“Luca” – What’s the most challenging age during childhood? How about age zero? Sure, you load no responsibility, and your mom, dad, grandmother, a daycare worker, or some other parental unit feed and change you throughout your first year on Planet Earth. Then again, your folks completely control your daily itinerary. Walking is a problem, and so is speaking in clear, concise sentences.
Age zero is no picnic, but when looking back, 13 years young probably is – “Survey says” – the #1 answer on “Family Feud”, seven days a week and twice on Sunday. Diving into the reasons 13 is rough seems like a waste of time. Geez, anyone 14 and over already realizes that the first step into teen status is the worst.
In Pixar Studios’ “Luca”, our hero (Jacob Tremblay) is the said age, but he doesn’t “live on the second floor,” and he’s not “upstairs from you.”
Quite the opposite, Luca lives – during the late 1950s/early 1960s – in a bay adjacent to the Italian Riviera, located on the country’s northwest coast. Although, he and his family don’t reside on the lofty buttes overlooking the Ligurian Sea. Their home is underwater at the bottom of it because the Paguro family are sea monsters. Sea monsters?
Hey, this is an animated feature. Pixar can do anything.
Although pitting sea creatures as your main leads certainly is a bold idea, this Pixar story is not a broad, eclectic concept, like “Soul” (2020), “Inside Out” (2015), and “WALL-E” (2008) are. Instead, “Luca” – the tale of a tiny teenage leviathan meeting a new buddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) and learning life lessons in a brand new world – is purposely contained and intimate. Ordinary boyhood conversations fill the first act, so maybe 15 minutes in, one realizes that massive philosophical puzzles – like the afterlife or the human race polluting the globe – aren’t in the cards over this 84-minute runtime. Instead, director Enrico Casarosa’s movie is a road….err, a water and road picture, where a pair of neon green and purple fish-like fellas – Luca Paguro and Alberto Scorfano (Grazer) – explore the land.
Ah, but how does this terrifying twosome avoid freaking out the locals of picturesque Portorosso? It’s a fair question because catching a glimpse of these two skinny, 1.5-meter tall Pete’s Dragon-types in the village plaza on a random Wednesday certainly will instigate second looks…and a few shrieks, full-blown panic, and fishermen reaching for their spears.
Well, you have to see the movie to discover Luca and Alberto’s secret.
In a June 17, 2021 interview with Comicbook.com, Casarosa makes it no secret that his life inspired this movie.
“We always had the setting. I grew up in Italy, so that was a really fun flavor to bring to this, a specific flavor, and the fantastical sea monster secret was always a big part of it with (the) idea of kids (in mind). We like the idea that there’s that kind of age where you feel a little bit out of place (and) not fitting in. (So) having this secret other identity felt like an interesting metaphor for outsiders,” Casarosa says.
There you go, age 13.
So, Luca and Alberto’s journey into the “land monsters’” living space offers an opportunity for individual growth, but the audience needs to accept the boys’ choices, primarily id-based ones.
In other words, they chase the shiny object of the moment because it’s the greatest! Meanwhile, caution, responsibility, safety, and curfews are non-existent. Curfews. Who enjoyed following those?
Luca and Alberto’s expedition has some similarities to Gordie, Chris, Teddy, and Vern’s trek in “Stand by Me” (1986), which is by design. Casarosa mentions that Rob Reiner’s film was an influence in a February 25, 2021 interview with Yahoo Entertainment. However, his characters’ goal isn’t disconcerting. In fact, their ambition is not the least bit gruesome, but it will not be revealed in this review.
Our heroes debate the states of their marine and soil ecospheres and future grab-the-tiger-by-the-tail plans with all the maturity and know-how of eighth-graders, so Casarosa and screenwriters Jesse Andrews and Mike Jones needed an inventive approach to engage the audience.
They find one. First off, both kiddos are likable, but Alberto is the seasoned expert, so he thinks, and Luca gladly follows and revels in his friend’s insight. For instance, Alberto points to the moon and claims, “I touched it once. I don’t know. It felt like a fish.”
He’s also a master originator, as he casually proclaims, “I invented walking.”
Of course, Luca buys anything Alberto’s selling, hook, line, and sinker.
Alberto pushes banter boundaries and dangerous, physical ones, so the animation team and cinematographers David Juan Bianchi and Kim White must have had a blast creating these setups. Have you ever built a makeshift ramp and pop bicycle jumps? Risky ones? Growing up, most kids that I knew did.
On a personal note, when I was in seventh grade, an eighth-grade acquaintance regularly grabbed a plastic toboggan and sledded down this one particularly steep, icy road while cars regularly whipped by in both directions. Naturally, I joined in because, sure, that made sense with my 12-years-young state of mind. Looking back, it’s a minor miracle that I survived that winter.
Again, Casarosa’s childhood helps shape “Luca”.
“I had a kernel of the idea (of Luca and Alberto through) my experiences with my best friend. Me, having been an introvert, and a little shy, and a little timid, he helped me. That was an important friendship in finding my identity and growing up,” Casarosa says in the June 17, 2021 Comicbook.com interview.
Well, Paguro and Scorfano could use a guide or lifeline in Portorosso, and they find one with bright-eyed Giulia Marcovaldo (Emma Berman), a girl with big plans and an enormous spirit. Giulia – who dresses like Where’s Waldo’s younger sister – is passionate about school, learning, her family, and also the Portorosso Cup, an annual triathlon of sorts that features three Italian Riviera wonders, and one is a warm surprise. Luca and Alberto team up with Giulia, but it doesn’t matter the specific adventure this triad tackles because “Luca” is about gaining wisdom through the magic and effort of becoming an active contributor in the world. That also includes reaching across the aisle and accepting others’ differences.
In 2021, that’s a good lesson! With some whiz-bang animation, Giulia’s burly father with a Mr. Incredible-like build, his mustache-sporting cat, clever inserts of the Italian language into everyday discussions and background signage, amusing underwater world-building, and celebrating small discoveries like tasting ice cream for the first time, “Luca” is a pleasant trip.
Enjoy “Luca” and celebrate age 13! It’s okay. We’ve all been there.
⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Image credits: Pixar Studios; Interview credits: Comicbook.com