Don’t get me wrong, being an adult rocks, but many of my happiest memories stem from my boyhood. Early adolescence (aka my childhood’s twilight years) was a magical time in my life. Twelve-year-old me still experienced life with child-like wonder, just as adults began trusting me with more freedom and independence. It was a time when walking out my front door always felt like an adventure, and carefree summer days seemed to last forever.
Director Enrico Casarosa’s new animated movie Luca brilliantly captures that lost feeling of childhood wonder. Casarosa’s visually stunning coming-of-age film is a heartfelt ode to childhood, friendship, and self-discovery.
Luca takes place in a picturesque seaside town on the Italian Riviera. The film begins just outside of town in an underwater village deep below the sea. The story’s young hero Luca (Jacob Tremblay), is a sea monster with a burning curiosity about the world beyond his mundane home. Luca’s parents Daniela (Maya Rudolph) and Lorenzo (Jim Gaffigan), raised their child to fear land-dwellers since humans hunt everything that lives in the sea.
When Luca crosses paths with an adventurous (and slightly older) sea monster named Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), he makes a life-changing discovery. If sea monsters step onto land, they transform into humans for as long as they remain dry.
Armed with this new ability, Luca and Alberto head into town to eat gelato, binge pasta, and ride Vespas. These newly minted besties may look human, but they’re far from it, and their odd behaviour draws the attention of the local bully Ercole (Saverio Raimondo). With Ercole and his goons’ unwanted attention on these sea boys, it’s only a matter of time before someone figures out who they really are.
Luca is the most resplendent animated movie I’ve seen in a long time. I’m smitten with the charming animation style and impressed by the small loving details. Pay close attention and subtle design choices reveal plenty about each character and their personality.
Luca, cautious and fearful, has soft and rounded fins. In contrast, the much more reckless Alberto has sharper, pointier fins – all the better for causing hijinks and speeding away. However, it’s the film’s CGI vision of Italy that’s the real star of the show.
DPs David Juan Bianchi and Kim White conjure lavish images of the Italian countryside that put some real-life tourism ads to shame. The film’s dreamy visuals conjure up the sun-kissed cinematography in “that other Luca’s” 2017 film, Call Me By Your Name. High praise, I know, but much deserved.
I fell in love with the music in Luca right from the get-go. I need to hear it a few more times, but this may be my favourite Pixar soundtrack to date. Dan Romer’s gentle score enhances the sumptuous visuals, imbuing scenes with a sweet and tender vibe.
Adding to the nostalgia factor are several late-fifties-era Italian pop songs that are total bops. If you’re watching this movie at home, you’re going to want to have your phone ready to Shazam those vintage Italian tunes.
You can’t discuss a new Pixar film without addressing where it fits into the studio’s beloved filmography. So let me answer the burning question. Is Luca first-tier Pixar, along with WALL-E and Inside Out, or does it fall closer to Cars and The Good Dinosaur?
Even though I enjoyed Luca, it sits in the lower tier of Pixar’s hallowed body of work. Luca is silly, charming, and sweet as pie, and an enjoyable way to spend 95-minutes in front of the TV. It’s not a Pixar classic, but that’s because I’m holding it to a high standard.
Let me be clear: I recommend this movie without hesitation. I appreciate how Luca celebrates the beauty of friendship. The story reminds us how a friend’s love and support can push us outside our comfort zones, helping us grow into the very best version of ourselves.
My biggest knock against Luca isn’t what happens in the film; it’s what doesn’t. So let’s consider the premise.
Luca flees from his family because they want to send him away for “pursuing his curiosity.” He strikes out on his own and befriends another boy who, like Luca, can’t show the world his true self. They live in town on the down-low, afraid of being persecuted because they’re different. Townsfolk openly discuss how they would kill any sea monster they come across, and the boys must grin and bear it. The allegory goes so much deeper, but I can’t talk about it without dropping spoilers.
Luca is marketed as a coming-of-age tale for anyone who ever felt awkward in their own skin. But make no mistake, beat for beat, this is a coming-out story. The parallels speak for themselves. It’s beyond frustrating that the film refuses to come out and say what’s implied. Wishy-washy allyship gestures aren’t doing anything for the L.G.B.T.Q.+ kids being shamed, bullied, and marginalized every day.
If Hollywood considers itself an ally it must churn out family films that tell these children, “We see you, you matter, and we’re glad that you’re here.” Luca steps up to the plate, poised to knock it out of the park on these issues. But in the end, the film does something worse than whiff on the pitch; it doesn’t even take a swing.