Perhaps the biggest compliment that can be paid to Luca — Pixar’s latest offering — is that the animated film set in ‘50s Italy, leaves you with an insatiable yearning to travel instantly. To be transported to this delectable seaside town on the Riviera, (fictional though it might be) and immerse yourselves in plates of heavenly pasta, next to the glorious twin palettes of yellow sunshine and blue waters… is a befitting vision to banish pandemic memories. If only there was a Portkey or Midnight in Paris -style car around.
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Yet, watch from home we must, and the studio’s first direct-to-streaming release is such a beautiful visual tribute to Italian culture and its folklore, that you can’t help wishing for the film to have had a big-screen release.
It all begins with Luca Paguro (Jacob Tremblay), a little boy who harbours dreams of exploring the world above his ocean home. That’s because he and his parents are sea monsters (as adorable as they come) to the humans who live over the surface, and both realms believe they are terribly dangerous to each other. Naturally, curiosity gets the better of him, and with the help of a new best friend Alberto Scorfano (Jack Dylan Grazer), Luca discovers to his astonishment that once he steps onto dry land, all his ‘monster’ camouflage disappears to leave him looking assuredly human.
- Director: Enrico Casarosa
- Voice cast: Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Maya Rudolph
- Duration: 96 minutes
- Storyline: A little boy and his best friend, both who are sea monsters, turn into humans on the Italian Riviera during an unforgettable summer
From there on, it’s a merry charade of adorable supporting characters who populate Luca’s world, as he chases his dreams of co-existing with humans, riding a Vespa scooter, trying different types of pasta, and even going to school! Coming-of-age lessons are dispensed in naturally charming fashion, as friendships and familial bonds find closure, in trademark Pixar style.
Director Enrico Casarosa and his team of magicians do a magnificent job of bringing small-town Portorosso to life, giving it a warm, lived-in feel, and the immense amount of research that went into recreating the ethos of the era is well-justified. The underwater portions too, while fondly reminiscent of Finding Nemo , are most enjoyable, as the friendly sea monsters have been created with painstaking attention to detail; watch out particularly for a cameo from Luca’s “see-through uncle”.
When the first trailers hit, there was also talk that this could be Pixar and Disney's first real queer animation project (the Pride Month release added to the speculation), but Casarosa shot down the rumours, calling it a film only about friendship , and that sexuality was not part of the equation. However, while watching Luca and Alberto on screen, it does make us wish for the makers to have pushed the allegory further, in what would have been a massive win for the LGBTQIA+ community.
But as stunning though it might be technically, Luca stops short of going that extra mile like many other Pixar classics ( Up, Inside Out or even Coco ); you know, that tug-at-your-heartstrings and make you sob uncontrollably while grinning like an idiot-feeling? Maybe it’s because any follow-up to the surreal highs of Pixar’s last release was always going to pale in comparison? But that special something — a sucker-punch wallop of heart and well, soul — which most fans have come to associate with projects from the animation giant, over decades, is found wanting.
Otherwise, it is still a perfectly-watchable children’s film, executed with finesse and top-notch voice acting. It also marks, after Soul , Pixar’s determination to diversify their stories and perspectives, with tales from different cultures. My favourite takeaways include Luca’s mom (the ever-dependable Maya Rudolph) who is an absolute hoot, a brilliant pantomime bully (Saverio Raimondo), and a hilarious new cat to rival Mr. Mittens.
Casarosa’s influence from greats such as Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki is also evident throughout, not just in design and animation, but also in spirit, as the underlying message of the film shines through; ultimately, Luca is all about accepting differences. And in these times, you could do a lot worse than relish this dreamy little Italian delight.
Luca streams on Disney+ Hotstar Premium from June 18