Luca: Finding Your Way (With Some Help)

“Just follow my lead . . . I know what I’m doing.”

One of the strangest books that I?ve had the opportunity to read involved a seaside town, romance, swashbuckling feats, and unique creatures not indigenous to the local population. It was also a parody.? Entitled Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben Winters, it?s exactly what Jane Austen would?ve penned at her desk if she had a penchant for the macabre.?There?s little to say about the plot that isn?t given in the title, so I?ll spare you the details (except that Leviathan makes an appearance).?

Thankfully, Pixar?s latest film Luca does not go the way of Winter?s book. It tells a tale of three kids who, in many respects, find their way in life?except that two of them are also sea monsters.? It?s an interesting concept and is both cute and touching at times. ?However (and it pains me to say this as a Pixar aficionado), it?s quite disjointed and misses a great opportunity to dive deep into some relevant issues of our time.

Outside the Italian town of Portorosso lives a family of sea monsters?Daniela (voiced by SNL regular Maya Rudolph), Lorenzo (comedian Jim Gaffigan), Grandma (Sandy Martin), and Luca (Jacob Tremblay).? They?re preparing for an upcoming craft show, so Luca is left to tend to a school of fish that act like sheep.? While doing so, he comes across an alarm clock and other items from above water.? Another monster named Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer) takes then from him, and when Luca follows him, he suddenly finds himself on a beach, transformed into a human being (not unlike Daryl Hannah in the 1980?s film Splash).? It seems this class of sea monsters has the ability to transform into humans if there?s no water on their bodies.

Alberto lives in an old castle turret where he?s kept all of his collected human items, including a poster of a Vespa. Since neither is familiar with the ways of land dwellers, they believe they can create their own Vespa out of the collected items and run away from their past (Luca?s parents are ultra-constricting, which doesn?t make matters any better). They visit Portorosso and nervousness sets in for Luca?will he be outed as a sea monster?

When they actually see a real Vespa, they naturally gravitate to its owner, Ercole (Saverio Raimondo), who promptly dismisses them with insults. Their saving graces are a girl named Giulia (Emma Berman) and an annual competition of swimming, pasta eating, and bike riding that Ercole has won five consecutive years.? Giulia has tried in the past, but pasta and bike riding don?t always pair well?especially when accomplished back to back.? Luca and Alberto offer to help her win, so she invites them over for dinner.? Her father, Massino (Marco Barricelli), has only one hand but loves to go after sea monsters (he also looks a lot like the father in the Pixar short ?La Luna? [2011]).? While this plays out, a sweet friendship between Luca and Giulia begins to bloom, leaving Alberto in the cold. Meanwhile, Daniela and Lorenzo enter town, take on human form, and realize that if they get a sea monster wet, they can find their runaway son.

Will Alberto and Luca be discovered as sea monsters?? Will Giulia finally defeat Ercole in the Portorosso Cup?? Will Ercole act like a smarmy, entitled jerk that has created a pseudo-Mafia to make things happen??Will something come of the friendships between the three kids??The answers come in typical Pixar form with a few minor surprises thrown in for good measure.

Although I think Luca is a fine film with a familiar animation style and a fantastic soundtrack, something?s off this time around.?The plot is a bit simplistic and bounces from point to point with minimal connections.?The Vespa sequences and Daniele and Lorenzo?s parental mission to dump water on every child of Portorosso get old after a while.? However, the biggest issue with Luca involves the wasted opportunities to go deep on subjects such as hiding from one?s dreams, running away from life, the monsters inside each of us, and parental overprotection.? As a result, director Enrico Casarosa?s film feels limited, sort of like the cramped streets of Portorosso itself.?An additional five or ten minutes may have made the difference.?

Two things stuck out to me while watching. One: the cat Machiavelli is a scene-stealer.?Two: the sheer unlikability of Ercole surprised me.?He acts like he runs the town, but nobody ever calls him out for his attitude, sarcastic comments, and brazen lying (he?s too old to compete in the Portorosso Cup yet is still allowed to compete). However, his omnipresence makes any success by the protagonists that much sweeter.

It is important not to discount the emphasis that Luca places on the value of friendships and helping others find their way. Simply put, Luca would?ve never grown had he visited his Uncle Ugo (Sacha Baron Cohen) and disappeared into the black netherworld of deep water. Instead, he had Alberto and Giulia along for the ride.? A proverb states, ?As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another? (Proverbs 27:17 NIV); this certainly proves to be the case with each transforming the others into something better by the end of the movie.?Trying to go through life alone isn?t the answer; letting people come alongside to cry, comfort, and cheer with and for us adds a richness and depth to draw from in challenging times. In many ways, this is what salvages the film for me.

Well, that and a few plates of Massino?s pasta.

Luca is available in theaters and Disney+ as of June 18,2021

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