Director: Enrico Casarosa
Cast: Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Saverio Raimondo, Maya Rudolph, Marco Barricelli, Jim Gaffigan, Peter Sohn, Lorenzo Crisci, Marina Massironi, and Sandy Martin
Movie length: 1 hours 35 minutes
What it is: Luca is aching to go out and experience the world, but family, and the fact that he’s a sea monster, hold him back.
What I think: A graphic paradise that rivals the beauty of the Italian Riviera it’s meant to emulate, Luca relies heavily on its visual setting to carry the film. An adorable Sea Monster, Luca Paguro (Jacob Tremblay) mirrors an Ariel like longing to discover the world beyond his water corner. Embedded with stories of “human monsters” lurking just beyond the clear waters surface, he seems content to just dream, until he meets fellow young Sea Monster Alberto Scorfano (Jack Dylan Grazer). Alberto’s magnetic personality and fearless approach to life draws Luca in, and after a falling out with his own parents, Luca gathers the courage to visit the local seaside town just beyond his reef.
There we are introduced to Ercole Visconti (Saverio Raimondo), who oddly enough for a Pixar film, is a bully and clear cut villain. Ercole fumbles about trying very hard to be as much of a bully trope as possible, to the point where it draws a cringe at times, mostly from the lack of depth in his character. It is not till the end that we discover why Ercole embodies a hateful persona.
Seemingly to counter Ercole’s darkness, the film has it’s hope filled cheerleader in Giulia Marcovaldo (Emma Berman), a local ball of spunk who disrupts Ercole’s reign of terror every chance she can get, while simultaneously creating that welcome space that Luca needs as he feels his way through the non-sea monster world.
Luca’s parent’s balanced relationship is a welcome addition to a Disney film, his father exemplifying non-toxic masculinity and willingly offering support. And while the main protagonist and villain hardly vary beyond a predictable path, it draws even more attention to the genuine parts, like the upbeat Italian language music, and the detailed settings.
It is not till the end, with the simplistic peak, that we understand the role each character has played and how it ties into the overall theme.
My Grade: B-, I admit I am spoiled. I have become accustomed to Pixar’s obvious soulful, and often heart wrenching, take on societal issues. It’s become the reason I sit down with my kids and watch as intently as they do whenever a Pixar film is released. From Toy Story’s take on time’s impact on childhood, to the delve into mental health with Inside Out, Pixar has demonstrated a gift for age appropriate explanations on tough topics.
But Luca, as cute as it was, hid its intent too well to recognize.
For within the storyline, far embedded in a way that does not draw the immediate conclusion, lies the story of acceptance that goes far beyond the want for independence. Hidden within a simplistic storyline, in a blink and you’ll miss it moment, there lies a story of a being, not fearful of who they are, but fearful of not being accepted. Moving through the film with childlike wonderment, Luca is never forgetful of who he can be revealed to be, yet he still holds wants and desires central to his own dreams, overcoming them in a moment of fear.
Ercole, who mimics a Gaston level narcissism, without sign of any hint of humanity or empathy, seems to erase the message Pixar has been engraining in audiences for over a decade, that rarely is the world ever bad and good.
Yet after initially struggling to figure out why, it presents itself in his response to Luca stating that he is not afraid of him.
“But we are afraid of you, you are a monster.”
Ercole’s character is not humanized to reflect the inhumanity of unneeded hate and unreasonable fear. It lands with exactly the force it is meant, and after the totality of the film, you understand the impact of Luca revealing his true self. It was not lost on me that so many once young Queer youth, who struggled through a time of less acceptance, instantly recognized the subtle message. And for all those that glazed over the film’s intent, whether it had been intentional or not, Luca’s grandmother offers clarification with her wisdom.
For when Luca’s mother shared her hesitation that he may not find an accepting world like the one in Portorosso, Grandma Paguro quips “Some people, they’ll never accept him. But some will. And he knows how to find the good ones.”
And while we had to look deep to find the purpose in Luca, we can say for all those rainbow little ones, it is a good one.
Luca is currently playing on Disney+.
Viewed for your benefit by your Melanin Gifted Film Critic.
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