Luca (2021) Review
Pixar Studios has become the premiere powerhouse animated studio for nearly the past twenty-five years; producing some of the more memorable and beloved animated feature films that have seeing a theatrical release. While other studios have indeed produced hits (i.e. DreamWorks, Illumination Entertainment, Blu Sky, Warner Bros Animation, etc.), Pixar, a subsidiary company underneath the Walt Disney Studios banner, has capitalized on being the leading studio of children’s animated feature films; utilizing the bright and color world of cartoon storytelling to be made for the young audience, but finds a way into the hearts of older viewers; sparking strong themes of family, childhood, love, life, and difference of opinions. Some of their films, including Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc, Up, Inside Out, and Coco have certainly demonstrated this notion as well as strong family friendly films of quality stock such as Cars and The Incredibles. Now, following the Award-winning success of 2020’s Soul, Pixar Animation Studios (as well as Walt Disney Studios) and director Enrico Casarosa present their 24th animated feature with the movie titled Luca. Does this latest film stand tall and proud in Pixar’s illustrious animated library or does it fail to meet the high standards from the studio’s signature pedigree of children’s entertainment?
Deep within the ocean depths, Luca (Jacob Tremblay) is a young sea monster who tends to his family farm, dealing with secure routine that keeps him safe, which pleases his parents, Lorzeno (Jim Gaffigan) and Daniela (Maya Rudolph). However, that doesn’t sit well with Luca, who is curious about life on the surface, discovering human artifacts around the area, but he’s aware that creatures like him are hunted by the surface-dwelling humans. Curious about lies beyond, Luca comes close to the surface and makes contact with Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), another fellow sea monster who’s made a home for himself in Portorosso, a nearby Italian fishing village Joining his new pal with their dry-skin hum appearances (appearing as regular teenage boys to everyone else), Luca is eager to learn about this forbidden world, making plans to travel the world with Alberto on their own Vespa as their mode of transportation. The boys are soon joined by Giulia (Emma Berman), who’s happy to have company as she trains for the Portorosso Cup, a local village race that’s dominated by Ercole (Saverio Raimondo), a local bully who sense something off about the two newcomers. As the trio of friends train for the Portorosso Cup, Luca begins understand the world around him with Giulia’s guidance, which draws jealousy from Alberto.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Sorry if the opening paragraphs sounds quite familiar from what I wrote in my review Onward and Soul as well as this paragraph. It definitely fits both reviews in what I want to say. So….it goes without saying that when a Pixar movie gets released, there is reason to het excited for. As mentioned, (but it’s almost common knowledge), Pixar Studios have certainly become the “leading” animation studio for a better part more of two decades. I certainly grew up with their movies, with the original 1995 Toy Story capturing my ten-year-old attention with its then state-of-the-art CGI animation and memorable characters. After that, I remember seeing the change in Disney’s releases (the latter half of their “Renaissance Era”) and the rise of Pixar’s animated features, with Pixar becoming the more dominant powerhouse than its parent company. Much like how Disney had their signature style of princesses, musical songs, and colorful animal sidekicks, I love how Pixar has their own personal signature; mixing ever stunning 3D animation and wholesome storytelling together in way that never undermines their quality of cinematic filmmaking as well as well-rounded entertainment for all. Plus, the tender themes and message that many of their theatrical releases promote are highly valuable and indeed more memorable than any other children’s cartoon movies out there. Some of my personal favorite Pixar releases have Toy Story 3, Monsters Inc, Inside Out, Incredibles, Coco, and Finding Nemo. That being said, Pixar certainly has had one or two missteps along the way, with such movies like Cars 2 in 2011 and The Good Dinosaur in 2015, which are, more or less, considered the “black sheep” of the Pixar category. In addition, I personally think that Pixar relies too heavily on trying to expand upon its already established as brand / series (i.e., Toy Story, Cars, Incredibles, etc.) and needs to focus a bit more creating original content. However, that’s a minor quibble. In the end, Pixar Animation Studios still continues to be one of the premiere animated studios out there and has no sign of stopping anytime soon. And that’s a good thing!
