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In a world filled with so many worries, here comes Luca to whisk us away to the Mediterranean for one of the most comforting watches in Pixar’s filmography.
High praise. But keep in mind, Pixar’s in-house bar of wrenching one’s heartstrings is extremely high as well. So high that even though it is a great film, Luca will most likely not go down as one of the memorable greats like Inside Out or any of the Toy Story movies. The lack of an epic narrative and high stakes prevent it from being such.
It’s just a bite-sized tale of friendship. And honestly, what more could we ask for?
What’s Luca about?
Deep in the ocean, a young sea monster named Luca (voiced by Jacob Trembley) yearns for adventure beyond just herding fish in a field of seaweed. One day, he meets fellow monster Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer) who introduces him to the quirks of human life and the dream of travelling the world on a Vespa.
While fleeing from Luca’s overprotective parents Daniela (Maya Rudolph) and Lorenzo (Jim Gaffigan), he and Alberto make their way to the seaside village of Portorosso where they befriend social outcast Giulia (Emma Berman). Together, the three kids enjoy a Summer filled with small adventures all while the two boys try to keep their true nature secret.
A great director surfaces
Luca marks Enrico Casarosa’s feature-length debut having previously directed the 2011 Pixar short, La Luna (that and Casarosa’s childhood in Italy inspired a great deal here).
Casarosa directs with a warm touch. The film is bathed in gorgeous views of the Mediterranean. It has the bluest of oceans, the bluest of skies, and every vibrant colour in-between. Because of the simple story, Casarosa takes time to let characters sit with their feelings and take their time propelling the narrative forward.
Add to this a magnificent musical score from Dan Romer, and you have yourself a great-looking and sounding movie.
Low tide storytelling
Said simple story is the film’s biggest setback. The stakes are incredibly low and details about Luca’s underwater world are slim. A result of that is character’s motivations are not clear and some are downright ignored.
We have no idea why his parents are so protective of him. Alberto’s backstory is missing chunks that could have added to his emotional journey. Because of all of this, Luca lacks the epic nature or the extended worlds of other Pixar outings.
That said, it’s still heartwarming and fun to watch. It owes a great deal to Hayao Miyazaki’s brand of storytelling. Studio Ghibli films like Kiki’s Delivery Service and My Neighbour Totoro have a thin thread of a plot. Despite that, you’re happy to just sit back and watch stuff unfold. In this case, it’s just three kids enjoying their summer on the Italian Riviera.
The overall message of friendship is done really well and will resonate with everyone of all ages. It’s one of the more kid-friendly films to come out of Pixar especially when compared to last year’s adult-centric Soul.
The voice and heart of the ocean
As always, Pixar’s voice casting is spot on. Jacob Trembley delivers the curiosity of a young monster finding his way in a new world. In stark contrast to that, you have the misplaced confidence of Alberto and a vulnerability that Glazer is able to build on consistently throughout the runtime.
The film could’ve done with a bit more Maya Rudolph. She has great comedic capability. The tribulations of a monster mom looking for her son could’ve been capitalised on better. The film’s villain, a supposed town celebrity named Saverio Raimondo, is one of Pixar’s weaker villains amounting to nothing but an over-the-top bully. He serves the plot as such and not much more.
Comedy wise, the film mostly relies on fish-out-of-water hilarities that aren’t very innovative but are charming nonetheless. The film is propelled primarily by the character’s and everyone’s chemistry with each other. There’s real heart between Alberto and Giulia’s father Marco, a relationship that comes out of left field but really works well in the moment.
Pixar’s Luca review verdict
Luca is sweet. It’s a film that’s less interested in taking audiences on an epic quest. Instead, it contemplates childhood friendship against the backdrop of a beautiful Italian landscape.
Unclear motivations will prevent audiences from diving deep into the film’s world. However, they are kept afloat by really good characters and their interactions.
The voice cast is excellent. Never once does the film fall flat thanks to them and the heartwarming nature of the overall execution makes for comfort-food viewing that leaves you warm inside.
Featured image: Disney/Pixar