The Stew Review: Pixar’s Luca an ‘instantly charming’ tale

Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer, left) and Luca (Jacob Tremblay) discover the joy of gelato in a...
Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer, left) and Luca (Jacob Tremblay) discover the joy of gelato in a scene from Pixar's latest film, "Luca."(Disney)
Published: Jun. 23, 2021 at 10:58 AM CDT|Updated: Jun. 23, 2021 at 11:09 PM CDT
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TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - Luca is a wonderful, instantly charming film that hopefully also is a sign of films to come from Pixar.

It’s not a bold statement to declare a Pixar movie excellent. If anything, it’s exceedingly rare to do anything but. With very few genuine misfires in their catalog (looking at you, Monster’s University), even Pixar’s lesser films are often better than some of the best material offered by rival animation houses. But Luca manages to stand out even among the top tier of Pixar’s work, in part because it feels somewhat outside of the studio’s typical box.

Luca (Jacob Tremblay) is a sea monster living beneath the ocean surface with his family near the quiet fishing town of Portorosso, Italy. He spends his days tending to his herd of fish and pestering his parents with questions about life above the water. He’s never had the guts to go up there, though, until Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer) shows Luca that there’s a whole world of cool, human stuff to be discovered. So naturally, having also learned he can assume the visual appearance of a human outside the water, Luca sets out to...get a Vespa. Alberto convinces Luca that the only proper way for them to see the world is on the seat of that quintessential Italian scooter, and the only way they can earn enough money for one is by winning the annual swimming/pasta eating/cycling triathlon held every summer in Portorosso.

There are, of course, the expected “hide your real identity at all costs” hijinks and plenty of fish (sea monster?) out of water awkwardness, but on the whole the stakes driving “Luca” narratively are refreshingly low. There’s no arch villain. No one’s life or livelihood is at stake. Nor does it have the sort of existential stakes that have dominated so many of Pixar’s films. At worst, Luca and Alberto will have their true identities revealed and they won’t get the Vespa they dream of.

It’s a refreshing change of pace and focus. Pixar has succeeded so thoroughly over the years because of the studio’s commitment to crafting characters and scenarios that actually carry dramatic and thematic weight. But it had begun to feel as though there was a mandate pushing stories to continually build up to events that hinged on life and death (sometimes literally, in the case of Coco and Soul), leaving little room to explore smaller, quieter realities. Luca takes a much needed step back and simply allows these characters to exist in the moment.

What struck me most about this more laid-back approach was how much it felt inspired by the animated films of Hayao Miyazaki. For those unfamiliar, Miyazaki’s films - while frequently steeped in fantastical elements - take a significant amount of time to breathe and allow the viewer to soak in the ambiance and energy of a given locale or scene. His films are often as much about what goes on in between the points of dialogue and action as anything else. And while “Luca” never takes quite such significant breaks as a typical Miyazki film, the intent is the same. Director Enrico Casarosa wants you to smell the seaside air, feel the sun beaming down and practically taste the pasta and pesto.

While not always replicating Miyazaki’s work in form, Casarosa evokes it very much in spirit, clearly drawing from the likes of “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” “Ponyo” and “Porco Rosso.” It’s an incredibly sweet-natured film that focuses its energy on friendships and emphasizes the importance of being true to yourself, no matter what others might think of who you are. You may be surprised to find you’re not actually alone after all.

The animation is, unsurprisingly, wonderful though I was delighted to see some outside influences creeping into the expected Pixar house style, namely that of Aardman Animation (”Wallace & Gromit,” Chicken Run). And I also simply cannot say enough wonderful things about Dan Roemer’s delightful musical score.

Even if Luca doesn’t signal the start of a tonal change for Pixar, what it accomplishes on its own is more than enough to have it stand out as one of the studio’s best films.

Luca is currently streaming on Disney+ as part of a regular subscription. No theatrical release has been planned and Disney+ Premiere Access is not required to watch it.

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