This comes back around to talking about Luca, a 2021 animated film and Pixar’s latest feature film endeavor. I think it was sometime during 2020 (roughly during the summer months) that a first image of this 2021 project was showcased, with a few tidbits of the upcoming project…. stating that the movie was going to be set during over the course of summer in the Italian Rivera locale. It was until a few months after that the film’s first movie trailer dropped and showed how the movie was going to look like and introducing the feature’s main characters and plot. Taking away from that, I was pleasantly surprised. The animation looked a bit more simplistic compared to 2020’s Soul, but the animation itself still looked amazing, with plenty of bright colors and a level of detail that only Pixar could achieve. Plus, I had a feeling that the movie was going to have that classic Pixar signature within its narrative. Thus, I was happy to see Luca, which I saw on Disney+ streaming service. While I did see the movie during its initial opening / release weekend, I got a little bit distracted with work, which is why my review for this movie is been done after the movie itself has been home released on DVD / Blu-Ray / 4K Blu-Ray. So, what did I think of Pixar’s latest film? Well…. I liked it. While the movie wasn’t exactly the best Pixar movie out there, Luca is still a smaller scale venture that has plenty of heart and colorful fun in children’s entertainment. This “fish-out-of-water” isn’t as the best, but its endearing and heartwarming to watch.
Luca is directed by Enrico Casarosa, who worked majority his career as a storyboard artist for several animated films like Ice Age, Robots, Up, and Ratatouille. While he directed the short film for Pixar titled La Luna, Casarosa makes Luca his directorial feature film debut with this project. To that end, I think that he does a great job; approaching the movie with a sense of wonder and amusement and really nothing to compare his past endeavors to. The result is something that works quite well and, while the movie stumbles in a few areas (see below), I do have to commend Casarosa for his effort in making Luca such an entertaining and friendly feature film to watch. As a whole, Casarosa makes the film quite easy to digest in almost all aspect, so that young viewers all the way up to adults can view the movie and come up with mostly the same understanding of the feature. There are some deeper means to explore, but for the most part, Casarosa keeps the film “small” and is more of a character focus rather than narrative driven. This makes the Pixar signature style of heartfelt emotion come across as a bit thin, but the translation still works and provides plenty of context. In truth, Luca is a small family friendly adventure; utilizing the friendship mantra to frame the story and with the Portorosso Cup being the adventure-esque aspect for the film to navigate towards. Also, Casarosa makes the movie has a sweet / charming aspect that ultimately works; making the film enjoyable from start to finish. Plus, like several Pixar movies, Casarosa makes Luca have a very timeless feeling and doesn’t get hampered down by annoying / obnoxious pop culture references throughout; making the feature’s story / setting very unique and one-of-a-kind that could be set in a variety of time eras. Additionally, the usage of the Italian Rivera and Italian culture is a welcomed sight and love how it is all incorporated into the movie; embracing the culture aspect through various ways of architecture, music, speech dialect, and other nuances. The film’s s comedy is pretty enjoyable as well, with Casarosa staging plenty of sight gags and comical jokes throughout the movie. Plus, as a sidenote, I love the whole “silenzio Bruno!” gag as I personally say all the time to my co-workers while at work.
The story of Luca is rather simplistic in nature and, while that might be a problem in the grand scheme of Pixar’s library, especially compared to his past endeavors, the smaller-scale narration does somewhat work and gives its focus on the relationship between its main lead characters (i.e., Luca, Alberto, and Giulia). This, of course, goes into the whole friendship between Luca and Alberto, which does come close to being something a bit more intimate as lovers….as some people might be interpret it. I definitely can see it and why people think that, but it doesn’t really cross the line and doesn’t become explicit as some parents might be concerned before letting the children watch it. That being said, I do like how this aspect in Luca is rather ambiguous and can be interpreted differently by various people. So, I’ll let the viewer decided on that factor. For me, I didn’t bother me it wasn’t and if it was…. I embrace the idea. Also, the thematical themes of kindness, friendship, and tolerance / acceptance are present in the film and its something that I fully embrace with the feature’s narrative as a universal lesson / commentary message.
