Cert – U/ Recommended for ages 6+, Run-time – 1 hour 36 minutes, Director – Enrico Casarosa
Best friends Luca (Jacob Tremblay) and Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer) leave the world of the ‘sea monsters’ to take part in an annual race in a small Italian town.
Pixar have undeniably become known for their layered storytelling. Narratives that work in different ways for different audiences. However, with their latest, Luca, they travel not just to the sun-soaked shores of Italy, but to a much simpler plot. For the most part we follow fast friends Luca (Jacob Tremblay) and Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer). Luca’s life is much secluded in the relative depths of the ocean, avoiding humans who brand his glowing green fish form as that of a ‘sea monster’. However, on encountering Alberto he finds that on land he can take the form of a human. Alongside this he discovers the wonder that is the Vespa, and soon the pair set to work on trying to find a way to own one.
It’s as this element comes into play that Luca’s simplistic narrative gets a jump start. Beforehand, as we witness the early developing relationship between the two central characters, scenes feel more like connected short films and ideas rather than that of something building up to a proper narrative. However, when finally on land and discovering the existence of an annual race in a small Italian village, deeply rooted in anti-sea monster culture, with a cash prize that could win them their much desired Vespa. Looking to be more accepted in the area so as not to raise suspicions the two grow close to somewhat outcast Giulia (Emma Berman), who has, until now, competed in the three-man team race on her own. The bond that the three form creates a certain level of charm that brings you into the bright and breezy look and tone of the piece – some character designs seem to be shared with director Enrico Casarosa’s quietly charming 2011 Pixar short La Luna.
Of course, there needs to be someone on the tail of the three, not everything can be easy for them. Luca and Alberto risk being found out as sea creatures at many a turn, particularly when local rich-‘kid’ Ercole (Saverio Raimondo) – one of the only characters in a largely American cast with an outrageous Italian accent, Gino D’Acampo receives a two line cameo – is involved, dedicated to preserving his title to buy even flashier new toys and accessories. Meanwhile, Luca’s parents (Maya Rudolph, Jim Gaffigan) have also appeared on the surface in order to find their son, although they don’t quite know what his human form looks like, t take him to spend the rest of the season in the deep sea with his odd Uncle Ugo (Sacha Baron Cohen – a memorable scene-stealer in his one scene. Cohen apparently improvised so much that there was content that could be put to use later in the film, make sure to stay to the end of the credits!) Through much of this there’s plenty of light cartoon-style humour added in to keep things going throughout the fairly short, nearly 90 minute, run-time.
Luca’s simplicity does mean that it feels as if it could be slightly lost amongst Pixar’s strong catalogue in the future. But, it does appear as something different amongst the often highly-held titles. Something much more restrained and far less deep-thinking than more recent films such as Inside Out and Soul. But, that just makes it all the more enjoyable, and easier to escape into. It shows a new side to Pixar. Avoiding acting as a kind of palate cleanser (as the decision to release this for free on Disney+ might suggest to some, the feeling that an opportunity was missed not releasing this in cinemas is certainly present at times) Luca is a light, charming and enjoyable celebration of summer friendships.
Showing that simplicity is no bad thing, Luca’s more relaxed narrative, once it finally gets going, adds a layer of charm to its entertaining characters and sunny environment that brings about joyous summer friendships.