Movie Review: Luca
Rated PG for rude humor, language, some thematic elements and brief violence.
One name at PIXAR Animation Studios that has stuck in my mind over the years, is Enrico Cassarosa. Hailing from Italy, he has been a story artist at the studio for some time, and even directed their 2012 animated short, La Luna.
Cassarosa also has a distinctive drawing style that borrows from the designs of Japan’s Hayao Miyazaki, in numerous pencil and watercolor works he has done over the years.
Needless to say, when I heard he was going to be directing a film for the studio (in a style that seemed to shake things up from the norm), I was definitely looking forward to seeing what he had come up with.
Close to the seaside community of Portorosso in Italy, liveS a small community of sea monsters. One of them is Luca, a well-behaved kid, who slowly grows enchanted with the world above when he befriends another young monster named Alberto.
Wanting to learn more about the world up above, the two head off on their own to find adventure in the nearby village, where they have to stay dry to appear human…lest the monster-wary villagers figure out what they are.
After watching Luca, a thought went through my mind: “Given how we hold Pixar films to such a high standard, is it okay for a film of theirs to just be…good?”
Luca is a film that does not go as deep as past films such as Ratatouille or Soul. In some respects, it reminded me of a film I rather enjoy that a lot of people despise: Cars 2. That film was one that still tried to be entertaining, while also having some emotional content to it. In fact, One has to wonder if this style of filmmaking may be something we will see from the studio going forward (maybe “good” films can stave off more sequels like Toy Story 5 or The Incredibles 3?).
The simplicity of Luca is quite notable. Aside from being sea monsters, Luca and Alberto are pretty ordinary. Luca is the kid who is curious, but just needs someone to give him a shove, which (first) comes in the form of Alberto. Naturally, since Alberto has adapted to land for some time, it is a given that Luca believes almost everything that comes out of his mouth (like claiming the lights in the night sky are fish).
Another influence on Luca comes in the form of Giulia Marcovaldo (Emma Berman) a chatty redhead who helps her father Massimo (Marco Barricelli) at the local pescaria. She recognizes that the two boys seem “out-of-place” in the village, and does her best to make them feel welcome. She also welcomes their interest in entering the local Portorosso Cup triathlon, when the boys feel it may win them the means to acquire a Vespa scooter to see more of the human world.
Naturally, any group of kids needs someone to rain on their parade, and this is where Ercole Visconti (Saverio Raimondo) comes in.
With Ercole, it feels like a long time since we have had a villain character that was just a bullying jerk in a Pixar film. He doesn’t play as prominent a role, but he’s somewhat like Portorosso’s Gaston, who seems to hold quite a bit of sway over the town, though we are never privy as to how or why (maybe his parents hold a prominent place in Portorosso’s social hierarchy?). He does have a few funny moments, but an attitude that will make many eager to see him get some of what he dishes out.
Even with some storytelling areas that seem familiar, there are places in the film that surprised me by not going for the easy way out.
It does help that there is a simplicity to the storytelling that focuses mainly on the kid characters, but never makes their problems too insurmountable. At times, it feels like the film could have been adapted from a picture book in how the story is woven together. Even with so many people in the village, the film rarely strays from a set number of characters to focus on.
Where the film falters at times, seems to be as a result of some of the supporting cast, such as Luca’s parents. The film tries to mine some humor out of them, but it often feels like they don’t necessarily flow well with the rhythm of the story as it moves along.
There also is a theme of accepting others even if they are weird or strange, but it feels like this message gets somewhat buried in the storytelling. The film even attempts to shoehorn in a revelation around this train of thought, but it just doesn’t feel natural.
One area that is never a place for criticism, is in the crafting of the environments of the film. There’s a rich coloration both below and above the sea. We get dazzling blue hues in the water, and bright sunny yellows throughout the hills and town, that feel warm and inviting.
There are also moments where the film dips into some flights of fancy that the boys have. From leaping Vespas to floating planets, the daydreams are cute little moments, but one could almost see them being put into a short-subject of their own.
Along with channeling Miyazaki-esque stylings, one can’t help but feel like Cassarosa has made something that feels akin to Studio Ghibli films like Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Porco Rosso. Luca definitely won’t crack the top 5 for most peoples favorite Pixar films, but it’s got a charm to it that makes it hard to dismiss.
Final Grade: B