As for the film’s presentation, Luca is top notch and delivers some amazing visuals throughout the entire movie. For starters, the movie has a very unique looking compared to the standard / traditional look that Pixar recent animated features. The movie has more of a picture-esque oil painting nuances throughout its backdrop setting and the result is something truly amazing to see. The Italian countryside setting is gorgeous and definitely adds to the film’s appeal; majestically drawing into its visual animation with vibrant colors. Thus, the seaside town of Portorosso (in and around the area) is truly something to marvel and adds to the feature’s identity of culture. As for the characters, the animators decided to choose for a more exaggerated and comical looks / shapes one would fine in an old comic strip or Saturday morning cartoon series from a few years back. The result is something quite different, but definitely works, drawing the characters (both major and minor ones) with very expressive and comical looking faces that work with the story being told as well as the periodical comedy / drama beats throughout. All of these makes Luca look very colorful and vibrant, which I really do have to give credit to the art direction team as well as the visual CGI animators for bringing this film’s world to life. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Dan Romer, creates a very beautiful soundtrack for Luca, which combines a mixture of classic animated tones and melodies (accustomed for this endeavor) as well as Italian-esque sounding musical composition. The result is something is great and definitely adds to the feature’s culture depiction and presentation.
There are some problems that I had with Luca that, while not completely derailing the project, hold the film back from reaching that Pixar reach that so many of their past endeavors have achieved. How so? Well, perhaps the most prevalent one that many will agree on is that Luca in general isn’t the best movie that Pixar has produced. That’s not to say that the movie is well-made and heartwarming to watch, but the film itself lacks the certain expectations that is set by Pixar’s signature style of storytelling. Narratives like Coco, Up, Inside Out, and Soul have very complex themes and overtones that help elevate the story and the movie itself to be poignant and meaningful. Luca, however, does really achieve that notion; opting for a smaller-scale / low-stakes narrative instead of toiling around with big ideas and more thought-provoking moments for its character to have. You know what I mean…. Pixar’s signature style of large-heart moments / tearjerker scenes that tug on the heart strings, including Up’s opening sequences, Bingbong’s farewell in Inside Out, Jesse’s backstory in Toy Story 2, and so on and so forth. Luca just doesn’t have any of those moments and sort of undermines the signature style that the studio is well known for doing in almost all their features. That might not be a big deal that ruins movie, but I was expecting a lot more of emotional narrative driven plot points for the film to have and they never came. Thus, Luca, despite a lot of positive moments the movie has, doesn’t quite measure up to some of its bigger hits.
Additionally, looking beyond the emotional omissions, Luca does lack a few points within its undertaking and execution of its story / movie path. Most of these points derive from the feature’s script, which was penned by Casarosa as well as Jesse Andrews, Simon Stephenson, Mike Jones, Julie Lynn, and Randall Green. As a whole, the movie is sweet and charming, but fails to impress in certain areas as the script’s limitations hamper the feature. This includes such ideas like the underwater world, which is lacking depth and insight, and some of the character-built moments that are shared between Luca and Alberto as their friendship is just an instant “click” via shared dreams and not really earned. Plus, there backstories are a little bit cookie cutter and thinly drawn; lacking the complexity some of Pixar’s lead characters are really known for. From a director’s standpoint, Casarosa sort of rushes things / events in the movie that make the movie feels uneven. As mentioned, the underwater world where Luca and his parents’ dwell is a bit ambiguous and could’ve been easily expanded upon. Additionally, certain plot points during the second and third act are sort of rushed and quickly solved and don’t really feel earned. These problems make the film feel a bit clunky in a few areas and not as whole as some of Pixar’s past features. That’s not to say the movie is enjoyable and entertaining, but the problems are there and holding the film back as I kind of expected a bit more from Pixar.
While those criticism points might weigh the opinions down on the movie, the voice talents for Luca are solid across the board; something that Pixar is quite known for and certainly help deliver some fun and colorful charismatic voicework for these animated characters. Leading the charge of the movie are the great acting talents of Jacob Tremblay and Jack Dylan Grazer, who play the central main characters of Luca Paguro and Alberto Scorfano. Tremblay, known for his roles in Room, Wonder, and Good Boys, has always played the more timid-like character in his past endeavors and thus plays it again with his portrayal of Luca. That’s not to say that he plays the character in a predictable way, but Tremblay certainly knows how to layer the charm and innocent curiosity within Luca, and it comes off as a great character. Likewise, Grazer, known for his roles in IT, Shazam!, and We Are Who We Are, is great as Alberto, providing a more confident bravado than Tremblay’s Luca and delivers some great character moments throughout. As mentioned, the relationship between Luca and Alberto is core of the film and, while some of it is handled in a clunky manner, the vocal chemistry between Tremblay and Grazer is nothing short of brilliance; working well together rather than repelling each other.
