Updated: Jul 13, 2021
I am always excited when Pixar has a new movie coming out. It doesn’t matter what it is about, I look forward to it. Their name on a project is almost a guarantee of a high level of quality. Not everything they have produced is great, but the majority of their work is at least pretty good (2015’s The Good Dinosaur is the only one I actively disliked). They are coming off of a wonderful 2020, with Onward and Soul, so I was extra hyped for their latest, the Italy-set adventure/comedy Luca (streaming on Disney+). While it certainly belongs on the lower end of the studio’s filmography, it is still amusing and generally enjoyable, even if it lacks the wonder and emotion of their best films.
Young Luca is a sea monster who lives with his parents and grandmother underwater. He is warned to stay far away from the humans who would surely kill their kind on sight, but yearns to explore the world above the water. One day, he meets a friend who leads him to an adventure on land.
Luca is kind of a mixture of Finding Nemo and Disney’s The Little Mermaid, with a fish (or fish-like creature) wanting to break away from his restrictive parents and find out what the rest of the world has to offer. The twist (which the movie gets a ton of mileage out of) is that when these sea monsters get wet, they have gills, scales and fins; when they are dry, they look identical to humans. The transformation is cool and doubles as a handy shortcut to creating suspense. The story is not particularly involving; however, the filmmakers seem to know exactly when is the right time to tease something as simple as someone spilling a glass of water. It makes it feel like there are big stakes for Luca, even though there really aren’t.
Still, a largely uninteresting story doesn’t sink it. The best aspects of Pixar’s movies are the animation and the way emotions are generated from the relationships between the characters. The animation in Luca is good, yet I didn’t feel the magic. There is no sense of discovery like there has been in Pixar’s best. The visuals are pleasant, but mostly routine. I never felt like I was entering a new world. What truly carries this movie is the charming bond that quickly develops between Luca and his new friend Alberto.
Alberto is also a young sea monster, except that, unlike Luca, he lives on the beach, only coming into the water to find human artifacts that were dropped there. That is how he meets Luca and talks him into coming ashore. The scenes where Alberto convinces him to ignore his sense of responsibility and just be an immature kid are the most fun. The two of them goofing around, building a bike out of spare parts and dreaming of freedom is sweet and generates a few nice laughs. Once the plot kicks in (some stuff about a bike race, an arrogant bully and the constant fear of exposure), the formula takes over. There is very little depth here, either in Luca’s relationship with Alberto or in his relationship with his parents. The surface level is fine, though it is disheartening to realize that is really all there is here.
Besides showing viewers the beauty of the Italian coast, Pixar doesn’t have a lot to say with this one. It is much closer to a good looking, well-meaning, kid’s movie than it is to all-ages delights such as Toy Story, Coco or The Incredibles. The passion is missing. Luca is entertaining enough, with solid animation, likable characters and several funny moments. Yet the name Pixar sets a high bar it can’t quite reach.
3¼ out of 5
Jacob Tremblay as Luca Paguro
Jack Dylan Grazer as Alberto Scorfano
Emma Berman as Giulia Marcovaldo
Maya Rudolph as Daniela Paguro
Jim Gaffigan as Lorenzo Paguro
Marco Barricelli as Massimo Marcovaldo
Saverio Raimondo as Ercole Visconti
Directed by Enrico Casarosa
Screenplay by Jesse Andrews and Mike Jones