A wonderful ode to the relationships that are perfect because they are short, Luca's quality is in its own assured simplicity.
Pixar’s shining output of one-word-titled films continue with Luca, a wonderfully charming exercise about youthful optimism and being yourself, set amidst the glorious summer retreat of the Italian Riviera.
The New York Times effectively dubbed the film, the directorial debut of Pixar story artist Enrico Casarosa, ‘Calamari By Your Name’. The comparison is largely apt: the dated setting, two male leads, sunny cinematography all create an intertextuality with the 2017 film starring Timothee Chalamet. Heck, even Call Me By Your Name’s director is called Luca. But whereas that film chartered a romance, Luca has friendship on its mind and serves as a somewhat autobiographical amalgamation of Casarosa’s own adventures with a childhood friend. However, being Pixar, it also transpires that the two young boys Luca and Alberto (respectively voiced by Jacob Tremblay and Jack Dylan Grazer) are sea monsters who cannot safely reveal their true form when on land.
The first act is fairly conventional. After an opening that recalls Mr Bean’s Holiday with its music choice, the camera dips under the sparkly blue waves to find the sea monster settlement where Luca works as a shepherd, dutifully looking after a flock of lobotomised fish that baa like sheep. Luca loves observing the surface and the boats that float by, dreaming of going up to explore. His parents, obviously, view the land as dangerous and off-limits as they attempt to protect their only son. Sounding familiar? Unlike Finding Nemo’s epic ocean odyssey after a disaster, Luca’s emergence above the water materialises from a sense of daring fun after meeting Alberto, whose audacious temperament is a fantastic foil for the eponym’s timidness (again echoing Dory and Marlin).
The town they explore, Portorosso (one of the more obvious nods to the soothing humanist films of Hayao Miyazaki) is set in a 1950s or 1960s era, brilliantly recreated through such features as background posters for Fellini’s La Strada or the slightly less subtle Roman Holiday. The former supports the notion that this is Pixar’s first attempt at creating an animated Italian neo-realist film, what with its street setting, largely non-A-list cast, gentle humour, humanist values and… bicycles? There is a profound sense of nostalgia on display here; an earnest yearning for the rose-tinted past where things seem simpler. The plot of the film, as largely irrelevant as it is, concerns the protagonists winning an Italian triathlon and beating local adult bully Ercole Visconti, a man who clings to his own past glory days. The simplicity and small scale of the narrative is a refreshing joy as Pixar films should not have the burden of always being psycho-analytical pictures that seep existential crises into their narratives.
The film is dedicated to the late Ennio Morricone, the legendary Italian composer who was originally wanted to provide the film’s score. His substitute, Dan Romer, creates a suitable soundscape to match the vibrant imagery and joyous tone. The animation is thoroughly gorgeous with the aquatic scenery being terrific. In other news: water is wet. Luca’s release outside of cinemas and the lack of high acclaim that Soul gained sadly means the picture might become a forgotten Pixar work, a catastrophic shame considering its sheer likeability, moving message and concoction of dazzling charm and nostalgia.
Luca, directed by Enrico Casarosa, is available to stream now on Disney+, certificate TBA.