Sommerleigh Pollonais, Senior Writer
Plot: On the Italian Riviera, an unlikely but strong friendship grows between a human girl and a sea monster disguised as human.
Review: My name is Luka, I live on the second floor…anyone else remember this song? No? Now I feel old. Anyways, we’re not reviewing that song, but Pixar’s latest attempt at making adults bawl their eyes out, Luca (with a “c”). It is a beautifully-animated tale of freedom, friendship and fishing. Okay, not so much the fishing, but it’s a part of the story so stick with me.
Inspired by the films of Studio Ghibli and (to a lesser extent) The Little Mermaid, Luca is the story of the titular young sea creature (or mer-boy if you will) who spends his days herding fish for his family. He is voiced by Jacob Tremblay (Good Boys, Before I Wake). Like all kids of a certain age Luca wants more, and in his case “more” means to know what life is like for land dwellers. But his parents fear and despise humans who they see as nothing more than murderers (and not without reason as humans hunt the “sea monsters”). One day he meets another kid named Alberto (Jack Dylan Glazer from It Chapters 1 & 2), who as it turns out is a sea creature like Luca but one who knows if they come out of the water they magically appear as human.
When Luca’s mom Daniela, voiced by the always funny and adorable Maya Rudolph (Bridesmaids, Big Mouth, Saturday Night Live) decides to send him away to live with his extremely weird and kind of creepy looking uncle Ugo (Sacha Baron Cohen basically doing an underwater version of Borat) Luca decides to run away with Alberto to a little seaside village called Porto Rosso. There they meet and befriend self-proclaimed outsider Giulia (Emma Berman) and all three team up to enter a race where they hope to win the prize money. For Luca and Alberto the money will buy them a Vespa so they can travel the world together, while Giulia (pronounced Julia in case you were wondering) just wants to dethrone the town’s bully Ercole (Saverio Raimondo) who makes her life, and the lives of the other kids in town, a nightmare.
Pixar once again delivers beautiful visuals with their depictions of both the undersea world and the warm, inviting (and imaginary) town of Porto Rosso, Italy. From the deep blues and greens of the ocean to the warm and inviting orange hue of the little fishing village, I loved every frame and I even found myself comparing it to the live action hit, Aquaman, which also had scenes set in an Italian town. They also do a seamless job of shifting Luca and Alberto from their human forms to their fishy ones, as whenever they get wet we see them for what they truly are, which made for a lot of funny moments. Speaking of which, another aspect of the film I quite enjoyed was the comedy. All Pixar movies have comedic moments, but somehow Luca is the one that made me laugh out loud the most. Moments like Luca’s parents deliberately getting the kids in town wet as they try to figure out which one is their son in disguise, to Guilia’s cat Machiavelli (I adore his little mustache) trying to kill them at every turn, Luca delivers a lot of laughs for both kids and grownups alike.
Of course this is a Pixar film, so there must be a message or two, and in this case, it’s all about freedom. Freedom to be who you really are, freedom to make your own decisions, freedom to just have the space to figure the previous two things out if you haven’t already. Luca, Alberto and Guilia all have desires of their own and not only does the movie touch on these desires, it also explores how what we want and what we need are two very different things. The main characters all get a chance to figure these things out, and for the adults in the audience we get a chance to look back on that time in our lives and remember how big our dreams were when we kids and how they maybe compare to who we are now.
Pixar never fails to deliver in this way (not counting Cars, I still have no idea what the hell that was supposed to be) but I will deduct points from Luca for feeling a tad too similar to other movies that have come before. Like I mentioned earlier, the movie was inspired by the films produced by Studio Ghibli. That’s not me saying that, but the director Enrico Casarosa himself. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but I also couldn’t help feel like I had seen this all before. There was also no explanation for how or why they could appear human on land which also felt a bit lazy in the writing department. But the movie itself is enchanting enough that I can forgive these missteps and just keep swimming.
As Pixar films go Luca isn’t on the level (storytelling-wise) of instant classics likes Toy Story, Inside Out, Up and, most recently, Soul, but I wouldn’t rank it with the bottom of the barrel with Cars or the instantly forgettable Onward. For me this fish-out-of-water tale falls squarely in the middle of the pile with just enough to keep both kids and adults entertained all the way through.
Sommer’s Score: 6.5 out of 10
So what did you think of Luca and how would you rate it? And you can check out more great Pixar content below:
Soul is Pixar’s Deepest Film Yet
Finding Dory is great family fun in 4 slices (no spoilers)