(PG / 1h 36m / Walt Disney Studios/Pixar Animation Studios)
Overview: When Luca, a young sea monster defies his parents wishes and gets a taste of life on land, his new friends Alberto and Giulia teach him valuable lessons about loyalty, sacrifice, and confidence when the three of them team up to win a triathlon in the seaside Italian town of Portorosso.
Verdict: When Luca, an adorable if not inquisitive sea monster gets a lecture from his mother about how he must never, ever go near the surface and then immediately goes behind her back to check out lost items from lost fishing boats, this newest offering from Disney-Pixar seems to run too parallel to The Little Mermaid.
But fortunately, this does not last long. Unlike Ariel, Lucas land adventure comes at comparatively little cost, save his parents threatening to send him to live in the deep sea with his uncle if he does it again and the inherent difficulty of hiding his true fishy form from the predictably suspicious townsfolk.
On the second trip, Luca meets Alberto who completely bucks the first-new-friend trend in one specific way: He is a sea monster, too. Since these two are pretty much the greatest bromance to ever exist, it’s really refreshing to not have them have to hide from each other.
Alberto and Lucas singular mission is to get a Vespa scooter and see the world together. The challenge of having to win a race to get the prize money for their dingy little dream is twofold – having to adapt to human technology like bicycles and forks and having to beat the obnoxious bully and wannabe villain, Ercole.
His appearance in the film is one of the weaker elements, as it mostly consists of jeering at Luca, Alberto, and their friend Giulia, with whom they team up.
And even when Ercole appears threatening and made a big deal about wanting to collect the sea monster bounty, this also feels ineffective since Luca and Albertos true selves could be discovered by literally anyone in the town.
Giulia, too, is necessary but nothing special, the stereotypical misunderstood kid in town who finds herself in her friendship with these other two misunderstood kids.
Her biggest claim to fame here is to set up the real conflict of the film helping Luca find his way in the world and strain the nonetheless loving I-know-what-is-best hold that Alberto holds over Luca.
The sequence in which this reaches its tipping point is my favorite moment in the film and may even require a tissue or two. In the end, though, the bond between these two boys is cemented through an extraordinary act of pure love.
Taking a page from forerunner Coco, Luca as a film makes much about being set in another country. This aspect could be emphasized far more than it is, but the incidental use of Italian is cool, even if it is mostly relegated to names of cheese as euphemisms for what would otherwise be Giulias frequent, exasperated swearing.
Among the things that make Luca a bit of an outlier in the Disney-Pixar film canon is the notion that the characters do not sing any songs. This may seem odd coming from a studio that has won the Best Original Song Oscar in the past, but having Italian surf rock songs play over montages is a gamble that ends up working.
While the dynamic between Luca and Alberto is to die for, many of the films best characters are supporting ones. Lucas Mom and Dad – played by Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan – are a sort of understated comedic brilliance as they stop at nothing to find their wayward son.
It must run in the family, though, as Sacha Baron Cohens Uncle Ugo may be my favorite Pixar character ever and needed far more screen time than the two minutes he got.
The wordless accusations of Giulias cat are also good for a laugh, while her own father presents a first for Pixar – he has a stated disability. And not only is he not at all ashamed of having only one arm, he does not allow it to hold him back.
So much of what is wonderful about Luca is what is subtle about it – the way that Luca and Alberto look at one another, the way that Giulia talks about her friends, and the themes it presents about trust, courage, determination, and acceptance. All these elements and more make Luca the perfect splash hit of the summer.
Review by: Ashley J. Cicotte