As you know, I haven’t been a fan of a lot of Pixar’s recent stuff.
It just feels like they’ve been trying too hard, that they’ve been over-reliant on one trick: building up to that one climactic emotional moment, without regards for plot coherence, or world-building. Not to mention, a lot of their recent films have been unnecessary sequels.
So, Luca with its small-scale story, original premise, and unique art style was well…like a breath of fresh sea air. It’s not the most ambitious project or even one of Pixar’s best – but it was needed and necessary.
And quite possibly signals a brand-new direction for the studio.
The movie follows Luca – a sea monster who lives in the Italian Riveria. One day, he meets another sea monster boy named Alberto who convinces him to explore the surface with him. On land, sea monsters retain human form.
After his parents find out and plan to send him off to live with his uncle in The Deep – Alberto and Luca run away to the nearest human town, Portorosso. There they join town misfit Guilia in her plan to win the Portorosso Cup and defeat town bully, Ercole – so they can use the money to travel the world on a Vespa.
A lot of people have said that Luca is the most Ghibli movie Pixar has put out. I am happy to say that those rumors are true. And that is reason enough for me to embrace the gentleness of the film.
It’s sweet, low stakes (mainly), and a wonderful exploration of the freedoms of summer.
My only complaint is that this movie should have been released in theaters. I would have loved to see it on the big screen.
Luca has a distinctive art style – one that’s different from other Pixar films. It doesn’t strive for realistic textures, characters or backgrounds. Instead, it’s stylized, cartoony, yet soft. It stands out for all the right reasons.
The whole movie is reminiscent of the short, La Luna which I adore – which makes sense because they share a director. The movie as a whole gives off the air of a 2D hand-drawn animation.
I like it. I miss 2-D films.
This film is all about aesthetic, more importantly, the aesthetic of childhood summers and the freedoms they bring.
Like I said – this film doesn’t have a grandiose adventure. Nor does it try to pose (or answer) any big questions about life. And that’s just fine.
There is a return to form in one way though, a classic asshole villain. Not a twist villain. Not a misunderstood villain. Just a regular, asshole who tries to kill some children. I had not realized how much I missed this kind of antagonist until Ercole appeared.
It’s so nice just to hate a guy sometimes, He’s just a bully. Even though he tries to muder the kids towards the end – the biggest problem our protagonists face, really, is winning the race without being caught by Luca’s parents.
It’s actually nice to see Pixar break away from their formula, rather than forcing a big adventure into a film that doesn’t need it.
Even Soul was a sort of huge adventure when it didn’t really match the message the film was going for. A more introspective take would have worked better for the film.
Onward tried to be a huge, epic adventure with two brothers determined to see their dad again – but it ended up being a rather dull film that never really explores its premise of a world of fairy-tale creatures living without magic.
It seemed disconnected.
Luca’s premise is much more simple – and yes, a little like The Little Mermaid – but that simplicity ends up being one of its greatest strengths.
Though the film is about two boys finding themselves and enjoying the summer – it can easily be a metaphor for two boys in love. Luca and Alberto develop a close relationship over time, and Alberto gets jealous when Luca starts spending more time with Guilia. Not to mention the whole “hiding who they truly are” aspect of the story; which makes even more sense when you realize the film is set in 1950s Italy.
Certainly not a great time to be gay.
There’s undoubtedly a metaphor for “coming out” in this film but since it’s Pixar, they can’t actually say that. The director has come out and said that the relationship between the two boys is platonic (and that’s fine) but nobody can deny the similarities to Call Me By Your Name and other queer movies.
I can definitely see LGBTQ-plus people identifying with the characters. And unlike in other Pixar films, we really get to just enjoy the view and connect with the characters.
There’s not a lot of nuances, sure, as the hatred of sea monsters is never given an explanation but sometimes, people just hate each other because they’re different. You don’t always need to explain biases especially when one or both sides aren’t human.
Like many children’s films – Luca is all about acceptance and learning how differences make us special – but this is a film that does it…particularly well in my opinion.
Oftentimes when these movies talk about prejudice, there’s a legitimate reason for one group to fear another (Prey vs Predators in Zootopia for instance) and the bias is presented as something that is bad and unreasonable.
But to some extent – it is justified. Beastars handles this idea with more nuance but sometimes does struggle with creating hierarchies.
In Luca, discrimination just exists. It’s in the background of everyday life and most people don’t think twice about hating or commenting negatively on sea creatures. Of course many think they’re a myth but that’s beside the point. Either way, the boys have to assimilate into a culture they don’t understand and who hate them for who they are.
There are also smaller examples of acceptance and diversity: Guilia’s father, for instance, only has one arm. He didn’t lose it in a fishing accident or anything like that. He was just born with one arm.
This is a very small thing, but it’s rare that you see somebody with a congenital limb difference in any movie, let alone a children’s film – and one who isn’t a villain or who is just used for sympathy points.
And it gives him a reason to better sympathize with the boys when he finds out the truth.
Even Guilia faces discrimination because she doesn’t live in Portrosso year-round. Her parents are seemingly divorced. (The word is never said but it’s highly implied considering the custody agreement.)
It’s little things like different family situations, disabilities, and relationships being presented in the media as normal that makes it easier for children to understand and find their place in the world.
Honestly, I was heavily reminded of Kiki’s Delivery Service during this movie, in how it presents growing up in a low-stakes, slice-of-life light, And frankly, I think it was pretty well done in Luca.
Again, the art style with its soft tones and bright lights and lived in town reminded me of a Ghibli movie. Like honestly, the only thing missing was airplanes – Ghibli movies are big on flying…But the scenes where the boys ride their homemade Vespa give a similar sense of freedom.
I was also not so subtly reminded of Porco Rosso – mostly because of the setting, as both take place mainly in the Italian countryside. But also because both deal with the concept of discrimination and what it means to be human.
It’s a subtle way of referencing and taking inspiration from other movies, which I appreciate.
It’s a way of paying tribute to the inspiration while keeping and developing one’s own style. The movie has a such unique feel to it, that it almost doesn’t feel like a Pixar film. As it should.
Pixar films shouldn’t all be alike – they should be more open to exploring new ideas and concepts and art styles. Isn’t that what the studio originally wanted to do?
Grade: A –
Year of release: 2021
Length: 95 minutes
Director: Enrico Casarosa
Producer: Andrea Warren
Screenplay by: Jesse Andrews, Mike Jones
Story by: Enrico Casarosa, Jesse Andrews, Simon StephensonVoice Actors: Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Saverio Raimondo, Maya Rudolph, Marco Barricelli, Jim Gaffigan, Peter Sohn, Lorenzo Crisci, Marina Massironi, Sandy Martin