Pixar’s Luca Review: There appears to be a widespread consensus on Pixar as the tear-jerker animation firm, based on online conversations and beyond. Many people identify the Disney subsidiary’s recent initiatives with the tagline “What if had feelings?” Pixar filmmakers, led by chief creative officer Pete Docter, have a talent for bringing effective, emotive storytelling to unusual topics and stories — their whole reputation is built on adult filmmaking in a medium dominated by easily-consumable, “dumbed-down” children’s entertainment.
Luca is a departure for the studio in many respects; rather than tackling big existential concerns (a la Soul, Inside Out) or emotional journeys (a la Up, Onward), director Enrico Casarosa takes fans on a lighthearted, thrilling trip. It’s a refreshing and reassuring reminder of the uplifting impact of movies, like a cold drink of lemonade on a hot summer day. Luca wears its heart on its sleeve, energetically enthusiastic and deliciously joyful; a love letter to childhood summers and friendships.
It doesn’t take long for the titular Luca to fall smitten with the surface world after becoming dissatisfied with his job as a goatfish herder. When Luca meets Alberto, a surface-dwelling sea monster, the two immediately become great friends, which Luca’s parents don’t approve of. Luca and Alberto flee to the adjacent village of Portorosso in search of a life free of surveillance and restrictions. During their stay on the surface, they learn that the human world is full with potential as well as dangers.
Luca is a coming-of-age storey as much as it is a fish-out-of-water storey (literally). Combining these two genres to make a picture about pushing the boundaries and finding one’s own place might easily come across as heavy-handed, yet Luca manages to keep a delightful sense of contemplation throughout. Despite its basic appearance, the film manages to cover a wide range of topics in order to convey its primary theme of overcoming uncertainty and following your heart.
Alberto is a major motivator for Luca’s development, yet he retains his own agency as a character. The two’s relationship may appear one-note at first, but the addition of Portorosso resident Giulia to their dynamic adds fascinating complexities. Giulia, as a human, has her sights set on completely different, though equally enticing goals than the two passing sea monsters. Luca must choose between the human world, the sea monster world, and a globe-trotting fantasy of boundless freedom, all while protecting his identity as an unwanted deep dweller.
Casarosa delves into his own youth on the Italian Riviera, bringing parts of his boyhood to life in stunningly beautiful ways and even adding some that feel uniquely “Pixar.” Portorosso’s painting scenery and beach vista appear both real and stylized, a lovely portrayal of the tiny villages that dot the Ligurian Sea’s Italian coast. Every element of the planet appears to be completely realized above the water; crumbling ruins, worn fishing boats, and rusted Vespas provide a lived-in ambiance that further adds to the scenery’s colorful characters and personalities.
The music, with Dan Romer’s particularly emotive composition, is another hugely effective aspect of selling the film’s location in time and place. Whistling melodies are accompanied by plucky strings, throbbing piano, and pounding percussion, creating a strong feeling of soaring imagination and adventure that naturally coexists with nostalgic needle drops from Italian singers like Mina and Gianni Morandi. The departure from Michael Giacchino and the Newmans’ customary Pixar sounds results in a tone that is distinctively individualistic and warmly inviting, living in a completely different region of musical sorrow than Soul’s electronic etherealism.
Casarosa’s whimsical tastes may be seen in Luca’s most inventive scenes if you’ve seen his earlier Pixar short, La Luna. The film’s numerous wonderful visions of heightened reality, inhabited by two-wheeled guardians of freedom and heavenly light fish, are glorious moments of childish joy that will leave you yearning for more. While they are intended to depict Luca’s inner thoughts, their natural dynamic displays of joyful passion practically require a Disney film set solely within this realm of fantasy.
It’s a shame that the underwater realm of the sea monsters feels so empty in compared to these amazing dream sequences. Every time spent beneath the surface feels like a chore, and even while it serves the plot effectively, it feels like a wasted chance to build a more fascinating, well-developed setting for these characters to inhabit. There are times in the film when we are taught about specific aspects of the underwater environment — such as a haunting fish graveyard – that would have benefited from some pre-story setup.
To make the obvious analogy, The Little Mermaid offers a diverse, definitely not dull image of Atlantica and its neighboring regions before delving into any real depth on the surface, yet we still understand Ariel’s need for more. While Luca keeps faithful to its protagonist’s mundane everyday life as a sea monster, it does so at the expense of a more intriguing and creatively inspired universe that may have served the story just as well.
Thankfully, the village of Portorosso, where most of the film takes place, is conducive to this viewpoint. Once on the surface, Luca is constantly meeting new people, experiencing new cuisines, and learning new things, seamlessly creating an immersive and rich environment that develops with him. The linked nature of Luca’s internal and external problems run throughout the film, coming to a peak in the third act.
The conclusion of Luca almost feels like a deviation from the mainly spontaneous nature that came before it, but emotionally faithful to the rest of the film and a natural continuation of its storyline. Many may find comfort in the familiarity of this more substantial finale, where the stakes are higher, clearer, and repeatedly reinforced, while others may want for a climax more in touch with the grounded, internal struggles from earlier in the story. Even though it feels emotionally relevant within the plot setting, Luca’s commitment to conventional, overused animation and Western storytelling conventions results in a less powerful conclusion.
In as much as Luca wishes to exist “on vibes alone” and luxuriate in a very basic, personal storey, it also structures itself around a concept that invites and demands enormous, dramatic conflict – one that cannot be ignored or left unsolved. The film chooses to fill its third act with scenes that satiate both desires’ appetites, but the screenplay, music, and directing all prefer a much larger, less character-focused finale – one that lacks the flavour of viewpoint subjectivity that the film went to such efforts to maintain.
Because Luca is opening on Disney+, many people will watch it in their robes, but the film demands to be viewed with company, whether friends or family, indoors or out. Watching Luca and Alberto’s adventures on the Italian Riviera may be done anywhere on a big screen, but it seems like a poolside kick-back in the middle of summer would be ideal.
MAXBLIZZ RATING : 92/100
FOLLOW MAXBLIZZ ON TWITTER