Director: Enrico Casarosa
Cast: Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman
Review Author: Tony
Synopsis: Off the coast of a small Italian Riviera town lives Luca and his family of sea monsters. Living secluded underwater, Luca’s family forbid him from venturing to the surface with its many dangers, but Luca’s curiosity is only peaked further. When Luca meets a fellow young sea monster, Alberto who frequently visits the surface, the two quickly become friends over the mutual liaisons to the surface world.
Pixar films are great; it’s pretty much a universal guarantee that any new Pixar films will both raise the bar for animation films and be met with critical acclaim. Cars might be the only blip in their catalog (come at me bro!!) but the series has always been a merchandising goldmine showing it has a sizeable fanbase. Despite my overall enjoyment of the studio’s output I also can’t help but see a trend in their formula which appears more aimed at adults and their sense of nostalgia, rather than family movies for both adults and children to enjoy. Soul and Inside Out are both fantastic movies in their own right but the relatability and message seem to resonate more with adults on a personal level than children. Sure they can dress up their film about existential dread and unfulfilled lives in bright colours and with cute characters, but who is the film really for? Luca is their first film in a long time to truly break this mold.
Quite literally a fish-out-of-water story, Luca excels in keeping proceedings light and funny. That’s not to say the film doesn’t explore some rich and relatable themes, it’s just that first and foremost it remains a coming-of-age story about friendship and acceptance with plenty of slapstick humour to delight both parent and child. Lacking the complexity and layers of recent Pixar films, there’s a summer breeze, and low-stakes nature to Luca giving it a comforting quality and a beautiful setting to get lost in supported by a wonderful cast of characters.
A departure from Pixar’s increasingly more photorealistic style, Luca seems more cut from the cloth of a Laika movie with a 2D animation style where the filmmakers referenced Studio Ghibli/Hayao Miyazaki movies. Indeed the Italian Riviera setting and lush colours reminded me of Porco Rosso as well as the story bearing striking similarities to Ponyo. A creative shift from the CGI animation Pixar has become famous for, this move to more traditional 2D animation shows the studio’s flexibility with allowing their artists to experiment stylistically thus creating their most visually unique looking film to date.
Delving into the subject matter of otherness and acceptance, the main conflict at the center of the story is accepting yourself. Luca and Alberto’s fears of revealing that they are sea monsters hold the very real threat of prosecution from the town’s locals, a town infamous for its fishing and proudly displaying iconography of hunting sea monsters. Alberto is comfortable living two lives but is aware of the very real threat of being discovered, while Luca feels more at home on the surface but fears this will be revealed to his parents. Luca’s budding friendship with a town girl called Giulia causes friction in the group challenging Luca and Alberto’s friendship. The film never takes a heavy-handed approach to its themes allowing the film to flow with its lighthearted approach while also presenting a clear message at its core.
While the film’s light touch and formulaic plot hold it back from sitting shoulder to shoulder with Pixar’s classic films, Luca’s lack of urgency is perhaps its greatest strength. Rather than thinking outside the box or slap-dashing cute Avatars over some new abstract representation of human emotions, director Enrico Casarosa tells a simple yet heartwarming story that celebrates friendship and otherness.