FlixChatter Review: Pixar’s LUCA (2021)

When I first saw the trailer for Luca, I was immediately excited for it. I mean, I’m usually excited for Pixar movies and the seaside Italian Riviera setting is extra appealing to me as one of my fave holiday memories was at Sorento & Cinque Terre.

Directed by Enrico Casarosa (who did the La Luna short film) in his feature-length directorial debut, the story was apparently inspired by his own youthful experience in his native Italy. As most of you have seen in the promos/trailers, the two boys are sea monsters who long to live above the sea… kind of like Little Mermaid with boys & sans romance. Initially, some LGBT groups thought this is similar to Call Me By Your Name that’s also set in Italy and involves two boys falling in love. However, the filmmaker said the relationship depicted here is a platonic one set before they hit puberty.

Luca-mother

I like Jacob Tremblay’s voice work here as the title role and Luca is instantly likable from the start. There’s a tentative curiosity and sense of wonder when he first glimpse a few human items that falls from boats, which is delightful to watch. Of course, just like Little Mermaid‘s Ariel, Luca is constantly told that life above water is dangerous and humans are evil, especially by his overprotective mom (Maya Rudolph). Regardless, the young boy is still fascinated by the human world and his dreams of visiting the village finally comes true when he meets Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), a fellow sea monster who has apparently lived Portorosso. In contrast to Luca, Alberto is much more upbeat and confident, a bit of a trouble maker type who seem to know so much about life above water.

Luca-building-scooter

My favorite moments is when the two bond over their love for Vespa and their friendship flourish over building scooter and using them to ‘fly’ over cliffs. I can’t help but be swept up by their zest for life and get nostalgic of my own favorite holiday as a kid. Luca and Alberto’s real adventure begin when they meet a human girl Giulia (Emma Berman) and end up signing up for the town’s triathlon to win the Portorosso Cup. The main ‘villain’ is Ercole, the local town bully and undefeated race champion who grows increasingly suspicious of the two boys. Voiced by Italian comedian Saverio Raimondo, Ercole is more irritating than menacing. It’s interesting how few Italian voice talents there are in this movie, Sacha Baron Cohen and Jim Gaffigan have supporting roles as uncle Ugo and Giulia’s dad Lorenzo, respectively.

I feel like Luca is Pixar-lite…. Visually stunning with a charming story but lacks the depth and emotional resonance I expect from the studio. After the Oscar-winning, indelibly thought-provoking Soul, it seems quite a step down narratively. I’m not saying it’s a weak movie per se, I just expected more from the Pixar team who have done so many excellent animated films for both kids and adults alike. This one seems to be geared more for younger, less demanding viewers as it doesn’t have the same level of suspense, wit or originality like Pixar’s earlier efforts. I actually rewatched Finding Nemo after watching Luca, which remains far superior and has that ‘timeless’ quality as other other Pixar greats like Toy Story, Monsters Inc, etc. Now, Luca does have a timely message of belonging and acceptance of those different from you, which is fitting given its release during Pride month, but it’s not exactly groundbreaking and I feel like overcoming prejudice/stereotype is a topic that’s been covered before to better effect, i.e. Zootopia

Luca-portorosso

That said, what this movie does have in abundance is the high energy, vibrancy and warmth of genuine friendship. The filmmaker said he’s inspired by Federico Fellini’s work (there’s even a photo of Marcello Mastroianni attached in one of Alberto’s scooter), and there’s a touch of Studio Ghibli as well. One can always rely on Pixar to deliver rich, glorious visuals and whether below or above water, the colors are absolutely stunning. It certainly makes me yearn to be transported to the Italian seaside town pronto!! So even a lesser Pixar movie is still well worth your time.

3/5 stars


Have you seen LUCA? I’d love to hear what you think!

15 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: Pixar’s LUCA (2021)

  1. Ted Saydalavong

    I’m pretty much out of the loop when it comes to Pixar’s films these days, I didn’t know they have a new movie until I saw your review of this one. Sounds interesting, not sure if it’s something I’ll watch, maybe my little nephew will enjoy it. The last Pixar film I saw was The Incredibles 2.

