Reel Reviews | Luca

By Charles Kirkland Jr.

A curious young sea monster makes a friend and decides to find out what the surface world has to offer in the Disney/Pixar animated feature, Luca.

Luca is like any typical young boy.  He listens to his parents.  He herds the family’s animals.  He stays away from strangers that is until he meets Alberto who takes him out of the sea and into the surface world where they magically transform into human boys.  Did I forget to mention that Luca is a sea monster?  Well, they are and the surface world they decide to explore is the Italian city of Portorossa where Alberto and Luca have their hearts set on getting a Vespa to travel the world.  Portorossa is known for two things: one, their famous Portorossa Cup race, and two, the residents hate sea monsters and have a reward for capturing one.  Undaunted, Luca and Alberto meet Giulia and form a team to try to win the triathlon race.

Luca is an animated feature from Disney’s Pixar studios and features the voice talents of Jacob Tremblay as Luca, Jack Dylan Graser as Alberto, and Emma Berman as Giulia along with Sacha Baron Cohen, Maya Rudolph, Jim Gaffigan, and Giacomo Gianniotti.  With an original screenplay written by Jesse Andrews (Me, Earl and the Dying Girl) and Mike Jones (Soul), Luca is directed by Enrico Casarosa.  This is his feature film directorial debut. 

Born in Genoa, Italy, Luca is best described as Casarosa’s love letter to the Amalfi coast of Italy.  He captures not only the scenic landscape of every small town in southern coastal Italy but the laidback, devil-may-care attitude of life in them.  Towns where laundry is hung on a wire and children play soccer in the town square by the fountain.  The movie is beautiful to watch and celebrates the Italian culture there perfectly.  Pixar has a history of providing rich and lavish setting depth in their animation and this movie lives up to that standard.

Where this movie strays from the standard is in the screenplay.  Usually, a Pixar movie exists on layers in their storytelling but Luca, much like the journey of its protagonists, lives solely on the surface.  There are no subtle lessons to learned or shared here.  This simply is a children’s story.  Sure, there are extrapolations that could be made between the plight of sea monsters and racism but, for better or worse, the movie neither implicitly nor explicitly addresses them.

What Luca does is deliver a story that is predictable, familiar, and unfresh.  There is a scene in the movie where the audience half expects Luca to burst into singing “A Whole New World” from The Little Mermaid.  (Jacob Tremblay is playing Flounder in the upcoming “live-action” remake of the 1989 classic.)   Despite some of the overt repeating plot points to the classic, the story is actually slightly entertaining for those who can forget (or don’t know) the “original.”  After all, it has been more than thirty years that have passed, so who would know?

Rated PG for rude humor, language, some thematic elements, and brief violence, Luca is a film that is for children only.  Knowing its audience, the film neither strives for originality nor creativity in its story but does deliver intense and undeniable cuteness that children will love.  Adults can just watch the screen and long for a trip to the Italian coast.  Maybe the happiness of the children is enough. 

Luca can be seen on Disney+. 

Grade:  B-