Sometimes all one needs to draw a viewer in is a gimmick or something entirely eye-catching to pull them in. This is especially the case with children’s films. We see it often in kids’ shows and content. In order to impart important lessons, said lessons are painted with a fantasmical brush in order to help the child along. In the case of the latest from Disney and Pixar’s LUCA, this fantasmical brush paints us a tale featuring sea monster to illustrate a coming-of-age story that feels both familiar, yet timeless. While the story itself is fairly standard fare as coming-of-age stories go, there is an innocence and whimsy to it that felt necessary.
Making his feature-length debut, LUCA is directed by Enrico Casarosa from a screenplay written by Jesse Andrews and Mike Jones. The film features voice performances from Jacob Tremblay (Room), Jack Dylan Grazer (Shazam), Emma Berman, Saverio Raimondo (“Porta a Porta”), Maya Rudolph (Bridesmaids), Marco Barricelli (“The Book of Daniel”), Jim Gaffigan (The Pale Tourist), Sandy Martin (Napoleon Dynamite), and Giacomo Gianniotti.
As mentioned above, LUCA follows a standard coming-of-age formula, which focuses primarily on the young Luca Paguro (Jacob Tremblay). Living a life with his family, herding fish in a daily routine, he struggles with the feeling of being stuck. Much like Ariel from The Little Mermaid, he happens upon some items from the surface before accidentally encountering the adventurous Alberto Scorfano (Jack Dylan Grazer). Caught between his curiosity to explore above water, and the principles his mother has warned him of for his entire life, Luca takes the plunge and sees what is outside his comfortable bubble underwater. The thing is, while on the surface, he cannot come into contact with water, or else his sea monster identity will be revealed. However, the young boy monster learns more about himself, the Italian culture, and what more is out there beyond his provincial life.
To put it bluntly, the story of LUCA is simple. As coming-of-age tales go, it is by the book. Wrapped in childhood innocence and self-discovery, the return to simpler storylines and what it’s like to explore things for the first time may hook adult viewers with nostalgia-like feels. However, it’s difficult not to grade the film against other Pixar Animated projects. The Pixar standard has always been relatively high in both its storytelling and animation. Story-wise, the beats are familiar. The audience will probably be able to predict things long before they’ve happened. This is not to say that the film itself isn’t enjoyable. It just may not be what the audience will expect going into the film.
While the story itself may be lacking in surprise for some, the animation and character designs are fun. The textures found on the scales and fins of the sea monsters are eyecatching, at times invoking the look and feel of watercolor. As always, the Pixar Animation team spared nothing on the research done to capture the grounded, Italian Riveria feel of Portorosso. Where the team really seemed to have the most fun, though, was when we got to delve deep into Luca’s mind. There are animated sequences featured in these particular moments that give a dreamlike feel once would typically find in a more Studio Ghibli-type of project. Also, if for whatever reason you do not want to squeeze the living heck out of Luca’s cheeks in sea monster form, I’m not sure what to tell you.
Overall, LUCA has been difficult to really break down for me, personally. There’s a specialness in how the film takes you into the Italian Riveria, underwater, and the simplistic innocence that Luca’s tale perfectly embodies. But, as far as Pixar Animated projects go, the film is just okay. While the sea monsters are what hook you initially, the timeless nature of the coming-of-age tale doesn’t require it. One could literally swap out the sea monsters with any group considered an outsider, and it would still play out the same way. So, as a reviewer, I have gone back and forth on how to sum up my thoughts on this film. LUCA is a coming-of-age tale in the most simplistic way. While the story itself is basic, it is also timeless. And, paired with the animation and the visuals Enrico Casarosa and the team have conjured up onscreen, it may just be enough to make it stand out.
LUCA streams exclusively on Disney+ for all subscribers beginning June 18, 2021.
All images courtesy of Disney and Pixar.
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