Luca: Understated Brilliant Buddy Film

Luca, Alberto and Giulia at the dinner table with plates of pasta in front of them.

Luca is directed by Enrico Casarosa, with the story written by Enrico Casarosa and Simon Stephenson and the screenplay by Jesse Andrews. It follows an unlikely friendship between a sea monster, Luca, and a human on the surface. Luca may, truthfully, be for kids. However, there is a serenity and beauty all ages can embrace. Luca deals with universal topics like so many animated films. Topics such as accepting oneself and understanding that differences do not equal bad. The animation and location, an Italian town, stands out. But what sells Luca is the intertwined story of friendship and conflict between the three underdogs; Luca (Jacob Tremblay), Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), and Giulia (Emma Berman) and a beautiful message.

Heartfelt Friendship

Luca and Alberto’s friendship is the kind developed during summer. The buddy story between Luca and Alberto has youthful mishaps. They assemble their joy, the Vespa, and test it out with hilarious results. If this weren’t an animation, the consequences of their attempts would be dire. They are opposites in their upbringing. Luca feels constrained by his parents, Daniela (Maya Rudolph) and Lorenzo (Jim Gaffigan), while Alberto’s father is hands-off. Luca’s mother is especially strict about the surface and does not want Luca anywhere near it because of “land monsters.”

Luca is shyer but is swept away on an adventure by Alberto’s vortex of excitement. So the two sea monsters decide to explore the surface and a nearby Italian town of Portorosso. When they choose to compete in a triathlon to win money to get a Vespa, they team up with human Giulia. 

Spectacular Acting & Animation

The acting is on point. Every voice fits and relays the emotion and tone each character would have in any given situation. Jacob Tremblay’s voice with Luca always feels on the edge of a nervous meltdown. Jack Dylan Grazer as Alberto, on the other hand, sounds remarkably unfazed regardless of the dangers. Maya Rudolph gives the perfect, no-nonsense mother, and Jim Gaffigan sounds like the caring, albeit in his own world often, father. Emma Berman is wonderful with Giulia and her dad, Massimo (Marco Barricelli), is a man of few words but memorable. 

Alberto and Luca eating ice cream

The artwork and animation style is gorgeous. The town feels natural despite the animation. The cobblestones, the fountain in the small square where children frolic, the details of the grass lightly rustling in the background, and morning dew all look and feel so detailed. The different brightly colored homes and apartments are stunning in their realism. It is the epitome of the quaint little fishing village, complete with tales of sea monsters. The detail for Giulia and Massimo’s distrustful yet regal cat, Machiavelli, is impressive, with a missing piece of ear and a tuft of hair on his chest that won’t lay flat. The attention to detail dazzles the more you look at it.

A Beautiful Message Of Acceptance

There is a physical villain as well as an abstract one. But the abstract one resides in the villain. The villain is prejudice and fear; fear of those who are different and, conversely, fear of accepting oneself when one is different. Many villagers suffer from fear and hate sea monsters, but none more than the physical villain. Ercole (Saverio Raimondo) is a narcissistic bully who drives a Vespa and the nemesis of Luca, Alberto, and Giulia—the self-proclaimed underdogs. 

Because of Ercole’s explicit prejudice and the signs and comments from villages desperate to kill sea monsters, Luca is terrified of both them and who he is. Luca’s fear, combined with Alberto’s jealousy, leads to such a sad moment. The moment is heart-wrenching because of how unproblematic the film has been so far. Save for a few minor problems. Fortunately, this movie is not a tearjerker compared to other Pixar films. However, that shouldn’t be confused with Luca being a lesser film. It is not.  

Worth A Viewing…And Then Some

Luca is more understated than usual Pixar films. Still, the film is utterly charming. Similar to a light, gentle breeze, Luca swirls with a soft embrace of youth and joy. Viewers will feel a spark of light in the recesses of their spirit. It’s more for children, but beauty and an important message has no age limit. The first step to challenging prejudice is to be unabashedly proud of who you are. Luca illustrates this with a poignancy that will reverberate long after the credits roll. And yes, that end credits song slaps. 

Feature image courtesy of Pixar

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