While their recent sequel films have been generally successful, but arguably haven’t been their strongest work, there is no debate that with titles like “Coco”, “Onward”, “Soul” and now “Luca”, Pixar’s original films not tied to any pre-established franchise have been particularly strong. Not being able to capitalize off of any name recognition save for the Pixar name, each of these films have lively, colorful original new worlds and process complex scenarios and complicated emotions in a way both parents and children can understand.
“Luca” follows Luca Paguro (Jacob Tremblay), a young sea monster who lives near the Italian city of Portorosso, who are afraid of sea monsters and are greatly prejudiced against them. Luca is a sort of fish herder, and his parents, Daniela (Maya Rudolph) and Lorenzo (Jim Gaffigan), are very strict with him, forbidding him from going to the surface for fear he’ll be killed. Luca meets another sea monster named Alberto Scorfano (Jack Dylan Grazer) who gets him in trouble by bringing him to the surface and teaching him how to walk on land (sea monsters turn human when they’re on land and dry). The two become close friends, and dream of getting a Vespa to travel the world together.
However, when Luca’s parents find out that he had been spending time on land, they make arrangements for him to spend some time with his Uncle Ugo (Sacha Baron Cohen) in the deep, and Luca predictably decides to instead run away with Alberto, who suggests that they run into Portorosso to evade them. There, they meet Giulia Marcovaldo (Emma Berman), who does fish deliveries for her father, Massimo (Marco Barricelli), and who dreams of winning Portorosso’s Cup race by defeating the town’s bully, Ercole Visconti (Saverio Raimondo), who has been the habitual winner of the cup. Giulia, Alberto and Luca become friends, agreeing to each take on one part of the Cup race in order to win enough money for a Vespa, but not all is well for long, as Alberto gets jealous when Luca ends up spending a lot of time with Giulia, learning about the world and how big it is, which makes sense, as it’s revealed early on that Alberto’s father abandoned him.
Without spoiling the film too much ** spoilers begin here ** everything does get resolved in a truly beautiful sequence in the end, in which the entire town sees Luca and Alberto’s true identities as sea monsters, but also their conviction, as well as Giulia and Massimo’s love for them, and despite their initial fears, they realize that Luca and Alberto aren’t much different from themselves, and are nothing to be feared. ** Spoilers end **
While the film’s climax might be a little unrealistic in how quickly its main conflict was resolved — prejudices, unfortunately, are often lifelong resilient scourges — the film does a great job of telling a story about prejudice, and how those who experience it do the best that they can to be happy despite it, and how a community can come together to denounce it, accepting those that were previously othered. There’s also a lot to be said about how this film portrayed hidden identities and how great it can be to come out as who you are — throughout the film, Luca and Alberto’s identities as sea monsters are burdens that constantly hold them back and hold them down, and when they no longer need to hide, it feels like a weight has been lifted from the viewer.
“Luca” is a beautiful film, just as good as “Soul”, but brilliant in its own way. Pixar is masterful at communicating complex themes through emotion, and “Luca” is another one of their films that might make you cry. It’s available for free to Disney Plus subscribers, but it really deserves to have a proper theatrical run.
“Luca” gets a 9/10