The Telegram (St. John's)

‘Luca’ is a minor Pixar outing, but still pretty amazing


I never met a Pixar feature I didn’t like, and I’ve seen ’em all. Sure, some of the sequels are thin (Cars 3, Monsters University). Occasional­ly they feel a little pedestrian (Onward). But even the worst of the bunch (remember The Good Dinosaur?) have their moments.

Which brings us to Luca, simple and sweet and beautiful to behold, but a little lacking in depth. Which is ironic when you consider that a good portion of the story takes place underwater.

Canada’s Jacob Tremblay provides the voice of Luca, a sea monster living with his parents off the coast of Italy, circa 1960. He’s curious about the human world but unlike in, say, The Little Mermaid, he needs no special magic to go walking around on those – what do you call them? Oh, feet. As soon as he’s on dry land, his teal-coloured scales metamorpho­se into skin, and he looks like a normal 13-year-old boy. Of course, anywhere on his body that water touches will immediatel­y transform back.

Boys being boys, Luca sneaks away from Mom and Dad (Maya Rudolph, Jim Gaffigan) and makes a friend on the surface, the slightly older Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), whose braggadoci­o barely hides the fact that he is a lonely orphan making the best of his Huckleberr­y Finn lifestyle. He’s also a grounded sea monster.

Luca and Alberto are entranced by the prospect of owning a Vespa. (Yes, in spite of what you may have heard about the film being an allegory for the LGBTQ+ community, with numerous commentato­rs dubbing it Call Me By Your Nemo, the outfront love interest is a motor scooter made by Piaggio.) So they team up with a rambunctio­us human named Giulia (Emma Berman), with a plan to enter an “Italian triathlon” – swimming, cycling, pasta eating – and use the prize money to fulfill their dream.

This will also help Giulia dethrone Ercole (Saverio Raimondo), the local bully, who’s been winning the race handily for years. “Something fishy with you two,” says the blowhard competitor to her new teammates. If only he knew!

First-time feature director and longtime animator Enrico Casarosa was born in Genoa in 1971, and Luca is truly a love letter to the region, even if the setting is a fictional seaside village called Portorosso. (The name is also a shout-out to Hayao Miyazaki’s 1992 animated film Porco Rosso.) Pixar reportedly sent several of its artists to the Italian Riviera for the same reason I am often in Cannes – research, baby!

The results are gorgeous, with the realistic town settings augmented by the occasional daydream of Luca and Alberto. One such sequence features “wild Vespas” frolicking through fields, while another is a literal flight of fancy, as Luca imagines taking to the air on Leonardo da Vinci’s wings.

My only complaint is that the characters are fairly standard in their motivation­s and personalit­ies. Giulia’s father is a one-armed giant who is quickly revealed to be a total softie, while Luca’s parents are of course worried but well-meaning, understand­ing and kind. And Ercole is a sneering, vainglorio­us bully through and through, complete with two henchbulli­es, whom he sometimes instructs to slap each other when he can’t be bothered.

The results will be more than palatable to kids and grownups alike, though I’ve always most enjoyed the Pixar movies that manage to deliver an emotional jolt to both groups simultaneo­usly, through different means. (Anyone who had to explain to their children why they were sobbing openly at the end of Toy Story 3 will understand.)

My other mild disappoint­ment is that Luca is being released through the Disney+ streaming service, with only a limited theatrical run. (A single screening at Toronto’s Lavazza Drive-in Film Festival on June 19 is already sold out.) It’s a shame, with more cinemas opening weekly – hello, British Columbia! – that a hybrid release was not considered. If ever there was a film to triumph moving from one medium to another, it’s this ocean-to-land fairytale.

 ?? PHOTO BY DISNEY+ ?? True love: Luca (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) and Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer) try to reverse engineer a Vespa.
PHOTO BY DISNEY+ True love: Luca (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) and Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer) try to reverse engineer a Vespa.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada