The magnificent colors of LUCA bring the intense beauty of the Italian Riviera coast during the late 50s, early 60s to the silver screen just in time for the beginning of summer. Disney and Pixar have yet again imagined for us with their splendid animation the joys of coming of age in one of the most picturesque countries on Earth --- Italy.
Luca Paguro (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) is a 13-year-old sea monster --- a very sweet and shy one --- who herds goat fish for his mother, Daniela (voiced by Maya Rudolph), and his father, Lorenzo (voiced by Jim Gaffigan), who also farm kelp. But Luca is harboring a secret --- he longs to break the surface of the water to explore the world of humans.
Luca meets Alberto Scorfano (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer), another sea monster his age who lives as a human. He convinces Luca to embrace his curiosity and leave the sea behind. Once out of the water, sea monsters become human in form. Now the two best friends, who have become obsessed with getting a Vespa so they can travel the world, must flee to the nearest town of Portorosso to escape Luca’s banishment by his overprotective parents to the bottom of the sea with his crazy Uncle Ugo (voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen).
Immediately upon arrival in this charming fishing village, Luca and Alberto run into Giulia Marcovaldo (voiced by Emma Berman), who is in training for the town’s annual triathlon; swimming, eating pasta and bicycling. The Portorosso Cup, as it’s known, has been dominated for the past six years by the town bully, Ercole Visconti (voiced by Italian comedian Saverio Raimondo), who should have aged out by now.
To increase Giulia’s chance of winning --- and their chance of buying a Vespa --- Luca and Alberto offer to team up with her. Their biggest challenge is to keep from getting wet, no matter what, because the humans fear --- and hunt --- sea monsters. But first Luca and Alberto must help Giulia’s father, Massimo Marcovaldo (voiced by Marco Barricelli), increase the size of his daily catch of fish so Giulia can afford the entry fee for the race.
But as the day of the competition approaches, tensions flare between Luca and Alberto, Daniela and Lorenzo come to town in search of Luca and Ercole is more determined than ever to sabotage Giulia’s efforts. Will Luca, Guilia and Alberto prevail? And will Luca get his wish to go to school instead of traveling the world?
Per usual, the Pixar animators are at their best. There are many amazing moments throughout LUCA to cite as examples of the cleverness and startling reality of this art form. Beginning with the transformation of the sea monsters to human is the primary case.
Filmmakers were given inspiration by observing how squids and octopuses change the color of their skin. Sometimes the change from sea monster to human is quick, and other times, depending on the circumstances like Luca and Alberto getting caught in the rain, the transformation is slower, rippling through the body. No matter which way these creatures are changing, the end result is glorious.
And then there are the more subtle instances of excellence. When Massimo is introducing Luca and Alberto to pasta, glimpsing the noodles boiling is eye-opening to the incredible work these animators accomplish. At one point Alberto is knocked out briefly after a fall and instead of stars circling his head --- as in most cartoons --- fish were substituted. So much to take in --- LUCA deserves a second viewing.
But for me, the most memorable scene of LUCA involves Massimo and Alberto. When we first meet Massimo on screen, it’s not immediately apparent, but he’s missing his right arm. His right sleeve is pinned to his shirt.
The moment Alberto notices, there is a look of horror on his face, which remains there when Massimo claims that a sea monster removed it. But then Massimo chuckles and tells Alberto that he was born without an arm.
I must write that for someone who was born without a left hand, this was a transformative movie moment for me. Certainly, there have been other limbless characters before in film, but this is the first time I can ever remember anyone stating they were born that way. I’m sure it will be a small, immaterial moment for most, but for me, it’s really a big deal.
Director Enrico Casarosa describes LUCA as a “movie about friendships that change us”. It is truly much more than that. It’s about acceptance, and not judging someone by their appearance --- like the color of their skin, er, um the color of their scales.
Some have speculated that this is an attempt by Disney to broach the subject of homosexuality. It really doesn’t matter because all these are great lessons in ACCEPTANCE. So, my wish is that people of all ages, ethnicities, sexual preference, etc. see LUCA and revel in the possibility of an accepting world.
Streaming on Disney+ June 18, 2021
Opinion: Strong See It Now!
One thing is certain after watching LUCA, the new animated feature from Disney and Pixar. If you don’t come away with a severe craving for pasta --- you haven’t been paying attention. Pixar’s latest creation features the usual phenomenal animation, and the design crew has even outdone themselves in a couple of instances.
Jeanne has probably mentioned it in her review, but a brief view of a pot on the stove with boiling pasta is astounding work, actually jaw-dropping in its effect. More importantly, this gem of a film also features a really good story that even the youngest of children will appreciate and follow --- yet it is still entertaining for adults. Credit goes to Jesse Andrews (ME and EARL and the DYING GIRL) and Mike Jones (SOUL, COCO) for an excellent screenplay to which we can all relate.
The other superb visual effect is the transition of Luca (voiced by Jacob Tremblay, ROOM), a teenaged sea monster and others of his ilk who are transformed into humans when they reach the rarified air of land --- as long as it doesn’t rain! If they get wet on dry land, they will revert to their sea monster form. Luca swims under the sea’s surface as a herder of goat fish, exceptionally cute creatures in the beginning of the film.
Most of LUCA takes place in the small, charming seaside town of Portorosso on the Italian Riviera. Luca is a bit of a rebel, frequently disobeying his parents (Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan) by venturing above the sea where he is forbidden to go. On one such journey he meets his contemporary Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer). Their dream is to somehow obtain a Vespa to travel around the world --- at least in their naïve but exuberant minds.
Small things mean a lot in this film. When Luca first changes into a human boy on land, he really doesn’t know how to walk --- why should he? Of course, Alberto, being the veteran of human transformation, is there to teach Luca the finer points of striding ahead while maintaining his balance --- just one example of a finely honed scene.
Colorfully drawn characters abound in LUCA. Luca and Alberto are befriended by a delightful human girl named Giulia (Emma Berman) who is eager to win the triathlon in a competition called the Portorosso Cup. Her one-armed fisherman father (Marco Barricelli) is a physical brute, but also a supremely nice guy. Italian comedian Saverio Raimondo voices the town bully Ercole Vicsonti with great flair, a character kids will learn to disdain. The only other well-known voice talent for American audiences is Sacha Baron Cohen as Luca’s Uncle Ugo.
One catch phrase that may evolve from LUCA is “Silenzio, Bruno!” Luca and Alberto utilize this term to dispel any fears they may harbor about whatever it is they are about to attempt. In other words, “Bruno” connotes their inner voice sowing doubt, so they are actively rejecting those emotions by shouting “Silenzio, Bruno!”. Interestingly, director Enrico Casarosa had a friend in his youth named Alberto who was an extrovert --- like Luca’s pal in the film --- and helped push the director out of his comfort zone.
Casarosa’s great appreciation and liking for Japanese animation influenced the animators working for him. This essentially means more caricature than realistic physical representation. The bottom line: LUCA is great fun for kids and grown-ups alike. Just be sure to have a package of spaghetti on hand --- ready to boil!
Streaming on Disney+ June 18, 2021
Opinion: See It Now!