THE STORY – Set in a beautiful seaside town on the Italian Riviera, the original animated feature is a coming-of-age story about one young boy experiencing an unforgettable summer filled with gelato, pasta, and endless scooter rides. Luca shares these adventures with his newfound best friend, but all the fun is threatened by a deeply-held secret: he is a sea monster from another world just below the water’s surface.
THE CAST – Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Marco Barricelli, Saverio Raimondo, Maya Rudolph & Jim Gaffigan
THE TEAM – Enrico Casarosa (Director), Jesse Andrews & Mike Jones (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 96 Minutes
By Daniel Howat
Since Pixar’s feature debut with “Toy Story,” the animation studio has developed a recognizable visual style spanning 23 films. This style typically leans more or less toward realism, even when dealing with talking toys and rats who can cook. “Luca,” Pixar’s 24th feature, noticeably diverges from the traditional Pixar look and feel as it takes us to the Italian countryside. It’s a perfect fit for a story full of joy, laughter, and pure friendship.
Luca Paguro (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) is a young sea monster afraid of what might lurk above the surface. His parents reinforce this fear, warning Luca to beware of boats and other land creatures. Naturally, his curiosity gets the best of him after encountering another young sea monster, Alberto (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer). Wildly over-confident and enthusiastic, Alberto brings Luca out of the sea, showing him how sea monsters become humans when dry. This begins their journey to discover life above water.
The visual style of “Luca” is the most striking aspect of the film. Rather than attempting to emulate the reality of an Italian countryside, the movie looks much more like a Studio Ghibli or Aardman film than Pixar. It’s a refreshing change of pace, full of bright, colorful landscapes and cartoonish character designs that are simply delightful. The character design is particularly reminiscent of the stop-motion Aardman films with the rounded faces and big eyes. It even reminded me of Charles Schultz’s Peanuts occasionally, something I never expected out of a Pixar feature.
The Studio Ghibli influence is abundantly clear. Yes, the stunning, lush landscapes and vibrant colors add a Miyazaki-esque flair to the entire project, but the story itself evokes the same sense of wonder and nostalgia of films like “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Kiki’s Delivery Service.” Even the town’s name that the kids explore is Portorosso, an apparent reference to the Studio Ghibli film “Porco Rosso.” Most Pixar directors have expressed their love for Hayao Miyazaki over the years, but director Enrico Casarosa has made the first Pixar film that feels like a direct inspiration from Studio Ghibli.
Inspired by Casarosa’s own childhood, “Luca” is truly a love letter to those formative friendships of our youth. While Pixar has thrived for years with existential stories like “Inside Out,” “Toy Story 3,” and last year’s “Soul,” “Luca” is much more about fun and friendship than more profound questions about existence. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mean that as a knock to the film; there are plenty of layers to “Luca.” Rather, this movie evokes more happiness than introspection. So many of us can relate to the friendships that made us who we are and how our experiences shaped us as kids. This is a coming-of-age film full of nostalgia that reminds us to be ourselves.
Tremblay and Grazer give phenomenal voice performances, but it’s hard to compete with a compelling character like Guilia, voiced by Emma Berman. This spunky, lovable, adventurous, and deeply Italian young woman steals the show throughout the film. While Luca and Alberto are consumed with avoiding being exposed as sea monsters and trying to purchase a Vespa, Guilia keeps the boys in check. Great animation, paired with Berman’s excellent performance, made Guilia a standout character.
“Luca” is pure joy. Fun from beginning to end, this coming-of-age tale will transport you to the Italian Riviera for a lovely adventure with sea monsters. It’s lighter than most Pixar movies, but it’s bursting with energy and life. It’s a shame few will get to experience this in a theater, as it would be a perfect summer escape to the big screen. Regardless of the screen you watch it on though, “Luca” will have you smiling from ear to ear.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – “Luca” is an absolute joy. Full of charm, this is a beautiful coming-of-age tale about friendship and being yourself. The gorgeous visual style accentuates the story every step of the way.
THE BAD – Compared to the depth of some other recent Pixar films, like “Soul,” “Coco,” and “Inside Out,” “Luca” is more about fun and nostalgia than existential meaning.