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Disney // PG // June 18, 2021
List Price: Unknown
After earning an Oscar nomination in the Best Short Film, Animated category in 2012 for La Luna, Enrico Casarosa makes his directorial feature debut with Disney and Pixar's Luca. While seemingly a bit less advertised than some of the studio's other big hits, the first thing that caught my eye was the vibrant, Italian setting that came across in such a striking fashion in the trailer. Thanks to Jesse Andrews (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) and Mike Jones' (Soul) heartfelt and sincere screenplay, this coming-of-age tale hits many of the right notes, even though it doesn't quite reach the expectations we've come to expect from Pixar.
Set on the Italian Riviera, Luca (Jacob Tremblay) is a sea creature who herds goatfish during the day and returns home to his loving parents by night. Fearful of fishermen known as "land monsters," he's forbidden to go anywhere near the surface. After meeting fellow sea creature Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), he's introduced to his first experience at the surface. However, after discovering that above water, they take on a human appearance, the two sea monsters seek adventures they never thought were possible.
Acting as a guide, Alberto tries to give Luca the rundown on what life is like at the surface, which is hilariously misinformed. After finding an advertisement for a Vespa, they set their sights on entering the nearby fishing village to get a Vespa of their own to explore the world together on. After meeting local bully Ercole (Saverio Raimondo), they join forces with Giulia (Emma Berman) to challenge him in a local competition. Luca has elements from other animated films like The Little Mermaid and Ponyo, but it very much has its own unique soul. This coming-of-age adventure explores friendship through this triad of loveable characters and a gorgeous setting.
Partially based on Casarosa's boyhood in Genoa, Italy, the nostalgia can be felt throughout the narrative. His admiration comes through in everything from the culture to the gelato and pastas. The bright and colorful animation sets the scene particularly well. Perhaps it's the setting or that Luca vaguely looks like a younger Elio from Call Me by Your Name, but there have been comparisons made online to that drama/romance leading up to the film's release. While some of it's a stretch, there is some LGBTQ+ subtext here that works remarkably well. Its social message could be interpreted in a number of ways, but the film steers clear of romantic relationships. Rather, Luca remains focused on the relationships found in childhood friendships, the relationship that we develop with the places we cherish most, and the relationship that we develop with ourselves. Luca's friendship with Giulia could have very easily been transformed into a young love, but the film remains focused on more platonic love, which feels fitting.
Human or sea monster, each of the lead characters are quirky and loveable in their own ways. However, the folks in the village feel a bit glazed over. Luca and Alberto each have their own emotional struggles to face, although Giulia doesn't have much going on outside of the local competition that the triad are participating in to prove herself to the village. There are a few scenes with her, her father (Marco Barricelli), and his cat that are quite fun, but there could have been a bit more interaction with supporting characters. Luca is a tight film that keeps a narrow focus.
While Luca would have been a gorgeous visual treat to see in a theater, it isn't too surprising to see it being released directly to Disney+, as this is a smaller, more intimate feature . It's simple in concept and likely won't have as loud of a reception that Pixar films typically receive, but that's okay. This is a very solid, entertaining adventure with charming lead characters, a beautiful setting, and a good sense of humor that still deserves to be seen. Luca is a sweet and lighthearted delight that will bring you back to the days of summer vacation and childhood friendship.