Luca, a Lovely Ode to Friendship, Italy, and Animation

If Soul raised the question, Luca confirms the answer: Pixar films deserve to be seen on the big screen, not relegated only to streaming on Disney Plus. Simple by design and lovely beyond compare, Luca is a sneakily poignant, mightily exuberant adventure tale revolving around two boys, Luca (Jacob Tremblay) and Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), who hail from under the sea where a secret, domesticated society of humanoid sea monsters flourish off the coast of Portorosso, Italy. They find each other, befriend each other, and set off to explore life on land, in town, and in search of a shimmering Vespa to call their own. There they meet Giulia, a young girl visiting her grandparents and investing in a local bike race for prize money. Eventually, the two friends become three friends, much to Alberto’s chagrin, and the race to win money and Vespa becomes a race to win the town’s adoration and acceptance, for this particular town makes a pastime out of hunting sea monsters. Luca finds in Alberto and Giulia the opportunity to finally stretch his legs and find himself away from home, away from the kindly but domineering gaze of his helicopter mother (Maya Rudolph). As a child abandoned, Alberto finds in Luca and Giulia the family he never had. This is a sweet, funny, simply fantastic yarn that uses the beauty of the Italian Riviera to remind us why animated films need a big canvas. When Luca and Alberto go on a joy ride across the sea, utilizing their water-born gifts to somersault through ocean and air, director Enrico Casarosa’s digital camera spins along with them. Luca comes close to embracing the “be yourself” cliches that have defined Disney for generations, but fortunately emphasizes the greater stakes of the bond between these three exuberant children, and exploring instead that moment in time, in childhood, right before puberty hits and suddenly everything platonic may not be so platonic. So while Luca may indeed be queer-coded for some, the intention isn’t there, for there are platonic loves that transcend will-they-or-won’t-they.

P.S. Appreciate the blackest comedy ever written for Pixar in the form of Ugo, Luca’s deranged uncle from the deep sea depths, a darkly funny supporting character voiced by none other than Sacha Baron Cohen.

Grade: A-

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