    1. I actually haven’t seen all of Pixar’s recent efforts either, i.e. COCO. This one is cute though and definitely a lot of fun for young viewers.

      1. Ted Saydalavong

        You know that’s hilarious that you mentioned COCO, my 5 year old nephew loves that movie. He watches it all the time. Lol!

    1. Yeah! I didn’t realize this isn’t one of Disney’s premium content where you have to pay $30 bucks to watch so definitely see this w/ your niece/nephew, it’s still a cute and charming movie.

  2. I ended up enjoying this one way more than anticipated. Sure, it doesn’t have the depth of Disney-Pixar’s best works, but it is such an entertaining and enjoyable film, it has its emotional bits, I loved the visuals, and all the Vespa moments remembered me of my childhood. I liked the voice acting but I would have liked to see more Italians in the cast, it would have made the film more genuine.

    As for the trailer, I only saw it on Italian tv and it’s weird how they completely omitted the part of Luca and Alberto being sea monsters. As if it would scare kids or something.

    1. Hi Sonia, it does have its emotional bits, I just don’t find it as profound as Pixar’s earlier works. Still it’s lovely and made me nostalgic of your childhood, too. The Vespa moments are adorable!

      I wish it had more Italian cast too, can’t believe I’m only seeing ONE voice cast member who’s actually Italian. As for the trailer, that’s interesting how the promos are geared for different countries, here they definitely play up the fact that they’re sea monsters, even in the poster!

  3. Great review, Ruth! I keep forgetting to watch this, but hopefully tomorrow night. I’m a bit sad it won’t be on a cinema screen, though. Everyone seems in agreement that it’s not Pixar’s finest but a part of me is looking forward to a Pixar movie that isn’t going to make me ugly cry!

    1. Hey Allie! This one is a fun watch w/ the whole family. Yeah I think it’d look magnificent on the big screen, man it really made me want to book a vacation to Italy pronto! It’s true though that it’s probably fine that this didn’t make me ugly cry like a lot of other Pixar movies, I remember bawling my eyes out watching those Toy Story movies!

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  6. Oh, I’d love to go to Cinque Terre! When did you, Ruth?
    I agree: Luca is instantly likeable. The only voice I recognised was Rudolph’s, but I thoguht they all did a great job.
    It does feel like a less Pixar in some respect; the sea looked quite empty, to be honest. I still enjoyed it, though, and found it to be very funny in places.

    1. Hey Claire, oh you would LOVE Cinque Terre. We went over a decade ago, maybe 2011? It’s my favorite of our Italy trip, such a respite from the big cities like Florence and Rome.

      As for LUCA, well despite the flaws I mentioned I still enjoyed it very much. I think I expected a lot more from Pixar, hence I wasn’t as generous in my rating.

  7. I definitely agree with you that Luca lacks depth. I found it very superficial, insignificant, inconsequential. Perhaps it should have been a short because all the ideas amount only to that format, at best. I liked it even less than you, probably. I wanted to know more about the underwater world we don’t know and the nature of sea-people-humans transformations, but I was given little in that respect. For most of the time, Luca was like an ad for nostalgic Italy of times past with some other ideas thrown in just to stretch the running time. Its stereotypes and generalisations disappoint. Most animations out there are about friendship already and the atmosphere is the only element Luca has going for it. I love simple and little children-friendly animations, but Luca only belongs to the category I would describe as “I saw it once on daytime TV and it was sort of…nice?”. Nice. That’s it. I do not think I would ever want to watch it again, but things do point to Luca 2 because of how it all ended.

    1. I think this is based on the director’s childhood memories so that explains the lack of underwater world building in the story. But I do wish they had explored the sea creature-to-human transformation more instead of just simply leaving us to just accept it as it is.

      I agree the friendship theme and the more ‘woke’ themes of prejudice, etc has been covered before as well. I’m definitely not clamoring for a sequel, I mean I love the Italian scenery but as a movie I expected more.

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