Lately there are many who argue that the “golden age” of Pixar movies ended several years ago, though a pretty strong case could be made for some recent entries like Coco and Inside Out being every bit as good as classics like Up and Wall-E. While their 24th film, Luca, is certainly entertaining, it is unlikely to join the ranks of those other films.
Title character Luca (Jacob Tremblay) is a young sea monster living in the waters of the Italian Riviera. He spends his days tending to his family’s flock of fish (when you see the movie you’ll understand why that word makes more sense than “school”), when one day he stumbles upon some items that have floated down from the surface. Following the trail he meets Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), another sea monster who has been living on the surface. Alberto pulls Luca out of the water and reveals that they take on a human form whenever they are on dry land. While initially fearful of this due to his parents’ dire warnings about life above sea level, he keeps coming back to meet with Alberto and the two become fast friends. Luca’s parents (Jim Gaffigan and Maya Rudolph) discover his secret however, and plan to send him to live in the deep ocean with his uncle Ugo (Sacha Baron Cohen). Understandably upset about this development, he runs away and heads with Alberto to the nearby town of Portorosso, which has a longstanding hatred of sea monsters, where they befriend human girl Giulia (Emma Berman) and wind up entering into the annual triathlon (swimming, biking, and eating pasta), in order to win enough money for a Vespa, which they believe will allow them to see the world.
The animation is gorgeous as always, with some images of the ocean surface and the shore looking especially striking and even photorealistic. But the story involving the race is probably one of Pixar’s weakest, and the “villain” of the film, Ercole Visconti (Saverio Raimondo), is incredibly underdeveloped and serves as more of a nuisance than anything else. It’s pretty clear though, that what the filmmakers really care about is the blossoming friendship between Luca and Alberto, and Luca’s long-stifled ambitions towards learning all he can about the world and the universe. While some elements of the plot seem rushed, the friendship between the two boys feels very natural, and will likely remind older viewers of meeting their first best friend, and possibly even their first crush. It also smartly uses the predicament of the sea monsters trying to hide their true selves on dry land, where any splash of water can cause their secret to be revealed, as a way to explore being an “other” among people who are pre-inclined to hate you, a feeling which will also ring very close to home for many in the audience. The general message of the value of friendship, and acceptance of both others and yourself may be a little trite, but it’s handled in such an endearingly sweet way, it’s hard not to get wrapped in it. In the scheme of things this is definitely one of Pixar’s “lesser” films, but that still puts it well above most other animated fare out there. ★★★★
Rated PG for rude humor, language, some thematic elements, and brief violence.
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor