There is something special about seeing a new Pixar film and experiencing the magic being presented to you within a thrilling new world. They have done it for over 25 years now, and with each new entry, they expand our minds and our hearts with wonder and beauty. As they have grown, Pixar has strived for big, original concepts in an effort to stand out from the other animated studios. Movies like the Oscar winners Inside Out, Soul, and Wall-E have been not just about the characters on screen, but rather the messages the creators behind the films are expressing through their films. It makes one wonder if they were able to slow it down, go back to simpler roots, and tell a smaller story but still tug on the heartstrings. And with their latest animated adventure Luca, Pixar was able to pull off this effortless task with another winner.
Luca follows our titular character, played by Jacob Tremblay, a teenaged sea monster living with his parents underwater near a small town off the coast of Italy. His parents (played with goofy exasperation by Maya Rudolph, Jim Gaffigan) are extremely overprotective of him and drive him nuts. All Luca wants is to explore, possibly even go to the surface and see a world beyond the water. There are shades of The Little Mermaid here with Luca even collecting and coveting pieces of the human world that fall to the bottom of the ocean. One day, he encounters Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), another teenager of his kind who is living on the surface level in a human disguise, enjoying each new day and the adventures that come his way, a carefree bon vivant. While Luca is more a quiet, timid individual, Alberto is an expressive, jubilant kid, and the two form a friendship that leads to Luca running away from home with his friend to live a life of freedom beyond the sea. The gorgeous score by Dan Romer (Beasts of the Southern Wild) joyously lifts the boys from adventure to adventure, thrillingly ebbing and flowing through water, through the town and through their friendship.
As we see Luca and Alberto together, we get to see a bond grow between the two of them, a relationship as close as any characters we’ve seen in the Pixar canon. When the first trailer came out, many considered the adolescence relationship to be a subtext for a coming of age, LGBTQ+ story with faint echoes of Call My By Your Name raising both eyebrows and hopes. While they aren’t full members of the community, the subtext is there considering these are two characters who are living in one skin when they are around others but comfortable to be who they are only when no one else is looking at them. They can be their true form to only their friends and family and not the outside world, which is very relatable for anyone who is within the LGBTQ+ community. Thus, if the community of Portorosso found out who they really are, they would be in a lot of trouble, with literal people hunting for them every single day. It’s clearly in the story without being on the nose, therefore, works for a universal audience who may not identify as LGBTQ+, but can relate to someone who is in their lives who may connect with Luca and Alberto for more than just being the new leads in a Pixar movie.
We are also introduced to Giulia (Emma Berman), a human girl and tomboy who befriends our two protagonists in an attempt for the three of them to win a local triathlon competition dominated by the town bully Ercole Visconti (Saverio Raimondo). Giulia’s determination compels the boys to work alongside her to reach her dreams of winning this event. It’s an easy setup for the story to move along and have these characters connect with one another, but as the film goes on, when you least expect it, you start to get emotionally attached to these young adults, and by the end, left an emotional wreck. The last fifteen minutes of Luca might go down as one of the best endings Pixar has ever produced. This movie is a slowly dripping faucet, and as you sit in this luscious world, you start to realize the effect it has on you, and before you know it, the emotions are flooding out of you as the credits roll.
The straightforward approach of Luca makes me hope more movies like this come from the biggest animated studio in the world. By going back to basics, we get a real connection with these characters, with the lore and locations around them used as secondary functions instead of the main reason why we are watching this in the first place. Credit director Enrico Casarosa for his dazzling eye on not just the town the boys go to, but the underwater world Luca is from. Luca should be the model going forward for Pixar, with character driving entertaining stories instead of big concepts that fail to execute and leave you feeling hollow by the end (looking at you Soul). The only regret about Luca is most audiences will see this at home because it’s running exclusively on Disney+. But in the comfort of your home, there is no escaping the spell a movie like Luca can have over you, and what it feels like to see Pixar doing what they do best, making magic.
Disney and Pixar will release Luca on Disney+ this Friday, June 18.