Pixar’s latest is fun beyond the sea and land.
Take the sex out of “Call Me By Your Name,” the violence out of “The Shape of Water,” the singing out of “The Little Mermaid,” and take the romance out of all those movies, and bake them into a pie, then you would get “Luca,” a cute and visually stunning entry from Disney and Pixar. Yes, we acknowledge that “The Little Mermaid” beat this movie to finish line in regards to a sea creature becoming a human, but to see it a different way is to see from the independent filmmaking perspective.
This the directorial film debut from director Enrico Casarosa, who served as a story artist for “Ratatouille,” “Up,” and “Coco,” among others, and made the Pixar short “La Luna.” In “Luca,” he uses the same animation style as that short film, while being influenced by Hayao Miyazaki, the Japanese animated behind some of our favorite movies like “My Neighbor Totorro,” “Spirited Away,” and “Princess Mononoke,” as well as his own childhood experiences.
And if we really gaze upon it, we’re also reminded of “Call Me By Your Name,” which was about two male characters spending a summer in Italy, while falling in love during the 1980s. A couple of differences-one being that “Luca” isn’t romantic, and it’s set during the 1950s.
I was dazzled at how the young sea monster Luca (voiced by Jacob Trembley) is designed in both aqua and green, while his rebellious new friend Alberto (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer) is indigo. And it’s amazing how on land, they’re both able to turn into humans without suffocating. When they’re in the water, they have their gills, and when they’re on land, they have lungs. A perfect easy in and easy out, no less.
Luca lives his life under the strict worrying of his mother (voiced by Maya Rudolph), who looks like him. It’s cute when a son looks like his mom. But anyway, she tells him to do his chores, come home for dinner, and never go near the surface. Among his other family members, his father (voiced by Jim Gaffigan) is more focused on his crabs, and his grandma (voiced by Sandy Martin) is riveted by his dream of going up there.
The town Luca and Alberto travel to is Portorosso, known for its fishing and its annual race: the Portorosso Cup. They dream of owning a Vespa (scooter), and decide to enter the race for the prize money. In order to do so, they must collaborate with the ambitious, young Giulia (voiced by Emma Berman) and beat the town jerk Ercole (voiced by Italian comedian Saverio Raimondo).
“Luca” lacks the humanity of Pixar’s last entry “Soul,” which you recall was my choice of the best film of last year, but it does a much better job with the sea monsters than “Onward” did with the mythical creatures. They all come in blue, green, purple, and magenta; and they’re delightfully voiced simultaneously. Sacha Baron Cohen, by the way, has a funny voice cameo when he plays Luca’s anglerfish-like uncle, who sounds more French than Italian, and you’re able to see his stomach and heart.
Trembley has voiced before on Amazon’s “Pete the Cat,” but coming on the heels of “Room,” “Wonder,” and “Good Boys,” this kid is really making a movie career out of himself. He voices the title character with a sentimental and innocent ease that reminds us why he’s taking on the right child roles. I did a video chat with Grazer last year, and coming on the heels of “It” and “Shazam,” this guy really has the goods. He voices Alberto with a style and energy that reminded me of either Ryder Strong on “Boy Meets World” or River Phoenix in “Stand By Me.” As a matter of fact, these two young actors are both utterly amazing, and they bring their animated characters to life.
Besides the uncle, we also get some fun supporting characters. I like how Luca’s mom tries to get the town children wet in order to find her son, I like the rude, goofiness of Ercole, I admire Giulia’s spirit and passion, and I think her suspicious cat is really funny when he knows what’s fishy with Luca and Alberto. And everyone is animated with the right colors and textures.
Movie theaters are back in the saddle again, and most people are vaccinated, but “Luca” still had to skip theaters and go on Disney+, instead of it being released simultaneously like “Raya and the Last Dragon” and “Cruella.” Why couldn’t Dreamworks Animation’s “Spirit Untamed” be the one to get released online, and this one in theaters? That animated feature was a little too bland to be shown theatrically, while this one is a real delight for both the family audience and fans of independent movies, as well.
And speaking of independent, “Luca” provides a fresh nostalgia of vintage Italian music and movies. Besides showing us clips and playing songs, they give the humans and creatures an old-fashioned style that reminds us of when Disney gave “Pinocchio” Jiminy Cricket. Besides, if it wasn’t for independent films, we wouldn’t have big budgeted films. And “Black Panther” wasn’t Ryan Coogler’s first movie.
Streaming on Disney+