Of more secondary characters, the character of Giulia Marcovaldo, a young resident in Portorosso, comes up as the strongest. Voiced by young actress Emma Berman (Go! Go! Cory Carson) is sort of consider to be the third main character in the movie; acting as the friend to both Luca and Alberto and adds that extra insight of character dynamic that drives a wedge between the two boys (in a very innocent way, of course). All in all, Berman is great as Giulia and, while she doesn’t have whole lot of experience compared to Tremblay and Grazer, she handles herself well and it comes off within her character. Additionally, actor Marco Barricelli (Holy Silence and The Book of Daniel) does a great job in the role of Giulia’s tough father, Massimo Marcvaldo. Likewise, the seasoned acting talents of actress Maya Rudolph (Bridesmaids and Sisters) and comedian / actor Jim Gaffigan (The Jim Gaffigan Show and Chappaquiddick) are a welcomed sign in Luca as they provide the voices for Luca’s concerned sea monster parents, Daniela and Lorenzo Paguro. Both Rudolph and Gaffigan come from a comedic background and shows that throughout the movie, but also have enough warmth in their voices for parental figures. Thus, they are great in the movie as Luca’s parents and definitely anchor the feature as the two “veterans” acting talents of the feature. Lastly, actor Saverio Raimondo (Dov’e Mario? and Finché c’è vita c’è Speranza) does a great and humorous job as Ercole Visconti, a local bully in Portorosso who acts as one of the main antagonists in the film.
The rest of the cast, including actor Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan and Les Miserable) Luca’s uncle / Lorenzo’s brother Ugo Paguro, actress Sandy Martin (Ray Donovan and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) as Luca’s grandmother / Daniela’s mother Grandma Paguro, actress Marina Massironi (Letters to Juliet and Padri e figli) as the lady who runs the Portorosso Cup race (and sponsor it) Mrs. Marsigilese, and actor Peter Sohn (Monsters University and Ratatouille) and Lorenzo Crisci (Grotto) as Ercole’s two henchmen followers Ciccio and Guido, make up the rest of the supporting players in the movie. While some do have large parts than others, all of these acting talents still give great smaller character roles to the feature. Lastly, I do have to admit that perhaps my favorite character in the entire movie is the character of Machiavelli, Giulia / Massimo cat. The cat is only a minor character, but I love it and certainly has become a meme online.
Curious to see surface world and explore it, Luca, along with fellow sea monster Alberto, have summertime vacation in the town of Portorosso by evading enemies and making friends in the movie Luca. Director Enrico Casarosa’s directorial feature length debut film is the latest film to be release from Pixar; showcasing a film about friendship and chasing dreams within the backdrop setting of Italian Rivera. While the movie struggles to carry Pixar’s signature style of big emotional poignancy and feels clunky in a few areas, the film itself is still highly enjoyable from its unique visual flairs of animation, cultural nuances, great likeable characters, a small / yet fun story to tell, and solid voice acting. Personally, I liked the movie. Yes, I will admit that it wasn’t Pixar’s best work, especially coming off the heels of 2020’s Soul, but it is still a very sweet and charming animated feature from the illustrious studio. Thus, my recommendation for the movie is very favorable “recommended” as I’m sure kids of all ages will love and appreciate this film (as it is a great family movie to watch) as well as adults. I just hope that Pixar doesn’t turn this movie into franchise as it would ruin the charming appeal of what the Luca movie truly is…. if you know what I mean. In the end, while it isn’t the absolute “slam dunk” movie that has been released from Pixar, Luca is still a very endearing and smaller scale cartoon adventure to get lost in; providing some quality animation and a strong message of lasting friendship.
4.0 Out of 5 (Recommended)
Released On: June 13th, 2021
Reviewed On: August 30th, 2021
Luca is 95 minutes long and is rated PG for rude humor, language, some thematic elements, and brief violence