Review: Luca (2021)

I wasn’t hooked on this fish out of water story.

When I’m researching the movies I review, I sometimes can’t help but notice the headlines of reviews that have been posted by other publications. They’re often so witty and so brilliant that I get envious that I didn’t think of them myself. For example, Luca (2021), this week’s review. I saw a review posted by The New York Times titled, “Calamari By Your Name.” I cannot tell you how loudly I cackled when I read that. That’s genius! Partly because it’s such a flawless pun, but also because Luca is very much like a G-rated version of Call Me By Your Name (2017) mashed up with The Little Mermaid (1989). That may sound like an odd pair of movies to blend together, but the result is a quaint and charming movie that is sure to delight.

Credit: imdb.com / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Luca tells the story of Luca Paguro, a young sea monster who has the ability to look like a human boy when he is on land. Never having been to the surface before, Luca becomes fascinated by the human world when he meets his new friend Alberto, a fellow sea monster. Together they explore the Italian seaside town of Portorosso, experiencing a summer that will change their lives forever.

If you’ve seen either Call Me By Your Name or The Little Mermaid, you wouldn’t be wrong if you recognized a few glaring similarities between those movies and Luca. Like the former, Luca takes place in a stunning Italian setting during the summer and focuses on the blossoming relationship between two young men that greatly impacts their lives. There are also beautifully conveyed LGBTQ+ undertones that trust me, we’ll talk about. Like the latter, the story is about an ocean-dweller who becomes obsessed with the human world and yearns to find their own place in it separate from the life their parents planned for them. Luca even collects a horde of thingamabobs and his mom forbids him from visiting the surface! Speaking of Luca’s mom, she’s played by the fabulously funny Maya Rudolph who I’m sad to report does not get nearly enough screentime. Granted, the story is about Luca and Alberto so it’s understandable why they didn’t shoehorn in Luca’s mom unnecessarily. But still, when you have a skilled comedian like Rudolph at your disposal, why would you waste her talents and have her barely be in the movie? Why not give her more to do? That was a bummer for me. When she is on screen though, Rudolph gives a lovely performance as always, as does the entire cast. Especially Jacob Tremblay as Luca. Even when his performance is limited to just his voice, Tremblay always manages to make each role he’s in utterly adorable. Which shouldn’t be taken lightly when talking about Luca because this movie is cute as Hell.

The movie barely started and already I was going, “oh my God, this movie is SUPER CUTE!” The art is so tranquil and captures the serenity and peacefulness of a small Italian village. Of course, I’d expect nothing less from the minds at Pixar. I mean, it’s Pixar so the animation always looks gorgeous, but the art in Luca feels like something all its own. It’s sweeter than other movies. Unlike Toy Story 4 (2019) – check out my review, here – or Soul (2020), the art is less realistic and much more cartoony and storybook which is a great choice for such a lighthearted children’s movie. I like that Pixar is switching things up a little bit. 

Even what they do narratively is a change from Pixar’s normal routine. Especially after such a deep movie like Soul. Luca never really strays into existentialism or contemplative discussions about the meaning of life and honestly, it’s a refreshing change of pace for a Pixar movie. Really, how can you get much deeper than Soul? I like this switch-up! This low-stakes, breezy, sweet story is an interesting and welcome step back after Soul raised the bar so high. Luca is a little more kiddie tonally so I’m not sure how much older audiences will enjoy it, but that doesn’t stop it from being a fun coming-of-age story that I think plenty of kids are going to see themselves in and be inspired by. 

For me, the most interesting part about Luca was how easy it was to interpret the story through the lens of a young person coming to terms with their sexual or gender identity. The metaphors are so strong and the experiences Luca goes through will ensure that any member of the LGBTQ+ community watching will be transported right back to similar moments in their own young lives. The LGBTQ+ undertones in Luca were really actually overtones for me. And I loved that! It makes me happy that Pixar creates movies like this and Inside Out (2015) that help kids grow and learn about themselves, and prepares them to have conversations with their friends and families that they may not have been able to think about having before. And the fact that Pixar is able to wrap it up in such a bright, delightful package is just the cherry on top.

As much as I found Luca to be delightful and charming, it wasn’t as spellbinding or breathtaking as past Pixar movies. It’s totally watchable and I’ll probably revisit it in the future, but this movie didn’t make the biggest splash with me. Only because I was so into the premise and found the characters and the art so endearing, I was hoping for just a tad more comedy, a tad more conflict, and a tad more extraness to put the movie over the top. When it comes to the pantheon of Pixar movies, Luca is a little fish in a big pond.

Have you seen Luca? What’s your favourite Pixar movie?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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