Luca, Pixar’s latest animated tale, is a coming-of-age fantasy film that follows the adventures of two young sea monsters trying to pass as humans in a seaside town on the Italian Riviera that’s filled with residents who despise sea monsters. With films such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and Up in Pixar’s library, Luca has quite the legacy to stand up to. Is it just as memorable as Pixar’s classics, or will it become washed-up and forgotten? Let’s dive deep into what director Enrico Casarosa calls “a story of friendship” to find out.
Luca can easily be interpreted as having strong LGBT+ subtext, and not just because the two protagonists are male. There’s some pretty heavy metaphors throughout that hint at themes regarding people having to hide who they really are because of others’ hatred for them and having to come out. This is extremely important to see in film, as LGBT+ is still underrepresented in movies, especially in movies a younger audience will see. I can see this resonating with countless individuals, young and old, who have to hide who they are from the world. This could provide the sense of justification and comfort they need.
This is nothing new for Pixar, but the animation is absolutely stunning. The movements of the sea monsters swimming or humans speeding along on a Vespa are all fast-paced and lively. The colors are vibrant and match the tone of each scene. The water looks completely real in many of the shots. The facial movements are particularly impressive, as they are expressive and lifelike.
The movie has a great sense of humor throughout. Sure, some of the jokes, like “Mona Lisa, why are you smiling?” are misses, but most of the film is pretty funny. Luca and Alberto find themselves in some hilarious scenarios, like when they misunderstand human behaviors or attempt to build a scooter out of junk that keeps falling apart. There are running gags throughout, like shouting “Silencio Bruno!” to silence the voice in their heads when it tells them to hold back, that occur often enough to be funny without ever feeling overused.
Unlike a lot of other children’s media, there is a strong value put on education in Luca. Countless TV series and movies feature kids disgusted by their homework and complaining about teachers. This film, though, shows child characters being excited to learn and go to school. It shows how education is important and how it can even be fun to learn new things. It’s something that’s important for kids to see in a movie. Hopefully it can get them excited to learn, too.
Luca also perfectly captures a sense of childlike wonder. Luca and Alberto look at the world with a sense of amazement as they think about the fish in the sky and experience all that they can in Portorosso, and they are both filled with the spirit of adventure. They clearly feel invincible and ready to explore the world, not dissimilar to films such as The Goonies or The Little Rascals. The filmmakers absolutely understand the feeling of being a kid at heart.
One of the more touching themes in the movie is how Giulia relates to Luca and Alberto. She may not be a sea monster, but she still feels like an outcast like they do. Together, they are truly a lovable band of misfits. They find a sense of belonging in each other, which definitely pulls at the heartstrings. Audience members who have felt similarly will find this aspect of the movie especially relatable. No matter how much of an outcast you may feel like, there’s always someone who will be in the same boat as you.
Not only are there great lessons for younger audiences in the film, like how it’s okay to be yourself, but there are important lessons for their parents as well. The story shows Luca’s parents eventually learn to encourage him to be himself and do what he wants in life. Parents in the real world could benefit from this lesson by learning to be more encouraging of their children as well.
On one hand, there is LGBT+ subtext, which is important. On the other, it’s not as blatant as it should be. There’s plenty of LGBT+ metaphor present, but it lacks the actual representation needed. Disney and Pixar seemed to want to approach the themes but were too afraid to have gay protagonists for once. Representation is extremely important, especially in a film aimed toward youth, but it’s still something they don’t quite touch on. It’s a hugely missed opportunity for Disney. Having two young boys hiding who they truly are from a town who would hate them if they knew, having a whole conversation about being born this way, and having what is basically a coming out scene at the end with two older women then being encouraged to also come out is all pretty obvious metaphor. They should have just had the representation as well.
When Luka and Alberto get wet, their sea monster forms begin to show, so they must try to keep themselves dry throughout the movie. This is a fun rule for the story, but whenever they’re wet, they just dry themselves off with their (also wet) bare hands instead of towels. If you wipe water off your face with your hand, your face will probably still be wet, so their faces should still be sea monster-like.
It’s pretty odd that Giulia, the character who is seen riding a bike throughout the majority of the movie, is pretty willing to not be the bicyclist for their team during the triathlon. It makes sense for Luca and Alberto to not be the swimmers, but why bother showcasing Giulia’s strengths as a bicyclist if it’s not that important?
The movie’s antagonist is fun enough. He cheats at the race, he REALLY wants to murder sea monsters, and he’s overall a huge jerk to those around him. However, he doesn’t really receive much of a comeuppance in the end. He loses the race… and that’s about it. There are no real consequences for attempting to kill the protagonists or cheating in the race (and likely cheating in the past). At the very least he could have been barred from racing again.
There are some minor characters that are vital to certain elements of the film, yet we don’t get to see them a whole lot. Luca’s uncle (played by Sash Baron Cohen) taking Luca to live with him deeper in the ocean is the main reason for the story’s adventure to begin. It’s what the protagonist fears throughout the movie. However, the uncle gets a few minutes of screen time at most, which is a shame given that he’s one of the funniest parts of the movie. There are two older women who we just sort of see walking around town until they reveal themselves to be sea monsters in the end, creating an important moment for the protagonists and the viewers. However, the reveal would feel much more impactful if we actually got to know them throughout the movie.
Luca is overall a fun and enjoyable movie for audiences of all ages. It uses tropes we’ve seen a lot in the past to tell a story that feels relatively new. It’s humorous and emotional, and provides viewers with stunning visuals to relish. There are some moments throughout where the writers missed opportunities, but it overall works.
It doesn’t quite meet the heights of some of Pixar’s greatest classics, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad by any means. It’s certainly creative and the characters are all a joy to experience this adventure with. If you haven’t checked out this modern fairytale, then now is your chance.