" intimate, deeply personal story of growth"

Pixar Comfort Food

(062521) It is no secret that Pixar is known to be one of the best storytelling leaders in animation. Most of their films push boundaries, explore themes that are substantial to both children and adults, and are so unbelievably creative that the release of a new Pixar film often feels like a cultural event. But every once in a while, Pixar puts out a film that goes under the radar. Remember they did a prequel to Monsters Inc.? Remember Onward?

If there is anything that goes against Luca, it is the film’s danger of slipping under the radar, largely because this is one of Pixar’s simplest, most straightforward stories to date. That being said, simple is never a bad thing. Some of the best works of animation are simple, even plot less stories. Luca plays out like a folk tale. The plot can be recited as a bedtime story within fifteen minutes, but as a result, the film is able to create a laid-back, charming atmosphere that seeps into the characters and locations.

On paper and in execution, Luca is first and foremost a coming-of-age movie, centering around the titular character Luca (Jacob Tremblay), a reserved sea monster boy who develops a friendship with Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), a much more adventurous sea monster who has been to the surface, to the human world. As the story casually moves along its familiar Act 1, which features your typical overprotective parent characters (Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan) and a cliché “I want more” motivation, Luca’s eyes are opened to a whole new world, where anything is possible, and he feels free to go anywhere he wants to go.

Here, in the first fifteen minutes of the film, the script does explore some very familiar territory – both Luca and Alberto’s curiosity of the human world largely stems from them collecting trinkets from the human world, in the same vein as Ariel from The Little Mermaid. Meanwhile, Alberto’s hideout bears a strange resemblance to Aladdin’s, both in the animated version and the live-action remake. Certainly, Luca tries its best to stand out during its first act, and it’s just barely held together by this newfound friendship and our curiosity as to how it will be tested later on.

Once Luca and Alberto officially go to land, to the village of Portorosso – a cute nod to Hayao Miyazaki’s Porco Rosso – and we meet the character of Giulia (Emma Berman) and learn about a race held every year in the village, things start to fall in place and build narrative momentum.

Luca is terrific because the stakes aren't earth shattering. Sure, there’s a general plot that helps the story progress. Sure, there’s a bully antagonist character. However, the plot itself is always in the backseat – the film prioritizes spending time with Luca and Alberto and giving them room to grow. Everyone else is there to prop up or test this friendship, from Giulia to her amazing one-armed father to Luca’s parents.

Scattered across the film like small vignettes are visions and dreams that Luca would have, and they feature stunning visuals that add a fantastical element into the real world. It’s a beautiful combination of realism and dreamlike escapism. Director Enrico Casarosa has spoken about the film’s inspirations largely being drawn from Federico Fellini and Miyazaki’s animation, and if you look closely, the homage's are there. Luca is if Casarosa attempted a combination of Fellini’s La Strada with Miyazaki’s Kiki’s Delivery Service.

For once in… perhaps ever… Pixar has made an animated film that favors character over plot and world-building. What starts off as a laid-back, charming adventure in the first half soon becomes an intimate, deeply personal story of growth in the second half. A few character decisions near the end of the second act and in the climax certainly caught me by surprise, tugging my heartstrings in all the right ways. By the time Luca ends, you will feel that rush of nostalgia, like that one trip you made with your friends or family that you fondly look back on.

Led by stellar voice-acting and an endless amount of charm and youthful spirit, Luca is Pixar’s simplest movie to date, but it’s simple done right. It may not have the deepest themes or most substantial or topical messages to explore, but not every movie, let alone an animated movie, needs to bear that responsibility. The humor is light and innocent, the animation and imagery are rich with colors and culture, and the story offers a few emotional surprises that may just catch you off guard.

Sometimes all you need is a small-scale story with proper low stakes and lovable characters. Sometimes comfort food is the best food because it reminds you of your childhood. It reminds you of home. Luca is Pixar comfort food.

Directed by:    Enrico Casarosa
Written by:   Screenplay by: Jesse Andrews & Mike Jones. Based on a story by Enrico Casarosa, Jesse Andrews & Simon Stephenson
Starring the Voices Of:    Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman
Released:    061821
Length:    101 minutes
Rating:    Rated PG for rude humor, language, some thematic elements and brief violence

LUCA © 2021 Walt Disney Pictures
Review © 2021 Alternate Reality, Inc.

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