BRIAN VINER reviews Luca… Pixar's bid for another monster hit06/17/2021
Charming, yes. But this sea yarn won’t reel you in like Nemo: BRIAN VINER reviews Luca… Pixar’s bid for another monster hit
Pixar and disappointment, like fish and bicycles, are two words that rarely belong in the same sentence. The digital animation studio, now a subsidiary of Disney, has set soaring standards since it started making films in the mid-1990s, beginning with the wonderful Toy Story.
But the new Pixar film, Luca, is indeed a mild disappointment. Coincidentally, it also features fish and bicycles.
The story is set on Italy’s Ligurian coast in the 1950s, where the good folk of Portorosso are worried by stories of sea monsters. Little do they realise that sea monsters are just as scared of them.
Luca is set on Italy’s Ligurian coast in the 1950s, where the good folk of Portorosso are worried by stories of sea monsters
One such monster, green of face and blue of gill, is Luca (voiced by Jacob Tremblay), a spirited adolescent who acts as a kind of underwater shepherd to a shoal of cute fish, and is warned by his parents (Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan) never to venture anywhere near the surface.
But when his adventurous nature takes him on to land, Luca finds to his alarm that he is transformed into a 13-year-old boy. There he makes firm friends with another teenager, Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), who also happens to be a sea monster-out-of-water.
Together, the two pals acquaint themselves with earthly ways, and make a human friend, Giulia (Emma Berman), whose formidable father is a local fisherman.
Any contact with water will turn them back into sea-monster form, but that’s not their only problem – they have made an enemy of the swaggering town bully, who also happens to be a five-time winner of the Portorosso cup, a uniquely Italian type of triathlon, comprising a bike race, a swimming race, and a pasta-eating competition.
When his adventurous nature takes him on to land, Luca finds to his alarm that he is transformed into a 13-year-old boy
By now, Luca’s parents have also metamorphosed into humans, in a bid to find him and return him to the deep.
But he’s enjoying his life as a boy, especially as it comes with the tantalising promise of one day riding a Vespa. If he can win the Portorosso cup and become a local hero, that day might arrive sooner rather than later. After all, if a fish can ride a bicycle, why can’t a sea monster ride a motor scooter?
There are distinct echoes of Pinocchio and The Little Mermaid in all this, as well as the useful if unsubtle message, waved like a banner in recent children’s films, that other skin colours (even when blue and green, with scales attached) should never define someone as scary or suspicious.
There is a tradition in Italian folklore, apparently, of sea monsters being a metaphor for feeling different. For Luca and Alberto, banishing that feeling is their coming of age.
Luca (voiced by Jacob Tremblay is a spirited adolescent who acts as a kind of underwater shepherd to a shoal of cute fish
Pixar’s intoxicating 2017 film Coco, set in Mexico, explored similar themes. Like Luca, it dared to delve in to the culture and superstitions of a country other than the US. But it was done with considerably more wit and pizazz. Luca has some whimsical charm, for sure, but the whimsy too often feels forced, and the jokes simply run out of steam.
For example, Giulia’s favourite exclamation is to make a saint of an Italian cheese, different every time. Santa Mascarpone, it gets wearing! As for the animation, there’s plenty of Pixar wizardry, but the underwater scenes are never as bewitchingly brilliant as they were in Finding Nemo (2003).
There was a time when there was never less than a year between Pixar releases, but there have now been three – Onward, Soul, and now Luca – since March 2020. It makes them less of an event, but we diehard fans can cope with that. If the standard begins to drop, it will be harder to forgive.
- Luca is available on Disney+ from tomorrow.
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