Directed By Enrico Casarosa
Starring – Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Maya Rudolph
The Plot – A young boy named Luca (Tremblay) experiences an unforgettable seaside summer on the Italian Riviera filled with gelato, pasta and endless scooter rides. Luca shares these adventures with his newfound best friend (Grazer), but all the fun is threatened by a deeply-held secret: he is a sea monster from another world just below the ocean’s surface.
Rated PG for rude humor, adult language, some thematic elements and brief violence
– Spirited animation. Pixar has done it again, this time capturing the Italian culture and unique attention to gorgeous landscape detail that only they can capably perfect. What’s satisfying is that the style itself isn’t synonymous with anything else Pixar has recently furnished, instead bottling an Aardvark style captivity that caters more to the claymation rendering inside of three-dimensional property, all the while displaying astonishing detail in the little things, like shadows and the influence of bodily scales that impeccably flourish in the influences of their environment. On top of this, the vibrancy of the color design captures an equal parts authenticity and imagination for the imagery that not only brings aesthetic atmosphere to the familiarity of the particular tastes of the Italian countryside, but also captures a bulbously registering design for character traits and reactions that repeatedly tap into the heart of the audience, conveying an internal connection brought out externally by a studio bridging the gap daily between live action and animated properties.
– Cultural warmth. We’re in an age where many films are finding originality in the attention given to particular geographic depths, and “Luca” is certainly no different in this regard, tapping into the Italian cultures that are virtually unforgettable in every single shot. Everything from the dancing, to the consistency of accents (Minus one character), to the resonating musical score from composer Dan Romer, to even the mouth-watering emphasis on Italian cuisine, receives attention in the progression of the narrative, allowing it to churn out a unique voice that is both socially respectable and immersively pleasing to the investment to the film. As a citizen of this wondrous place himself, Casarosa enriches us in the imagery and commentaries of this warm-hearted and elegant community, tapping deep beneath the surface level of particularities in attaining a character of its own that makes it easy for the audience to interpret just what about it is engaging in a beautiful and spiritual level.
– Humor consistency. While not the kind of material that had me laughing on the edge of my seat, “Luca” still carries with it an array of punchlines and visual humor that capture the essence of childlike embodiment. What’s exceptional is that there’s no toilet humor or bodily sounds to play towards the low-hanging fruit of a majority of kids movies, instead articulating a series of situations and awkward entanglements funny enough on their own to attain effectiveness in the registries of the audience interpreting them. In fact, it feels like Pixar has attained a comfort zone in the material they churn out, balancing a level between child and adult that are equally engaging despite the entirety of its lead cast catering to the former. It brought forth several instances of audible delight that kept me invested in the complex personalities of its characters, and solidifies satisfaction with its rating that never limits the layers of capabilities in its material.
– Building blocks. The structure that withstands the pressures of this movie’s less than stellar storytelling arc’s are the talented and youthful leads that stitch together enough innocence and ambition to properly channel the mentality of a child. Tremblay is someone I’ve been a fan of since his star-making turn in 2015’s “Room”, and as the movie’s titular character sprinkles in layers of adventurous spirit and playful ignorance that colorfully plays to the fish out of water story that this film quite literally markets itself as. This is carried up by Grazer’s confidence and coming of age embodiment that consistently juggles the difficulties and confusion of sea monster to human in the same vein as his struggle between ignorant child and ambitious adventurer. Their chemistry together captures an ‘Us against the world’ mentality that very few animated movies creatively attain, all the while illustrating a romance for friendship that I simply couldn’t get enough of. Close the deal with a scene stealing turn from Saverio Raimondo as Pixar’s best villain of the previous decade, as well as a trio of nourishing leads from comic heavyweights Maya Rudolph, Jim Gaffigan, and Marco Barricelli, and you have a well rounded cast whose characters are every bit as colorful as the canvas they consistently tread across.
– Hearty center. Even though this movie is miss-marketed as Pixar’s first LGBTQ delve, a statement that is loosely based at best, there’s an invigorating lesson here that feels more culturally relevant in 2021 than it ever has. While its story is cloaked in simplistic embodiment where the material never digs deep enough to match the depths that its underwater characters travel, the lesson of being yourself and accepting everyone for who they are internally is a credo that I will never tire from, especially in a film where the metaphor of sea monsters can easily be compared to anything pertaining to racial, sexual, or gender discrimination. It attains this lesson by reflecting ignorance in the environment that spews it, proving that while we still have so long to travel in terms of equality for all, the differences that we pride ourselves on are so minimal and inconsequential when compared to the meaning that these shamed peers provide in the eye of the beholder.
– Book end blunders. I’m not embellishing when I say that the first twenty to twenty-five minutes of this film were very rough for me. This is mostly from some questionable logic and strained storytelling that doesn’t get us off to the most appealing of engagements with this cast, and made all the worse by stilted pacing that disallowed me the accessibility to tie myself immediately to this narrative. In fact, it’s the rushed emphasis of this opening act that undercuts the believability and transitions between several pivotal scenes in the initial unraveling, hurling us through character introductions and important interpretations that come across lacking any kind of emphasis in the direction to make them feel monumental. This is followed up by the final ten minutes of the film, which are resolved and concluded so forcefully that it once again feels like the hands of whoever was responsible for the aforementioned first act. The environmental conflict itself is wrapped up in a way that isn’t even remotely believable in the speed its message is attained, garnering a squeaky clean feeling that is a bit too easy, even for a kids movie.
– Strained logic. When understanding the rules of the various plot devices and establishing characterization, I couldn’t escape the internal voice of doubt screaming out consistently through its progression. The first is the most obvious, in that when a sea monster dries off, they become human, and when they get wet, they return to being a sea monster. This is obviously used as a device consistently throughout, in the form of ponds, pools, and even rain that makes an unfortunate appearance, but the movie never addresses sweat, especially since Luca and Alberto are exerting extreme physicality in a marathon that they train for within the movie’s conflict. Does that liquid not matter as much as others? How can clothes that they’re wearing dry so quickly with a towel? Does moisture and humidity in the air matter as much? Who cares, because it’s a cute movie that no one is supposed to think about, right? Speaking of thinking, why does Giulia, an Italian born citizen, the only human character without an Italian accent? All of these questions are asked, and then never answered, a true sign of a half baked series of ideas that the film never satisfyingly explores or capitalizes on, for the sake of compelling drama.
– Simplistic saturation. For my money, the biggest drawback that keeps this film from being one of the greats in the Pixar library is the simplistic story that refuses to separate itself from the best of the genre, especially of the animated variety. There’s a general outline here that is far too familiar (Cough cough “The Little Mermaid”) and therefore predictable in the limited exploration that keeps its story grounded, thus providing a barrage of tropes and outdated cliches that provides an obvious and detectable safety net that keeps the spirit of its adventure from getting wet, but only figuratively. It keeps the film from ever fully committing to the compelling side of its dramatic layers in the neighboring subplots, proving an encapsulation that unfortunately saddles this film with an all style, no substance rendering that makes me wonder what could’ve been, especially in the context of the hints of LGBTQ awareness that it only approaches on a mental level, instead of a physical one.
My Grade: 7/10 or B-