2021 is shaping up to be Italy’s year. First they won Eurovision, and now they’re featured (if not quite immortalised) in Luca, Pixar’s latest effort. Heavy on whimsy, though with marginally less outright charm than classic Pixar, the film is being released straight onto Disney+, just like Soul before it (thanks, Covid-19).
Luca Paguro (Jacob Tremblay) is a 13-year-old sea monster living in the waters off the coastal village of Portorosso on the Italian Riviera – a place rich in beauty and stereotypes. His curiosity about the world above (filled with dangerous land monsters, according to his parents) is fostered by his collection of various trinkets (or rubbish) he finds on the ocean floor, which hopefully won’t encourage impressionable young viewers to litter. That curiosity is piqued when he meets Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), another young sea monster, who shows Luca that their species has the ability to appear human when they leave the water. The pair set off on an almost epic adventure, where they learn some valuable life lessons as they help local girl Giulia (Emma Berman) compete in the town’s triathlon.
Even on a bad day, Pixar’s output is infinitely more magical than the plethora of competing CGI that their initial success unleashed. Luca isn’t quite Pixar’s bad day, but it’s not their most memorable, lacking the emotional heft of the studio’s canon. The easily digestible, sentimentally accessible assembly of the story gives the impression that this one might be intended for the youngest members of the family, without the loving slyness that manages to seduce adult viewers in equal measure.
In its early scenes, Luca threatens to rely on flights of fancy (AKA dream sequences), showcasing Luca’s optimistic inquisitiveness in gorgeously rendered animation while the strings section of the orchestra kicks things up a notch. It’s not until the boys/sea monsters set foot in Portorosso that Luca finds its rhythm, however gentle it might be. It’s almost as though the story would have benefitted from a higher level of antagonism, with the swaggering bully Ercole (Saverio Raimondo) not quite up to the task. That being said, there are probably people still traumatised by Toy Story 3’s climactic incinerator scene, so audiences (and reviewers) should be careful what they wish for.
Luca is released on Disney+ on 18th June 2021.
Watch the trailer for Luca here: