There’s a prevailing theory that animation giant Pixar ain’t exactly where they once were when you consider the legacy they’ve been building since their earliest short movies mercilessly tugged on our heart strings and dinged our funny bones like a demented percussionist. Whether you strongly believe this or not, you can’t deny that their last few offerings – while wildly rich in imagination – haven’t seemed to have connected with an audience quite the same way Finding Nemo or Wall-E did and the fact that their latest offering, the exquisite looking Luca, has gone straight to streaming free of charge thanks to Disney+, could suggest that the animation studio is suffering a COVID assisted slump.
So, does this fishy tale of a young sea creature discovering what wonders lie in a small, coastal village on the Italian Riviera manage to finally break Pixar’s streak of ingenious, yet oddly disposable releases or will it sink to the deepest fathoms of the ubiquitous streaming site?
Luca is a young, brightly coloured, well behaved sea creature who lives with his family under the sea in their peaceful, simple life, but after a chance meeting with Alberto, another kid of the same species who lives alone, he discovers a passion for exploring and adventure that only grows when he finds out that his kind reverts to a human form when dry. Matching Alberto’s fascination for hoarding human junk and his obsession for one day owning a Vesper (yup, you read that right), they steel their nerves and head into the city of Portorosso only to bond with the precocious Giulia who lives with her hulking, fisherman father and has plans to win this year’s Portorosso Cup Race, a grueling triathlon that demands that you swim for a bit, consume a sizable amount of pasta and endure a testing bike ride – in that order.
Giulia is determined to win, if only the thwart the bullying ways of Ercole Visconti and recruits Luca and Alberto to aid her tackle the three events who are more than happy to oblige when they learn that the prize money can be spent on buying their very own Vespa.
However, Luca’s overprotective parents, terrified that they’ve driven their son away, venture onto dry land themselves in order to beg their child to come back with them – the only problems are they have no idea what their son looks like in human form and the entire town, including Giulia’s father, is on the hunt for sea monsters due to the various sightings of Alberto that have surfaced in the local newspapers. As Luca and Alberto go to outlandish lengths to protect their scaly secrets, their friendship is put under strain by Alberto’s jealousy of a rapidly bonding Luca and Giulia. Can the three friends reach an impasse before the big race or will their very noticable differences ultimately ruin everything?
First things first. I may have stated this elsewhere but the closest thing Pixar has ever had to an actual bad movie is the unbelievably obnoxious Cars 2 (you know, the one where they become spies), however, this hasn’t stopped their most recent releases from feeling a little like “single serving” movies, that do all the things Pixar are renowned for (making you laugh, love and ugly cry at least once) yet are still bafflingly forgettable once it’s finished. I genuinely adored both Onward and Soul when I first saw them and yet I can honestly say I haven’t even thought about sitting down and viewing them since and I’m (sort of) sorry to say that Luca follows very much in the wake of this trend.
That’s not to say it’s bad. Christ, no, but it’s decidedly more in line with The Good Dinosaur or Brave, two other films that paired a strong child’s perspective with surprisingly random plotting and visuals so beautiful, you can’t look at them without feeling a pang in your chest. You can’t help but notice that Luca also swims in a lot of familiar waters Pixar material has already paddled in too, with the watery vistas of Finding Nemo and Wall-E’s obsession with human trash heavily referenced…
However, where Luca succeeds in making it’s mark is director Enrico Casarosa’s leanings into European cinema which gives this period piece a warm glow that’ll remind you of lazy, Italian holidays even if, like me, you’ve never bloody had one. This distinctly foreign flavour also brings other movies to mind, such as a far more sanitised version of a coming of age story between two boys and a girl seen in mexican classic Y Tu Mamá También – although considering the movie is about sea monsters establishing a relationship with humans, I guess we should be thankful that Luca doesn’t feel like an adorable prequel to The Shape Of Water…
For all my listing of Luca’s weaknesses, at the end of the day this is still Pixar and the film is loaded wonderful character moments that stand out such as Giulia’s permanently suspicious cat named Machiavelli, or Luca’s grotesquely translulent Uncle Ugo (voiced by Sasha Baron Cohen) who enjoys a simple living at the bottom of the ocean swallowing any morsel of whale carcass that happens to drift by in the inky black.
The main voice cast is strong with the hugely dependable Jack Dylan Grazer (It, Shazam!) scoring high as the brash Alberto and Jacob Tremblay giving good meekness as the titular character (also Luca’s human form weirdly looks more like Tom Holland than Tom Holland’s character did in Onward…) but it’s slightly distracting that these Italian kids are speaking in American accents with the odd Italian chucked in there… The rest of the cast do well to bring this hugely vibrant world to life with extra kudos flung as comedy goddess Maya Rudolph as Luca’s well meaning but domineering mother.
As hugely entertaining and effecting as Luca is, it’s lasting effect ultimately doesn’t last that long once the film ends which means it ranks up fairly neatly with the rest of the Pixar’s recent output that also feature world class world building, visuals and various heart warming shit – but also feel slightly throwaway despite all the good feelings the filmmakers pour into your chest cavity.
It’s good verging on great, but I guess good verging on great simply isn’t great enough when compared to what is one of cinema’s greatest back catalogues…
Still, it’s well worth a Luca.