Pixar’s latest CGI fantasy is an endearing, but entirely predictable coming-of-age story. Luca tells the tale of two teenage sea monsters, who pose as human boys and discover “la dolce vita” in a scenic seaside Italian village. They gobble down pasta, slurp gelato, and dream of owning a Vespa; which will scoot them around the world in style. Luca is a pastiche celebration of 60s Italian culture, cinema, and music. It’s a sweet and an enjoyable experience for sure, but lacking the dramatic heft of the storied animation studio’s classic films.
Luca Paguro (Jacob Tremblay) is a green-scaled sea monster with gills and a tail. He herds fish on the ocean floor under the watchful eyes of his protective parents, Daniela (Maya Rudolph) and Lorenzo (Jim Gaffigan). Luca’s curious about the strange objects that come down from the water’s surface, but is warned that interacting with humans means certain death. A chance encounter with another sea monster boy, the rebellious Alberto Scorfano (Jack Dylan Grazer), leads to a shocking surprise. When dry, their skin changes, tails vanish, and they can impersonate humans.
Alberto and Luca investigate the nearby village of Portorosso. They are quickly enamored with its idyllic life of sun, food, and celebration. The boys want to escape their boring underwater existence on a Vespa. Which they can attain if they win the village’s famous marathon of swimming, bicycling, and of course, eating pasta. They find an ally in Giulia (Emma Berman) and a cruel adversary in the town’s obnoxious bully, Ercole (Saverio Raimondo). The boys must win the race while trying to hide their secret. The town has offered a significant reward if anyone can catch or kill the fabled sea monsters.
Luca takes the traditional mermaid, or in this case mermen, storyline and gives it an adolescent twist. The moral here is finding your true self while facing unjust discrimination. There’s also a subplot of jealousy and abandonment. Alberto, who you get the feeling really “likes” Luca, gets annoyed when Guilia becomes the center of attention. Both boys have to come to terms with their feelings in a strange new world. Everything plays out exactly as expected, so there’s never a doubt to the story’s outcome. The film is vanilla in this regard. The narrative would have been better served with a few twists.
Luca’s beautiful animation is a ninety-minute advertisement for Vespa and Italian tourism. I wanted to buy a scooter and a tub of gelato after watching the film. Portorosso’s depiction of a simple village life will have audiences of all ages swooning. The producers do a fantastic job of capturing the romantic setting. They had originally wanted legendary composer Ennio Morricone (The Dollars Trilogy, The Untouchables) for the score and soundtrack, but he passed away before filming. Luca serves as a fitting tribute to his work, lazy summer days, growing up, and of course, glorious Italy. Luca is a production of Pixar and Walt Disney Pictures. It will have a June 18th global premiere exclusively on Disney+.
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