March 21, 2023


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Pixar’s Luca (Review)

4 min read

PLOT: A young sea monster ventures to the surface and learns about the beauty of the world, friendship, and conquering your fears…and stuffing your face with pasta. 

REVIEW: Over the last two decades and change, Pixar has proven with their slate of animated movies they’re very good at a lot of things and can maintain a consistent quality no matter what target they’re aiming for. They can blow everyone away by using colorful characters to explore complex emotional storytelling (Inside Out, Up) or they can simply deliver top-quality animation and humor for an entertaining, straight-forward adventure (Brave, Monsters University). Their latest, LUCA, falls into the latter category – quite well, in fact – using its low-stakes, richly animated tale to achieve nothing more than delivering a whimsical, heartfelt time at the movies that will make you want to throw down on a Vespa and much on some pasta. 

A literal fish-out-of-water story, Luca centers on the title character (Jacob Tremblay), a young sea monster who spends his days tending to his family’s farm of sheep-fish, and being told by his concerned parents (Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan) to avoid the surface. A nervous, scared little sea creature, he indulges his curiosity and braves the human world (turning into a human form once on land) after another sea monster, Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), convinces him the surface has way cooler stuff than the ocean does – chief among them – the glorious Vespa. 

For much of the movie’s quick and easy runtime, that’s about as deep as Luca gets. It’s Luca and Alberto having a blast along the scenic Italian coast, attempting to make their own Vespa and shoot it downhill, all while Luca hides his antics from his family. The sheer undemanding nature of the storytelling and the vibrancy of the setting – basked in a burst of sunshine that would make anyone long for an Italian vacation – it’s hard not to be swept in the pure entertainment value of their friendship. Tremblay and Grazer have proven themselves more than capable of tackling humor and blending it with relatability and sweetness in past movies, with Tremblay giving Luca nervous energy and excitement, while Grazer is great at handling Alberto’s charming cockiness. 

Even as the story picks up the pace by taking the characters to the actual human town – which is littered with statues and art dedicated to showing off their sea-monster-hunting culture – nothing ever veers into being too complex. The storytelling remains simple and admittedly predictable, as the pair’s dream of winning enough money for a real Vespa is tested when a third child, Giulia (Emma Berman), lets them join her marathon team – only to earn more of Luca’s attention and make Alberto feel left out. A story about friendship and embracing what’s new even if it can seem scary, you can probably connect the dots about what happens even as you’re reading this right now. But that’s okay, because director Enrico Casarosa, writers Jesse Andrews and Mike Jones, and the whole team behind the movie seemed perfectly content making this little story as digestible as possible.

Aiding that is primarily the humor, with a cast including Rudolph, Gaffigan, Sandy Martin, Marco Barricelli, and Saverio Raimondo buoying some trademark Pixar wit and physical comedy. Maybe one or two scenes may make you cackle like I did – like a standout scene from a quick-and-gone Sacha Baron Cohen as Luca’s uncle Ugo, or anything involving a certain mustachioed cat – but the movie remains consistently silly and clever in the ways we can expect from an animation studio that has that voice and style down pat. 

The same goes for the animation itself, with characters and environments not quite having more of the realism and detail to them than, say, last year’s Soul, but still look great in their own right. The Italian countryside is lush and vibrant, bursting with green hills rolling towards crystal clear water. A finale takes place in the rain, and the animation team really proves just how far the medium has come and how talented they are when so much can look so good when the skies are grey, the shadows are dark, and the rain adds stunning textures. 

To end an uncharacteristically short review from me, Luca is a movie that’s immune from any sort of complex analysis. Everything it does, it does well and with no aim to be anything more than a warm, funny all-around sweet diversion that won’t dumb down the children it’s aimed for. But there’s also nothing particularly special about it other than being so perfectly harmless. This kind of story has been done before and the messages heard again and again. However, for 90-100 minutes, parents and children will still share laughs, “Awws” and “Oh nos,” with the former perhaps inspired to look at how much it costs to vacation in Italy, before being demoralized and putting on the Kraft mac and cheese instead. 

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