When you are really good at what you do, the expectations keep growing. That has become a blessing and a curse for Pixar. The bar gets set so high that a crowning achievement for any other animation studio becomes “just ok” when viewed through the Pixar lens. Enter Luca, a perfectly charming film that doesn’t have the emotional gut-punch of classic Pixar fare. That means, of course, the “it didn’t live up to my expectations” critiques are incoming. At least from the more cynical viewers among us.
Luca (Jacob Tremblay) is a young sea monster, living below the Mediterranean Sea’s surface, along with his over-protective mother (Maya Rudolph) and easily distracted father (Jim Gaffigan). A chance underwater encounter with Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer) introduces Luca to the fact that sea monsters take human form on dry land.
Luca and Alberto explore the nearby fishing village of Portorosso and become fast friends with Giulia (Emma Berman), a human girl with dreams of winning the Portorosso Cup. They join forces to create a hopefully winning team for the event, which in true Italian style involves biking, swimming, and pasta-eating.
Luca takes on familiar Disney themes like rebellious children, over-protective parents, and having to hide your true nature. If you think that makes it sound a bit like a The Little Mermaid/Frozen mashup, you are definitely on to something. Luca avoids covering any new ground, but it manages to be so charming you hardly notice.
At the core, Luca serves as a love letter to both Italy and childhood friendships. The story feels deeply personal, with clear inspiration from Director Enrico Casarosa’s own childhood growing up in Genoa, Italy. The film’s vintage color palette featured within the cutting-edge animation technology you can always expect from Pixar, meld seamlessly into the pleasantly warm and familiar story.
From the earliest teaser trailer, Luca was often seen as an allegory for the coming out stories of LGBTQ+ youth. Casarosa made it clear that those interpretations were welcome but unintentional. That, perhaps, best of all demonstrates the weaknesses of the film. The voice cast was fabulous, the visuals were stunning, but at its heart, the story did not provide the deeper meaning that viewers have come to expect from Pixar.
Despite the slightness of the film, Luca remains a delightfully charming movie that the whole family can enjoy. Silenzio to anyone who tells you differently.
Luca streams on Disney+ beginning on June 18, 2021.
Rating: PG (Some Thematic Elements|Brief Violence|Rude Humor|Language)
Runtime: 1h 40m
Set in a beautiful seaside town on the Italian Riviera, Disney and Pixar’s original feature film “Luca” is a coming-of-age story about one young boy experiencing an unforgettable summer filled with gelato, pasta and endless scooter rides. Luca shares these adventures with his newfound best friend, but all the fun is threatened by a deeply-held secret: they are sea monsters from another world just below the water’s surface. Directed by Academy Award® nominee Enrico Casarosa (“La Luna”) and produced by Andrea Warren (“Lava,” “Cars 3”), “Luca” releases June 18 on Disney+.