Pixar movies have become a fan favorite staple of the annual film release schedule. Ever since Toy Story attracted audiences in November 1995 (thanks to the revolutionary CG animation of its time), the studio has released at least one feature film annually except for six of the last 26 years.
Such a change could have resulted in a drop in quality – but not with Pixar. The Disney subsidiary has continually churned out critically acclaimed films, including Oscar-winning films like Finding Nemo and Inside Out, which have thrilled theaters for nearly three decades.
However, Luca has more to do than just live up to the expectations of the fans. Pixar’s latest animated feature is the first to be produced remotely (due to the Covid-19 pandemic) and, as a result, some movie fans may worry that Luca will not be able to rise to the heights of its predecessors.
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Thankfully, any possible fears are unfounded. Luca is a delightful, friendship-oriented adventure filled with the signature charm, humor, emotional gut punch and innovative animation styles that viewers have come to expect from a Pixar flick.
sun, sand and sea monsters
Set on the Italian Riviera in the 1950s, Luca tells the story of Luca Paguro (Jacob Tremblay), a shy and lonely teenager who dreams of living an adventure.
That is, until he meets the self-confident and free-spirited Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer). The two soon become inseparable and embark on an impulsive journey to the fictional seaside town of Portoroso in search of the ultimate summer experience.
Luca and Alberto, however, hide a dark secret – they are sea monsters (albeit one who can transform into humans on land), who have been hunted for generations by the residents of Portoroso.
Forced to maintain their secret identities from townspeople including Giulia Marcovaldo (Emma Berman), her fisherman father Massimo (Marco Barrichelli) and local bully Ercole Visconti (Saverio Raimonde), it is not long before Luca and Alberto find themselves in their depths. Really get out. and figuratively.
From the outset, what becomes immediately clear about Luca’s plot is that it’s more lighthearted than most recent Pixar productions. That doesn’t mean that the studio’s latest film is still packed with plenty of heart-warming moments; It’s just that they aren’t as heavy or pronounced here.
Luca, then, isn’t as mature or dark as Soul or Coco, who discovered life, death, and existence—but it doesn’t need to be. With its focus on its summer setting, escapist tendencies, and budding friendship of Luca and Alberto, Luca serves as a nostalgic window to look back at our own childhoods. It captures the curiosity we had to try new things (and go along with them despite being intimidated) and the freedom to take no responsibility.
In that sense, Luca’s story will really resonate with adult audiences, but there’s also plenty to keep kids entertained. Luca is full of funny moments — Luca’s deep-sea uncle and Giulia’s cat Machiavelli bring laughs whenever they’re on screen — and, while the film’s set pieces are par for the course, they’re quite entertaining. That they will attract the attention of any young audience.
Ghibli vibes and casting calls
Stylistically, Lucca has all the traits of a Pixar film (it’s bright, colorful, and beautifully animated), but what sets it apart from its predecessors is what drives its aesthetic.
Luka’s illustrations, manga-influenced characters and backgrounds are reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki’s previous listings, and you can see (and feel) how the legendary Japanese animator and director inspired the look of Pixar’s latest flick.
Subtle allusions to Aardman Animation Studio (Wallace & Gromit, Chicken Run) and Wes Anderson (Isle of Dogs, Moonrise Kingdom) are also noticeable and, mixed with Miyazaki’s influence and the golden age of Italian cinema from the 1950s – Complete with an authentic, Italian-style score from Dan Romer – Luca’s appearance feels unique but recognizable. It’s an art style that Pixar hasn’t experimented with before, but it works and helps Luca stand out visually among his Pixar peers.
Speaking of ‘stand out’, Luca’s young cast does just that. The chemistry between Tremblay’s Luca and Grazer’s Alberto feels natural and authentic, while Emma Berman shines in her first major film role as the outgoing bookworm Giulia.
What’s most impressive about Luca’s teen cast, however, is that the trio (as well as the film’s adult actors) recorded their entire performances at home as a by-product of the pandemic.
With no fellow voice actors during the recording process, the biggest compliment you can give to Luca’s young acting trio is that it doesn’t show up in the scenes they share together. Luca, Alberto, and Giulia collide so well with each other that it’s imperceptible, and you really get the sense that all three artists were actually recording lines with each other in a studio.
It’s heartening, too, that Pixar opted to cast Tremblay, Grazer, and Berman as Luca’s lead. It’s been four years since a young actor led a Pixar film (Anthony Gonzalez in Coco) and it would have been easy for the studio to fathom more experienced actors to take on these roles, as it did in last year’s Onward . Anyway, Tremblay and the other actors help enhance the kid-like charm and plot that Luca goes for.
what we think
Luca is a charming love letter to Italy and the friendship that makes us. Through his wonderful coming-of-age fantasy story, Luca explores the power of childhood friendships, embracing who you are and, ultimately, what shapes us into the people we are today.
Designing and developing a film during a global pandemic is (by all accounts) extremely difficult, so Pixar deserves big credit for producing another highly resonant, humorous and wonderfully animated feature film. Better still, you can simply stream it on Disney Plus without paying anything extra.
It may not be as thematically dense as Soul, nor will it overthrow the likes of Toy Story, Monsters Inc., or The Incredibles in many fans’ top three Pixar lists.
Lucca, however, is the summer-infused fantasy film about escapism and friendship we need right now — and that’s enough.
Luca launches exclusively on Disney Plus on Friday, June 18.
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