Luca, by Cameron J. Czaja

With movie theaters slowly reopening across the globe, my trips to the cinema have slowly increased significantly in the past few months. In fact, just the other week I watched three films in theaters, which is something I did regularly pre-COVID.  Unfortunately, the film that I’m about to review did not come out in theaters (due to the ongoing pandemic), but instead Disney+, and that film was Luca.

Due to Luca going straight to Disney+, I didn’t really have this film on my mind as much as other films that were coming out this summer. That’s not to say I wasn’t looking forward to it, but I think the lack of advertisement and its exclusivity to Disney+ is what kept low my anticipation for it, unlike previous Pixar films such as Soul (2020) and Onward (2020), which I did enjoy quite a bit. Was this as good as the two films just mentioned, and did it deserve to be shown on the big screen? As always, let’s find out, with mild spoilers ahead.

Set in the mid-twentieth century off the coast of a fictional Italian city, Portorosso, Luca follows the titular character (voiced by Jacob Tremblay), a twelve-year-old sea monster. Luca lives with his mom, Daniela (voiced by Maya Rudolph) and dad, Lorenzo (voiced by Jim Gaffigan), who fear the surface world and forbid Luca from going to there because they believe a human will hunt and kill Luca if given the chance. One day Luca meets Alberto (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer), a fellow sea monster two years older than him who lives above surface with his dad who is not very present at the moment. Alberto persuades Luca to venture out into the surface and shows him how sea creatures will turn into humans when they are dry, but revert back to their natural self when exposed to liquid. After much hesitation, Luca goes to the surface world and starts experiencing how those on dry land function, and starts hanging out with Alberto. As they bond, they build a makeshift vespa (an Italian scooter), and after it falls apart, Alberto states how he would like to get a real Vespa one day. With Luca’s parents becoming more concerned by Luca’s recent actions, they arrange for him to live with his Uncle Ugo (voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen) for the rest of the season in the deep sea. In retaliation for this decision, Luca runs away with Alberto to Portorsso, where they plan on finding a real Vespa and travel the world on it. When they get to Portorsso, they befriend Giulia (voiced by Emma Berman), who informs them about an annual triathlon where the winner gets a cash award. Hoping to use that award money to get a Vespa, the three kids form a team and from there they start training for the competition where they hope to not only be victorious, but also defeat the repeat champion and local bully Ercole (voiced by Saverio Raimondo).

When comparing this film to previous recent Pixar films such as Soul and Onward, Luca unfortunately doesn’t quite reach the same entertainment value for me as the others. In fact, when it comes to character designs and the story itself, it’s best described as a simple animated film. This is not a bad thing whatsoever, but when it comes to being Pixar film, I guess I expected more. That said, despite it being simplistic, it does have a lot of value to it, such as the background animation and an important message that we Catholics need to be reminded of every so often. 

Right off the bat when I started watching Luca, I noticed that there was something different about it compared to previous films in the Pixar catalogue. I couldn’t put my finger on it until I noticed the character designs. To me, they felt more cartoony and less stellar compared to films such as Soul or Onward. And yes, you could say “well it is a cartoon, right? it’s supposed to be exaggerated.” Normally I agree, but I hold Pixar to a higher level where some of the animation that they produce is breathtaking as works of art. This also expands to plot, which, as I stated in my previous paragraph, is simple. I liked it, I just wish I loved it given the company’s reputation for telling a story beyond a typical one. 

Something I noticed when writing this review is how often I am comparing Luca to other films in the Pixar library. I usually try and not compare one work to another as it would be unfair to the film that I’m reviewing. I guess the reason I have been doing so with Luca is because after Cars 3 (2017), Pixar immediately produced a great number of films such as Coco (2017) and Incredibles 2 (2018), and I was hoping Luca would be that next great one. That said, Luca is an important film that I do recommend because if there’s one thing that this film does right on the same level as a great Pixar film is that it has a great message.

The overall message found in Luca is learning to accept others the way they are even though they may be different. In my plot summary, I mentioned how Luca’s parents fear that humans might hurt Luca if given the chance. This creates a bit of a problem when the two boys get to Portorsso and discover that the town caters to the myth of sea creatures and how they should be killed. This is depicted through statues, paintings and other pieces of art. Knowing this information, the two boys try to stay away from any liquid as it exposes their true form or, at the very least not get caught. However, the inevitable does happen and rather than being hunted for the being sea monsters, Luca and Alberto are ultimately accepted for who they are due to their presence in the town and building relationships with different people while they were training for the triathlon. This reminded me how we as Christians are surrounded by people who are different from us in our daily life and how we shouldn’t judge them based on how different they are from us. While we may not agree with those who differ from us with Faith, whether they a different one or do not having any faith, we must learn to accept others as people. In this lies true evangelization.

While this wasn’t a great Pixar film, I still wish I had seen Luca on the big screen as the scenery of the Italian backgrounds and certain scenes of animation would’ve been a great experience to check out on the silver screen. Hopefully one day I’ll see it on that format. Hopefully my comparison of this film to the better ones I mentioned throughout this review does not deter you from checking this out. Aside from an anime film I saw recently, this is so far my favorite animated film of the year, and I do encourage others to check it out. Not a great Pixar film but definitely solid in my book.

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