Disney/Pixar’s Luca is a “kinda” movie. It’s kinda funny, kinda charming, kinda interesting, kinda successful, and ultimately, kinda good. This would be okay if we were dealing with, say, Dreamworks or Blue Sky Animation studios, but this is Pixar. I, like most, hold this studio to a pretty high standard, seeing as they’ve given us some of the greatest animated features of the past 26 years, from Toy Story to Finding Nemo to Ratatouille to Wall E to Up to Inside Out, and so on. So by comparison, Luca kinda ain’t cutting it.
Here is a film that isn’t necessarily bad, but yet the material never fully took liftoff for me. It’s nice to see Pixar pumping out more original properties, seeing as they were on a sequel kick for a bit (the last one was Toy Story 4, which I loved, but perhaps more than others). You also have to admire the faith that Pixar holds in its audience. These films are of course geared towards children, but also there’s usually quite a bit for the adults too. Luca, despite its visual splash, is fairly lighthearted, but it also doesn’t really feel like a film geared towards children. If this weren’t animated, I don’t think it would attract a child’s attention. As for the original property thing, while Luca isn’t a sequel, it also isn’t quite original either. It’s a film that passes the time easily, but knowing how creative this team can get, you can’t help but feel like they should’ve gone bigger.
The film is set on an Italian island, where the existence of sea monsters is well-known, and are hunted after. The film’s title character, voiced by Jacob Tremblay, happens to be one, and he lives underwater with his folks (Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan). One day, Luca spots another sea monster, named Alberto (Jack Dylan Glazer) and he soon comes to the realization that once sea monsters enter dry land, they return to human form. The two hit it off and begin hanging out in the town. It should be noted that the underwater sequences do look a little drab compared to the Italian stuff, which is gorgeous.
The two begin bike riding and pushing each other to take more risks. They also both dream of owning a Vespa, which is this Italian scooter thingy. Opportunity arrives for them whenever they meet Giulia (Emma Berman), a lively young girl who can enter them into this race that could ultimately win them a Vespa. The two get close to Giulia, which causes issues as they try to hide their identities, and it also drives a wedge between the two boys because Luca develops a crush, and Alberto becomes sort of jealous.
It’s about the time that Giulia is introduced where the movie stopped sort of working for me, and for a few reasons. For one thing, I didn’t find her charming; I found her annoying. Not just because she is this movie’s Yoko, and the movie basically takes her side. But also because she’s so clearly white, and hearing her using Italian slang gave me agita. See, I come from a very Italian family, and don’t get me wrong, the majority of this cast clearly isn’t Italian, yet this girl is the most painfully obvious; she’s as Italian as Emma Stone is Hawaiian. I’m not usually one to gripe about authenticity, but I know the real thing, and honey, you ain’t it.
I like what the film does with water. Basically, if one of the sea monsters gets splashed with water, then some of their identity is revealed. The film has fun with this idea and it makes for the film’s more amusing sequences. There are also moments of comedic inspiration. Luca has a weird, see-through uncle, voiced by a great comedic talent that I will let IMDb reveal (he was my first guess, but it doesn’t honestly sound like him). There is also a funny sequence where Maya Rudolph’s character, in search of Luca ashore, begins shoving other children into water. That stuff works.
Yet the film doesn’t quite have enough. It doesn’t really have enough ideas, or at least ideas that feel new. Its characters don’t really make too much of a splash either, particularly the film’s villain, who is simply a bad guy because… well, he’s just a bad guy. The friendship at the heart of the film is interesting, at least, but the film even reaches a point where Luca is kind of unlikable, at least in my eyes. Yet the film reaches an ending that is sweet, it’s just a shame the film isn’t better.
This ranks at the bottom of Pixar’s filmography; it’s not quite in the shallow end, with Cars 2 and The Good Dinosaur, but it is a Pixar movie that the next one will make us forget. I give the film two and a half stars, which isn’t a particularly low rating. This isn’t quite a bad film, it’s just one that needed… more. If we’re being honest, Pixar should’ve just done what most adults assumed they were going to do, and make an animated remake of Luca Gudadnigno’s Call Me By Your Name. Seriously, throw in a peach, some Surfjan Stevens and eliminate the sea monsters and the fake Italian girl, and you’d have a way more interesting movie.