Written by: Jesse Andrews & Mike Jones
Starring: Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Saverio Raimondo, Maya Rudolph
Fearing the unknown can scare anyone for their own safety, let alone for a parent having to care for the well-being of their children. A legitimate fear, especially with something reinforced through trauma and history, which sets the standard for what occurs between the fish monsters in Luca and the humans above the surface of this small Italian town. Elegant and sweet, this feature captures a beautiful sense of friendship, with some direct allegories that will allow certain marginalized identities to be seen.
Young and timid fish monster Luca (Jacob Tremblay) has always been intrigued by the idea of going up to the surface and an encounter with fellow fish monster Alberto (Jack Dyland Grazer) shows that once they hit topside and dry off, they look like humans. While forbidden by his parents, Luca sneaks up to the surface with Alberto to learn more about humanity and get the highly desired Vespa scooter.
With the phenomenal success of Pixar films in both being engaging for children but also emotionally resonant for adults, each new film released from their side of the mouse house rightfully comes with high expectations. Unfortunately, these standards for stories willing to wreck your emotions to the core perhaps set too high of a bar seeing as Luca does not necessarily accomplish this through its story but the delightful nature of it and the themes it wants to take on give it plenty of validity as a feature film. While it may seem slight to the other works of this studio, it still has so much to adore.
Set in a small Italian town bordering the ocean and dependent on fish, the timing of watching this film could not have been more perfect for me personally. In anticipation of my own trip to Italy that very summer, I was certainly drinking the Kool-Aid of this wonderful country and this feature continued to whet the appetite. Capturing the love of Calcio (what Americans call soccer) could be seen as well as the beautiful delicacy of cooking fresh food with the best ingredients. The wonderful personalities of the respected older women and the sense of wonder wrapped into the beauty of this era matched the gorgeous scenery I experienced of the country displayed here. This film manages to create such a warm and life-loving environment, which matches the discovery of what this entire experience means to Luca.
Learning about the human experience becomes the main plot of this story and it happens in both the fun aspects of discovery but also the negatives like learning about the negative ideas humans have of sea creatures in general. Humans either eat fish or try to hunt the fish monsters, which does not bode well for Luca and Alberto to feel like they can fully be themselves, which allows for a specific reading into the symbolism of this work. While it can be downplayed by the director, the metaphorical struggle Luca goes through matches what many LGBTQ+ members encounter in their life. From the climactic moments of betrayal and the fear of parents afraid their child will be harmed for things they cannot change, it rings incredibly true. Obviously not something everyone will catch onto but really feels ingrained with what this story wants to communicate as a whole.
Additionally, this feature captures a beautiful sense of friendship. While one can look at Luca and Alberto’s relationship as somewhat romantic, these two have a beautiful friendship, and not one really shown a lot through American media. Perhaps it has to do with the culture of American and European friendships between two individuals of the same sex, but the loving affection these two have in this platonic relationship brings such a wonderful level of joy. Unafraid to share their emotions and give each other compassionate touches of affirmation communicates a different level of attachment that feels incredibly unique to what typically gets displayed and the way this film lays it all out adds to the overall warmth this picture wants to evoke.
Even with all of the feelings this film wants to evoke, it still has plenty of excitement in telling the story with the type of comedy expected from Pixar films. The villain is over the top in the best of ways, nearly reminiscent of Waluigi in appearance and demeanor. The big climax comes in the form of a Vespa race, which means so much to the children of this town and makes you question why adults are fine with this considering the insane level of danger involved with these races. These fun moments get layered in with everything else in an entertaining manner.
While some may feel this feature exhibits mid to lower Pixar because of its lack of a real gut punch, Luca still has plenty to adore as we get to see the human experience from someone seeing it all for the first time. It shows everything involved with being a young kid through the freshest perspective to display the good and the bad. Filled with fun moments and some beautifully touching examples of friendship, this feature proves to be a delight.