Luca (2021)

“Some people, they’ll never accept him. But some will and he seems to find the good ones.”

Finally, after all these years of waiting, protests and petitions, a film by Disney Pixar that depicts a forbidden group of individuals in Luca that hasn’t been done before on the big screen. Sea monsters – always having their voices silenced whenever they get brought up in conversations – they fare more on the taboo side. If you thought I was going to say Italians, good guess, but really the main draw to Luca is the sea creatures that magically change their DNA when transitioning from water to land, sea creature to human boy.

Disney Pixar rarely misses with their heartwarming stories that could make someone cry in one scene and smile in the next. Luca does that to an extent never fully exploring its deeper roots the way Inside Out or Coco does. Still, Luca is sweet when it needs to be (which is the entire time) and brave in the moments of adversity and funny enough to appeal to all the age groups but more geared toward kids. A deeper meaning behind the folklore is sorely missed that normally Pixar explores in their films. Luca just doesn’t have that extra emotional weight attached to it but it’s not a bad thing, it can be ignored in the grand scheme of things. 

Taught to fear the surface dwellers by his parents Daniela (voiced by Maya Rudolph) and Lorenzo (voiced by Jim Gaffigan) Luca (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) aspires of visiting the surface world above the sea where he lives as a goat fish farmer. Getting Luca to the surface is Alberto (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer) where the two explore the Italian coast and dream of Vespa’s and traveling the earth together (I imagine this is every Italian boy’s fantasy growing up in Italy). When Luca’s parents threaten him by staying with his uncle Ugo (voiced by Sasha Baron Cohen) Luca and Alberto escape to the small coastal town of Portorosso where they meet Giulia (voiced by Emma Berman) and her father Massimo (voiced by Marco Barricelli) a fisherman and sea monster hunter. 

For a film that has sea monsters as the main characters, the mythology is there – it’s just underdeveloped, serving as more of a background to the coming-of-age story Luca and Alberto go through in their time as humans. The real thematic elements that are given more attention involve self-identity while being comfortable in your own skin (or gills). 

At that age who doesn’t have an identity crisis let alone trying to fit in when you’re literally an outsider from a different world. Luca and Alberto’s discovery of just about anything involving Italian culture is enough to bring a huge smile as they try fresh pasta and gelato. Not going to lie, I was a little jealous Luca and Alberto experienced real authentic Italian gelato for the first time (made me miss my trip to Rome and Venice a few years back where I got to have that sense of flavor hit my tongue for the first time). But forget the food, the dessert, the culture, and the scenery, what Luca and Alberto really want is a Vespa. And they will stop at nothing to achieve that goal no matter the obstacles that get in their way.

Luca is a true underdog story. What he lacks in confidence he makes up for in bravery. Namely because of the catchphrase Alberto teaches him. Silencio Bruno! Shouted repeatedly as Luca gets comfortable in his human skin – learning to ride a bike, avoiding a very angry cat, and even making a friend in Giulia. Tremblay, Grazer, and Berman all play their roles with a sense of exploration and excitement to them, establishing a lasting bond that will bend but never break. Giulia as a character is used for the purpose of inclusion for Luca and Alberto – never judging them and accepting the two sea monsters for who they are not what they look like. It’s a lesson everyone is taught in life. That also doesn’t mean Giulia is a throwaway character – she’s clumsy but full of spirit.

As an Italian American I can confirm that accuracy of Daniela in wanting to protect Luca from every danger imaginable even if that means sending him further away with an uncle that he never knew existed. Daniela isn’t doing it because of spite or to take away Luca’s happiness, she believes the humans won’t accept Luca because of who he is, but she is still willing to let him live a different life after seeing how happy he truly was as a different person. We are all different from one another but it’s how we see ourselves that matters. Luca’s confidence only grows throughout the film which is the exact message director Enrico Casarosa conveys.

Luca is visually stunning – capturing the warmth of a small Italian village with small details imposed in every frame. Not as deep and existential as Soul or Inside OutLuca is still worth a watch for its charm, friendship, and message of acceptance. Led by a talented voice cast Luca will be sure to leave a smile on your face as first-time director Enrico Casarosa sets up a lot if a potential sequel gets made. Maybe then more backstory will fit into the narrative.

Written By: Jesse Andrews & Mike Jones

Directed By: Enrico Casarosa

Music By: Dan Romer

Cinematography: David Juan Bianchi & Kim White

Starring: Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Saverio Raimondo, Maya Rudolph, Marco Barricelli & Jim Gaffigan

Where to Watch: Disney Plus

Release Date: June 18, 2021

Running Time: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%

My Score: 4 out of 5

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