'Luca' Is Business as Usual for Pixar, and That's a Good Thing

Directed by Enrico Casarosa

Starring Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Maya Rudolph, Jim Gaffigan

BY Rachel HoPublished Jun 17, 2021

Since Toy Story in 1995, Pixar (and Disney) have had a mortgage on Best Animated Feature awards with a few leases here and there. Pixar has earned a reputation for entertaining children and making adults feel all the emotions, all the while pushing the technological possibilities of animation. Luca is their latest offering, and Pixar fans can rest easy: the behemoth studio continues their run of success with a stunning, funny and heartwarming film, even if it does borrow a bit from the archives.

Luca is set in the waters of the beautiful Italian Riviera, which is home to a community of sea monsters. Luca Paguro (Jacob Tremblay) is a curious young sea monster who is in awe of the world above him. When he discovers that he can assume human form while on dry land, Luca leaps at the chance of exploration. By his side is Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), a fun-loving, boisterous sea monster who has been living as a human and longs for a Vespa.

Luca and Alberto explore the sea monster-hunting town of Portorosso and befriend a young local girl, Giulia (Emma Berman), a young oddball obsessed with winning the Portorosso Cup race. The three misfits form a team to compete in the swim-eat-cycle relay, as Luca and Alberto desperately try to hide their true identities.

The voice performances are solid across the board, with Tremblay, Grazer and Berman inserting humour, youthful innocence and quirky awkwardness to bring their characters to life. And to no one's surprise, Jim Gaffigan and Maya Rudolph as Luca's parents, Lorenzo and Daniela, are a magical, show-stopping duo. Between Rudolph's performance here and The Mitchells vs. the Machines, it's time the industry starts recognizing her voice acting for what it is: award-worthy.

As expected, Luca is a gorgeous film with some beautiful uses of colour and a score that fits the distinctly Italian atmosphere perfectly. The themes of acceptance, family and community run strong throughout the film, with the sea monster identity being a not-so-subtle metaphor for the outcasts of the world. Luca is a wonderful reminder for all of us, whether young or old, to not only be true to ourselves but also be open to those different to us.

For all that is great about Luca, it isn't a Pixar film that pushes the envelope and moves the goal posts further (like its predecessor Soul did). Luca hits every beat it wants to with great force and precision, but they are beats that we have seen before. There are shades of old Pixar and Disney movies: Luca's obsession with humans and desire to be part of their world is reminiscent of The Little Mermaid, and Finding Nemo's fingerprints are all over Daniela's overbearing, protective parenting.

It would be unfair to criticize a film because it doesn't live up to the impossibly high expectations of its studio's reputation. Luca is a film that any movie studio would be proud to have as their summer blockbuster crown jewel. But by playing it safe, it doesn't quite reach the high Pixar standard we've come to expect. And yet, Luca is still an amazing, enjoyable film that will delight kids and adults alike.

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