film & game reviews, the retro way.
Jack Dylan Grazer
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pixar's 2021 outing Luca was not able to enjoy a wide theatre release so it was made available to watch on streaming network Disney+ instead. The film sees a young "sea monster" make a friend above the surface, much against his parents' wishes, and pursue his dream of traveling the Earth on a Vespa.
The coming-of-age story, a sort of cross between The Little Mermaid and anime series Ranma 1/2, is set in a small Italian fishing town where sea monsters are often briefly seen but not much more than a legend. Young Luca (Jacob Tremblay), who doesn't know much about the world, is pleasantly surprised to find that whenever he exits the sea he grows legs and looks human. With this new knowledge and a growing friendship with fellow rebel sea monster Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), Luca decides to go against his parents' advice and swim to the nearby town of Portorosso where a triathlon competition presents an opportunity to win some money and maybe, just maybe, get that Vespa he and Alberto have been dreaming of. They are introduced to the contest by new human friend Giulia (Emma Berman) who presents a change in dynamic for their friendship as Luca is introduced to books and develops a thirst for knowledge while Alberto starts to feel left out. Eventually, Luca's parents come looking for their son in town.
It's a shame that audiences were not ready for theaters when the film was released as Luca is a gorgeous-looking movie that borrows from Studio Guibli's style to create beautiful locations with color and depth, places that effortlessly evoke one's childhood and will make you miss traveling quite a bit. The film also captures the joy and tragedy that is growing up really well as we see Luca's beginnings into a world that he was sheltered from for much too long. As for Alberto, his slow realization that he might end up alone again is genuinely moving. Unfortunately, the film lacks the sharpness and creativity we've come to expect from Pixar as the sea monster theme is never explored beyond the fact they're initially rejected by the people of Portorosso. It's unclear why Luca's parents are so reluctant to teach their child anything, whether the sea monsters have any kind of society underwater (in which case, how does Luca not know about it?), the hilariously bizarre Uncle Ugo character (voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen) is criminally underused and one can't help but feel that a lot more could have been done to flesh out Luca's story.
While this is a lightweight Pixar film, mostly due to some of its more underwritten elements but also a lack of any real laughs or devastatingly sad moments that it could have easily delivered, Luca remains pretty and heartfelt enough that it warrants a watch. Perhaps catch it on the big screen when it enjoys a re-release some time in the future as it'll no doubt pop on the big screen.