MOVIE REVIEW: “Luca” is voiced by Jacob Tremblay (Room , Doctor Sleep), Jack Dylan Grazer (It , Shazam!), Emma Berman (Dear Mom [Short], Go! Go! Cory Carson: Chrissy Takes the Wheel), Saverio Raimondo (Io e Angela, Belli ciao), Maya Rudolph (The Way Way Back, Hubie Halloween), Jim Gaffigan (Away We Go, Troop Zero), Marco Barricelli (The Book of Daniel [TV series], Ciao Alberto [Short]), Peter Sohn (Monsters University, It Starts with Murder!), Lorenzo Crisci, Sandy Martin (Napoleon Dynamite, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri), and Sacha Baron Cohen (Alice Through the Looking Glass, Hugo). It is directed by Enrico Casarosa (Boy on the Moon [Short]), with the screenplay being written by Jesse Andrews (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Every Day) and Mike Jones (Soul, EvenHand).
A young fish monster (Tremblay) forms an unlikely friendship with another monster (Grazer) as they seek to live a carefree life amongst the humans of the Italian Riviera.
To watch a Pixar film almost a year after it’s been released? That’s unheard of for me. And with a surprisingly good story such as “Luca,” I wish I saw it sooner.
I’m going to begin this review with a slight off-tangent discussion. I was talking to a friend the other day about this film, to which he labeled it as a small Pixar feature; one that doesn’t hold the tenacity and girth of the company’s earliest works. He stated that it does a good job as a streamer, more so than it would’ve on the big screen. Which got me thinking. The last Pixar film to drop in theaters was “Onward”. It was solid, but it felt more like a Disney movie than anything. Since COVID, Disney has pushed the animation company’s features to their streaming site, with the titles “Soul,” “Luca,” and now “Turning Red” being made only available via online viewing. The wonder of seeing a Pixar flick on the big screen has vanished (maybe to return with “Lightyear”?), making these newer releases feel smaller from the get-go. Question is… would the earlier films suffered the same consequence if initially screened online?
Everyone knows that Pixar isn’t what it used to be. And firmly believe they will never achieve what they once were. Instead, they will carve out a new feeling, vibe, and tone derived from newer filmmakers being given the animation reigns. “Luca” is a wonderful, beautiful picture with a story that, while not as grandiose or out-of-the-box as the company’s former projects, creates a lasting impression. It’s a smaller feature, with the feeling of a “hang out” kind of tale, and I can sense the filmmakers wanted nothing more than that; to spin a narrative of two naiive boys with big dreams whose only challenge is the world around them.
The animation style and setting of this story are wonderful. It’s no surprise to be left in awe of Pixar’s visuals (though I wish I had better internet service to get a higher resolution of picture), and they only improve with each new release. The Italian Riviera is a beautiful sight, with colorful buildings, rolling hills, and townsfolk of different shapes and sizes. To me, the best animated element of this whole picture is the rocks alongside the shore. My goodness, the physics of those individual pebbles; truly exceptional. It’s with these movies that I can gush about the finer details, and one thing I found interesting was how director Enrico Casarosa drew inspiration from Hayao Miyazaki films. Though I’m not a fan of anime, I can admit that Miyazaki always had a good taste in style. Studio Ghibli films were always beautiful to look at, and I think Casarosa and his team captured that spirit well, as “Luca” is certainly a different looking Pixar movie.
I love the voice cast in this, as it is filled with both known and unknown names. Jacob Tremblay is one of the best young actors working in the industry right now, and his voice pops as Luca. I also enjoyed Jack Dylan Grazer’s voice on this, creating a contrast to the younger Luca with his role of Alberto. The two are surrounded by a myriad of great voice over performers, and I was overjoyed to hear one in particular: Sandy Martin. We aren’t blessed with that woman’s presence enough in cinema. Her voice is iconic, and I always get a good laugh when I see/hear her onscreen.
The story of “Luca” has a few objectives to it. There are goals that are in place for our characters, but it is ultimately their discovery of what they truly need that matters. I enjoyed living in this world for an hour and a half, and seeing the journey both Luca and Alberto take. It’s not a highly inventive one. What makes it stand out is the clash of settings (sea monsters and the Italian Riviera? come on, son). And while it doesn’t have that long-sought-after Pixar “charm” that we grew up on, it establishes its own appeal that I grappled to. As the feature developed, I grew fonder of it. The final act is touching, and even made me misty-eyed. This is all due to the strong lead characters and the bond they forged. People online would lead you to believe it was something that was more than just friends, but I don’t buy it for a second (the director even went on record to say it wasn’t an LGBTQ+ statement). There are friendships that a powerful, and Luca and Alberto’s is just that.
It’s true what my friend said: “Luca” is a small film. But it’s in that small scale that I enjoyed it all the more. The setting and styling make for a beautiful-looking story, but it is the tale between these two young boys that hooked me in. Though it doesn’t hold a candle to the releases I grew up on, it carves out its own feeling that I can get behind. If you’re looking for something animated and endearing to see, I’d recommend it. FINAL SCORE: 91%= Juicy Popcorn
Here is the trailer: