When it was announced back in March that Luca, the terrific new offering from Pixar, was going to stream exclusively on Disney+ with no upcharge, reports came out that those who worked hard on the project were upset with the decision. Sure, Soul debuted for “free” on the streaming platform last holiday season when the pandemic still had movie theaters closed nationwide but that seemed to be a one-time Christmas present from Bob Iger to the world. Starting with Mulan last fall, three movies have carried the Premier Access tag so far with two coming next month and while I’m sure Pixar creatives don’t want to shake down families for an extra $30 on top of a monthly subscription, making their films “free” inherently devalues their worth by comparison. Ironically, the quality of Pixar’s latest works has dwarfed that of the Premier Access titles thus far.
The story centers around teenaged Luca (Jacob Tremblay), an inquisitive sea monster living underwater below the Italian town of Portorosso with his overprotective mom (Maya Rudolph) and dad (Jim Gaffigan). Growing tired of his simple life herding bug-eyed goatfish, he follows the adventurous Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer) to land one day as they magically transform into human teenagers once they remove themselves from the water. The two become fast friends, gathering “human stuff” like the Magic Singing Lady Machine (their name for a phonograph) while pining for the pinnacle of adolescent freedom: a Vespa scooter. Along the way, Luca and Alberto meet booksmart Giulia (Emma Berman) and her intimidating father Massimo (Marco Barricelli), a fisherman who has tangled with mythical sea monsters during his career.
On the surface, Luca has obvious Disney touchstones from The Little Mermaid to Finding Nemo but I was impressed by how much Studio Ghibli inspiration could be found, especially from works like Spirited Away and Ponyo. Like those two Miyazaki features, this Pixar outing considers the beauty of friendship and the innocence of childhood against the backdrop of cultural and familial constraints. As excellent as last year’s Soul was, it was a philosophically dense meal that was aimed more at adults as opposed to younger audiences. Though Luca is far from an immature or trivial movie, it may be the most “kid-friendly” non-sequel Pixar has made since The Good Dinosaur, though the execution and story in this film is structurally more sound and sophisticated.
As is the common but still necessary refrain for Pixar films, the animation here is not just breathtaking but somehow even life-affirming in its impeccable beauty. Using the idyllic Italian Riviera as a canvas, director Enrico Casarosa and his animation team recall every inch of the coastal towns and the sparkling sea that surrounds them in vivacious detail. Somewhere in between Finding Nemo‘s vibrancy and The Good Dinosaur‘s photorealism, the style here resembles a postcard from a family member or friend discovering a new part of the world for the first time. Ratatouille‘s Remy the rat would also drool at the delectable dishes prepared by Massimo, primarily pesto pasta concoctions so tasty that the trio of teenagers literally eat them by the handful.
The voice cast has quite a few first-time actors and actresses but is anchored by young but established talents like Tremblay and Grazer, the latter of whom does some outstanding voice work here. His voice has dropped an octave or two since his role in 2019’s Shazam! and it’s a perfect fit for a big brother type whose experience and zest for life are infectious and winning. Sacha Baron Cohen also steals an early scene as Uncle Ugo, a cantankerous anglerfish whose presence threatens Luca with his potential banishment to the deep sea if he keeps up his curiosity for “land monsters” and their dwellings. Even though travel is becoming more popular as the threat of COVID-19 subsides, Luca is a summer vacation in which you can partake without even leaving your couch.
Score – 4/5
More new movies coming this weekend:
Coming only to theaters is The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, an action comedy starring Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson continuing the story of a bodyguard and his hitman associate whose wife has recently been kidnapped.
Also playing in theaters exclusively is 12 Mighty Orphans, a sports drama starring Luke Wilson and Martin Sheen telling the true story of a high school football coach leading a scrappy team of underdogs to the state championship during the Great Depression.
Debuting on Netflix is Fatherhood, a family dramedy starring Kevin Hart and Alfre Woodard about a recently widowed father who struggles to raise his daughter after the unexpected death of his wife.
Reprinted by permission of Whatzup