to nobody, Luca has gorgeous animation. The Italian town and undersea communities have their own unique style and tone, always feeling bright and vibrant amid the summer sun. Little details of rust on bikes and bubbles in the sea paint a vivid and believable world.
The designs of the sea creatures are fairly interesting considering they automatically revert to human forms when going on land. The way Luca gets used to this is rather interesting. He struggles at walking and Alberto helps him out, informing him of the mysterious effect of a phantom tail.
There’s also a lot of simple wonders to the articulation of the world. Giulia’s father owns a cat who not only mimics the mustache but the glares as well. I also dug how Pixar gives up any subtle framing of mindless fish as sheep, making them bah like the animals they’re mimicking.
Luca is certainly not Pixar’s best but far from their worst. The story is rather simple and the thematic elements are nothing new for avid Disney viewers. But for being such a straightforward story of coming-of-age friendships with an Italian and creature-feature glaze, it’s a fun summer treat.
Not all Pixar films need to cover surreal or existential subject matter that adults will get the most out of. Sometimes it’s nice to take a momentary detour from the headier films for a simpler film. If Pixar’s previous films were meant more for adults in the weightier themes, Luca is a refreshing break for the kids.
Did you see Luca on Disney+? Was it any good? Did you like it more than Soul? Let us know in the comments below.
A satisfying summer Pixar detour.
- Charming animation.
- Strong character arcs for young characters.
- Great whimsy.
- Simple story.
- Not as thematically vibrant as previous Pixar movies.
- Humor is par for the course.