If you watch Luca, the latest film from Pixar Animation Studios, the odds are you’re going to like Luca. There’s not much not to dislike; it’s bold and beautiful to look at, the characters are entertaining and complex, and the story is dramatic and emotional with just the right amount of action. On top of all that, the music and setting give the entire movie a distinct, palatable feel. All in all, Luca is very good. It’s just missing a certain cohesiveness that would’ve made it great.
Directed by Enrico Casarosa (with a story by Casarosa, Jesse Andrews, and Simon Stephenson), Luca is set decades ago in the fictional town of Portorosso, a small, seaside village in 1950s/1960s Italy. On land, the people live as Italian people lived at the time; however, something is also living in under the water outside the village: colourful, intelligent sea creatures. The titular Luca (Jacob Tremblay) is a young boy who seems pretty normal besides the fact he’s a neon fish person. He soon meets another creature named Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer) who shows Luca that beings like him can transform into humans when they’re dry. And so the new friends begin to explore this, eventually leading them into the heart of the village where they meet Giulia (Emma Berman), a feisty, determined young girl who has been trying to win a local race for years. This time though, with the help of Luca and Alberto, she might… as long as Luca and Albert don’t get wet and reveal they aren’t your typical boys.
Most of the joy in Luca comes from Luca and Alberto discovering things — simple concepts like walking and gravity, the taste of gelato, and especially the cool factor of driving a Vespa. Thanks to Luca and Alberto being so pure, innocent, and relatable, these simple things most people take for granted are recontextualized with a newfound appreciation. When you add Giulia into the mix, who is so brave, funny, and full of life, they form a trio of characters you simply want to spend time with, watching them exploring this world. Which you do.
The main plot revolves around the three kids trying to win this race so Luca and Alberto can buy a Vespa, all while Luca’s parents (voiced by Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan) search for him. It’s very basic and really bolstered by Luca and Alberto learning more, and the humour and drama that comes from hoping they don’t get discovered. That constant fear gives the film new life because it’s played for both big laughs and genuine tension. There’s always this chance everything could go very wrong, very quickly. Meanwhile, the brightly colourful look of the film, the incredible attention to detail in the frame, and a catchy, melodic score by Dan Romer all add to the magic as well.
The thing is, while Luca is undeniably pretty to look at and comfortably whimsical, it never settles on exactly what it wants to say. All throughout there are themes of acceptance, that it’s ok to be different, conquering fear, the pleasures in life, and about a dozen other things, all of which swirl around in your head, but none really stick. The film is about too much and that lack of thematic consistency really hurts it. You certainly connect with the characters and story, but it never makes a cohesive, powerful point. As a result, it’s simply not as memorable as the film probably could have been.
This is where the fact that Luca is coming directly to Disney+, and not theatres, might be a good thing. There’s no doubt the film is sumptuous, maybe to a fault, but since you don’t have to go out to a theatre and pay for it, odds are people might watch it more than once. Since it’s so dense and layered, my guess is it’ll only improve, solidify and blossom with multiple viewings. Maybe the film is like Luca himself, one thing on the surface and a completely different thing underneath — a mirror on its viewer to pick and choose which of its many wonders to celebrate. I can’t say that happened to me on my viewing of Luca, but I did see the potential for it and I do want to watch it again.
Luca comes to Disney+, as part of the regular subscription, on June 18.