Luca Movie Review: Pixar's latest outing is a heartwarming film on friendship and inclusivity
Luca is a heartwarming take on friendship that subtly preaches the importance of accepting everyone for who they truly are
The end credits of Pixar's latest outing Luca has a line from the makers, in which they thank those "who pulled us out of the water and helped us find our way". In a way, the film too talks about those who have evolved—like the first fish that decided to walk on land; Evolved to today's world which is far from ideal, but also a world that's distancing itself from the past that has marginalised people who just didn't look or think like the majority. When looked at shallowly, Luca is about friendship and a coming-of-age story of two kids, which's sure to win the hearts of those who belong to the same age group. When looked deeper, the film talks about inclusivity, owning one's identity and reiterates how we're all the same past all the labels.
Cast: Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Maya Rudolph
Director: Enrico Casarosa
Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar
Set in and around the beautifully crafted fictional city of Portorosso in the Italian Rivera, Luca follows the trials and tribulations of Luca Paguro (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) a 13-year-old sea monster who lives with his family. The sea monsters are amphibious creatures that have the ability to look human-like when their skin is dry. Keeping in tradition with Disney's other kids like Nemo and Moana who are infamous for not listening to their parent's advice to curb their curiosity, Luca forms a friendship with a fellow sea monster Alberto Scorfano (Jack Dylan Grazer) and ventures out to the drylands for the first time. Far out of his comfort zone, Luca manages to learn the ways of the "land monsters" as he battles the thoughts of being a fish out of the water, both literally and figuratively.
Luca is a film that loves to keep things simple—be it the plot, the characters, the conflict and even the jokes—and it works mostly in its favour, though not as much as it would've wanted to. The world created by director Enrico Casarosa gives a wide range of things for the misfits to do; similar to an open-world game where you can roam around as much as you want and head to particular characters if you actually want a mission. That comes in the form of their new friend Giulia Marcovaldo (Emma Berman) an Italian girl who informs the duo about the Portorosso Cup Race—a laborious triathlon that includes swimming, cycling, and pasta eating. With Luca and Alberto becoming Vespa fanatics and in desperate need of one, they don't need much motivation to win the cup's prize money.
Beneath the plot involving a silly bully and a predictable ending, lies the more interesting aspects of Luca. While Casarosa has gone on record to confirm that the relationship between Luca and Alberto is platonic, that hasn't stopped people from reading between the lines. Parallels are drawn between the lead characters of Luca and another coming-of-age Italian-American film Call Me by Your Name which is a story of two boys in Italy who fall in love with each other. If that's not enough, that film's director is Luca Guadagnino. To top it off, the film has released during LGBTQ+ Pride Month. The fact that the lead characters have to hide their true selves to be accepted as one among the rest of the society does feel naturally like an unfortunate allegory to the plight of a majority of the members of the LGBTQ+ community. Looking at Luca closely, the relationship the duo share is not similar to the ones we've seen between other Disney characters who are known for their friendship - like Buzz Lightyear and Woody in Toy Story or Lightning McQueen and Mater in Cars. But it's also apparent that the makers took the easy way out by leaving it to us to interpret it any way we want. Thankfully for them, the narrative does make sense for any minority community for whom inclusivity is yet a dream that hasn't come true.
Macroscopically, Luca is one of the rare entities that is both a true blue product from Pixar while also being far from being a template Pixar film. Luca is a product that once again pushes the boundaries of animation - be it the fluidity of the sea or the imaginary yet artistically and accurately portrayed Italian city of Portorosso from the 60s. The name itself seems to be a nod to the Japanese animated film Porco Rosso directed by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli-fame. While we're at animation, the sequences showing the physical transformation of Luca and Alberto every time they get dry or drenched are visually stunning.
The reason Luca feels distant from other Pixar films is predominantly because of how comical it is. Instead of relying on over-the-top humour that we've enjoyed over the years in Disney films like Alladin, Zootopia or Frozen, Luca takes a much more realistic and subtle route. The film relies on wordplay for most of its humour which doesn't feel as hilarious as it's meant to be. Apart from some Pixar-ish moments like the guys using snail slime as hair gel or calling a gramophone the 'magic singing lady machine', the adventures of Luca and Alberto are everything but laughter-inducing. Ironically, the film's best laugh-out-loud moments are from characters you wish you got to see more of. Luca's uncle, a bottom feeder who finds regular ocean depths to have "too much oxygen", is a personal favourite. Voiced by the ever-dependable Sacha Baron Cohen, Uncle Ugo is such an amusing character that he even appears in the post-credit sequence. Though completely unrelated to the main narrative, the suspicious cat of Giulia's father Massimo, which is the first to know about the guys' true identity, causes a laughter riot every time it appears.
Luca is a film that leaves you wishing it had spent a little more time showing us some of the other characters as well as the deepsea community. After all, it's one of the shortest Pixar films ever. That said, it's also fascinating how the film prefers to stay grounded without relying too much on the melodrama. It might not be one of the best Pixar films ever, but it's a gentle reminder that Pixar can never make a film that won't be liked. It might also not tug at your heartstrings but it's sure to put a smile on your face and make you wish you were taking a stroll down the Rivera in flip-flops instead of being confined to your homes in the name of a lockdown. On the whole, even if the makers don't agree on how many decipher its characters to be, Luca is still a heartwarming take on friendship that subtly preaches the importance of accepting everyone for who they truly are.