22nd Jun2021

‘Luca’ Review (Disney+)

by Jason Brigger

Features the voices of: Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Glazer, Emma Berman, Sandy Martin, Sacha Baron Cohen, Saverio Raimondo | Written by Enrico Casarosa, Jesse Andrews | Directed by Enrico Casarosa

Pixar, after the moving and original film, Soul, is back to a more “traditional” film with their newest movie, Luca, that is now available on Disney+ in the States and in theaters overseas. Luca, like Soul, is included with your monthly fee for Disney+ (who did Pixar make angry at the House of Mouse?) and is a fun and enjoyable family film that harks back to the magic of Pixar’s older films.

The Plot:

Luca’s main plot revolves around the friendship between two teenage sea monsters, that magically turn human once they arrive on land, in a small Italian Rivera town in 1963. Luca Paguro (Jacob Tremblay) is a sea monster living with his over-protective but loving parents, voiced by comedians Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan, and his free-spirited grandmother (Sandy Martin) who encourages Luca to explore more than their underwater farm. Luca, while watching over their family’s “flock” of fish, encounters another teenage sea monster, Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), who is busy scavenging for items that went overboard from boats captained by humans. Alberto, sensing Luca has never been outside the sea, literally drags him to the surface world, thus transforming Luca into a human boy. After being dragged into this new world, Luca and Alberto begin to form a best friend relationship as they bond over their many attempts to build a Vespa scooter from salvaged items on the sea floor.

Once Luca experiences the human world, he realizes there is more to his life than the small underwater town where he has grown up. As Luca spends more and more time with Alberto, Luca’s parents realize their son is travelling to the forbidden human world and they threaten to send Luca to live with his translucent uncle, Urgo (Sacha Baron Cohen), in the depths of the sea. This punishment leads Luca to run off to the human world and start a life as a runaway with his new friend Alberto.

Realizing Luca’s parents will come searching for him, they decide to leave Alberto’s home, a castle tower that his father left him in, and travel to the closest town of Portorosso. While exploring their new town, they meet a plethora of humans, from the free-spirited girl, Guilia (Emma Berman) and her burly sea-monster hunting father, Massimo (Marco Barricelli), to the town bully Ercole (Saverio Raimondo) who is obsessed with maintaining his status as the champion of the local triathlon, the Portorosso Cup.

Luca and Alberto add a third member to their clique as Guilia saves the boys from one of Ercole’s bullying temper tantrums and brings them back to her house to stay for the summer. The trio realize they can all help each other by assisting Guilia in achieving her life-long goal of winning the triathlon, which consists of swimming, eating pasta (yes you heard that right!) and biking the hills of Portorosso and in exchange for helping, the boys will split the winnings and buy a Vespa scooter. 

Along the way, the boys must avoid Luca’s parents as they arrive in town to search for their missing son, Alberto’s jealousy over sharing his best friend with Guilia and training constantly for the triathlon all while trying to stay one step ahead of Ercole and the local townspeople as they search for the mystical sea monsters that have been rumored in the sea around Portorosso. The film explores several themes, including friendship, challenges of growing up, bullying and acceptance and is able to “stick the landing” in the third act and create another Pixar masterpiece.

The Good:

  • Friendship. Pixar has a history of creating beautiful and touching friendships between their creations, whether it’s Woody and Buzz or Lightning McQueen and Mater, and the budding friendship between Luca and Alberto surpasses all of them. The friendship grows organically over the summer and is so natural that at no time did the bond between Luca and Alberto (and eventually Guilia) feels forced or contrived. The bond between the three main characters is emotional, not only for the trio but also for the audience, and by the end of the film, you cannot but help root for all of them to solve their disagreements and come together.
  • Portorosso. The town of Portorosso, which was inspired by the Italian town where Luca’s writer/director’s spent his summers, is a vibrant, energetic and joyous setting for the film and is a good reason why the film works as well as it does. The town feels like an authentic Italian town that two teenagers would spend their summers getting into mischievous, swimming, and just overall, having fun. The townspeople the boys meet are realistic but yet, humorous and add to the depth of the story. Pixar succeeds in not only creating a beautiful backdrop to the story but also makes the town of Portorosso as important of a character to the film as Luca and Alberto.

The Bad:

  • Nothing. The film falls just a notch below Disney’s most recent animated film, Raya and the Last Dragon, as one of my favorite films of the year but it doesn’t miss it by much. Pixar, after struggling with their films the last few years, is back on top with Luca.

The Middling:

  • Ercole. Much like Raya and the Last Dragon, the only weakness in Luca is the villain. Ercole comes across as nothing more than the town bully and while that is fine in most “coming-of-age” films about two boys growing up over a summer, it also feels more could be done to establish the film’s main antagonist. Ercole has two “lackeys” that follow him around and do his bidding but the audience never learns why they are afraid of him or why this small town is okay with this teenager running the town like his own personal playground. While the character of Ercole does not bring down the overall effectiveness of the film, it is one glaring point in a film filled with strong and detailed characters.

Final Grade: A- (Great)

From the animation to the characters to the loving evolution of friendship, Luca is a wonderful and enjoyable film. The film moves briskly by at 95 minutes and the audience feels as if they are on a summer holiday with their best friend. As noted above, the animation is beautiful and fully captures the “European” feel where the film is set. The friendship between Luca and Alberto has many deep layers to it and the overall theme of loving and accepting people for who they are is a tremendous message for people of all ages. Luca is a light-hearted, fun, and endearing family film that will go down as one of Pixar’s best films.

You can catch Jason Brigger on the geek-centric podcast, The History of Bad Ideas, as new episodes are released every week at www.nerdly.co.uk or subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Amazon Music and other podcasting apps. You can listen to their latest episode right here.

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