Luca director: Enrico Casarosa
Luca rating: 4.5 stars
Pixar’s Luca tells a coming-of-age fantasy story set in the picture-perfect summer paradise that is Portorosso, a small town along the Italian Riviera. Directed by Enrico Casarosa, a storyboard artist who makes his debut with the film, Luca is not just a looker, it is also a funny, entertaining, and deeply emotional story about friendship and acceptance.
Luca is a sea monster who lives in the depths of the sea with his parents and grandmother. He has always dreamt of exploring the world above the surface, fascinated by motorboats gliding on the water. His mother’s warning about what humans would do if they saw his true form, however, keeps him reluctant.
For most humans in Luca, sea monsters are a myth, limited to children’s storybooks, but some believe they do exist and bring out their pitchforks, metaphorical or literal, at the mere mention of them.
Sea monsters in Luca, when not in contact with water, can disguise themselves as humans, but even a single splash of water is enough to blow their cover.
An apprehensive Luca is dragged to the coast of an abandoned island by his new friend Alberto, a sea monster who has been stealing objects from passing boats. He teaches Luca the fundamentals of human life, like walking, gravity and the almighty Vespa, which he claims can take a person anywhere they wish to go.
Alberto, in a sharp contrast to introverted, hesitant Luca, is fearless, even a little reckless, and is never afraid to try new stuff. The two bond over their curiosity about human objects.
After a few failed attempts to ride on a Vespa made out of scrap, the two friends decide to swim to Portorosso to acquire the real thing. They befriend a girl called Giulia and decide to take part in a race that will win them money, which, in turn, can be used to buy the Vespa they desperately want.
Pixar movies have explored complex themes in a lucid way. Luca is a celebration of childhood friendships, but it also tackles the theme of acceptance of the ‘other’. While the film makes it clear that the bond between Luca and Alberto is platonic, their relationship and the horrified reaction by humans to their true appearance can be interpreted as echoing the experiences of the LGBTQ community. Luca is a film that is open to multiple interpretations — sea monsters can serve as the metaphor for any marginalised group.
Luca is not the best Pixar movie ever made, but it does come close. The themes and even a few plot elements may seem familiar, but the film is good-looking and substantial enough that it hardly matters.
The characters are endearingly written. The friendship at the centre of the film, between Luca, Alberto and Giulia, is loveable, sweet and feels organic. The starry voice-cast, with names like Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Marco Barricelli, Saverio Raimondo, Maya Rudolph, and Jim Gaffigan, does not disappoint either.
But the true star of Luca is the visuals. The imagery in Luca is not skin deep. The almost outrageous attention to detail that is common to each Pixar movie is very much present here, and can be appreciated only during a second viewing. With the stunning landscapes with vivid blue water, the sun-soaked town and its paved streets, the vibrancy that pervades everything, and gently rolling hills in the backdrop, Luca is one of the most beautiful films you will see this year. There is also a painterly, textured look to some of the scenery that is clearly a deliberate artistic decision, and it blends well with rest of the aesthetic.
Luca is a continual delight, a film that will make you feel warm, fuzzy and wanting for more. The film’s length of 96 minutes — considerable for a Pixar feature — feels transitory, because you want this vicarious visit to coastal Italy to go on and on.