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Luca: Finding your people 3 min read

Luca: Finding your people

If you haven't watched Luca yet, you won't be disappointed with the Little Mermaid-inspired latest by Pixar. Just don't expect the hard-hitting depth of films like Inside Out or Soul or Up.

By Cary Littlejohn
Luca: Finding your people Post image

Pixar’s newest release presented an opportunity to revisit and add to The Pixar Project, which was a full rewatch of all of Pixar’s films that I did ahead of the Christmas Day 2020 release of Soul. You can find reviews of all previous Pixar films by searching in the archives.

Luca is the 24th feature release from Pixar, and it’s a rollicking summer adventure film with tons of heart and the standard animation/technological brilliance that has defined Pixar films for more than 20 years now.

Coming on the heels of Soul, an existential exploration of life and death and the purpose of the former and inevitability of the latter, Luca can feel slight, or low-stakes, which it is. And that’s OK, because it does what it intends to do well.

It’s a story of friendship and acceptance and conquering fears and embracing the pleasure of awe and wonder. Luca is a sea monster, and under the sea, his job is that of a shepherd, watching over a school of fish who bounce around mindlessly like the sheep they’re meant to mock. While watching his flock, Luca discovers trinkets and what’s-its from the surface much the same as Ariel did in The Little Mermaid.

He quickly meets Alberto, a fellow sea monster who has an affinity for the human trinkets as well, and before he knows it, Luca has been led ashore by Alberto. The creatures are able to turn into a human form once they dry off, and Alberto has been exploring life on shore. Luca soon joins him, hiding his adventures from his parents, but getting more and more captivated the more time he spends on dry land.

The boys have a dream of owning a Vespa, inspired from a poster that does its job and convinces them that a world of freedom awaits them if they just had a scooter on which to cruise around. They build their own versions of scooters, propelled only by gravity, but it’s a close enough replica that the boys are hooked.

After his parents threaten to send him to live with an uncle as punishment for going on land, Luca and Alberto run away, not just to the island they’ve been exploring but to the local fishing village of Portorosso, which turns out to be a risky spot for them to be, since it’s a sea monster-hating community and if the boys get wet, their human disguises disappear.

The boys meet Giulia, a tomboy home from school to summer with her father, and they strike up a friendship rooted in joining her team to win a local triathlon (which includes swimming, biking, and eating pasta). Giulia is in a long-running feud with a prickish dude named Ercole, who’s been winning the triathlon for many years in a row, and her single-minded goal of beating him is for the pride of the accomplishment. The boys are mostly in it for the prize money, once they learned money can be traded for something they want even more: a run-down, rusty old Vespa.

This is the central quest of the film, and it is charmingly why the stakes feel so much lower than Soul or Onward. There are training montages, moments of betrayal, moments of secrets being discovered, and a subplot of Luca’s land-averse parents making their way through the village dousing every kid they can find in hopes of revealing their son.

Pixar’s ability to pull at the audience’s (specifically older viewers’) heartstrings is on display by sorting out the dynamics between Luca, Alberto, and Giulia. She’s an outcast when she comes home from school, and she loves finding friends for a summer. She shares the wonders of school, namely astronomy class, with Luca, and he’s relentlessly curious about everything that’s not beneath the ocean’s surface. Alberto, meanwhile, becomes more and more prickly as Luca and Giulia grow closer, and he’s dealing with his own stressors that aren’t fully revealed until late in the film. Harsh words are said between the boys, but they find ways to come to each other’s rescue.

Low stakes make it fun to sit back and simply enjoy a fun and fully realized world that seems like it would be fun to visit. But when those main themes of friendship and acceptance, it’s hard not to be choked up at different versions of selflessness depicted at the end of the film. The film really captures those feelings of belonging and finding a home in those final moments, and even though it didn’t feel like it was mining those themes heavily throughout the lighthearted adventures, they still landed with a force, able to squeeze some tears out of me as Luca sheds some on screen as well.

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