Luca Synopsis: In a beautiful seaside town on the Italian Riviera, Luca (Jacob Tremblay) and Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer) experience an unforgettable summer filled with gelato, pasta, and endless scooter rides. But all the fun is threatened by a deeply-held secret: they are sea monsters from another world just below the water’s surface.
Pixar’s illustrious brand still stands as the gold standard of North American animation. After experiencing a transitional rough patch (Cars 2, Brave, and Good Dinosaur were a far cry from their usual standards), a fresh focus on diverse storytelling helped create several new imaginative staples. Coco and Soul possessed unwavering heart and deft thematic touch, transporting a young adult like me back to the glory days of Pixar’s storied heyday.
The studio’s latest work, Luca, embraces a new avenue of minimalistic storytelling. I can see where some will critique the film’s simplistic pleasures, but director Enrico Casarosa imbues just the right touch in his wistful and warmly nostalgic narrative. Luca represents some of the studio’s best work in recent memory, intelligently stripping away narrative artifice for a far more soulful experience.
Most modern animated efforts suffer from their far-too regimented narrative playbook, utilizing the same thankless mechanics that even younger audiences have likely grown tired of. While Jesse Andrews and Mike Jones’ screenplay implements some of these tropes, a majority of the runtime is spent frolicking through the Italian countryside with our young protagonists. The breezy, carefree pace allows Casarosa and company to reflect on the whimsical joys of childhood summers, a time where each day feels endless in its creative possibilities (even the short runtime feels like a perfect reflection of summer’s winding days).
Luca never builds to grandiose moments, but that’s kind of the point. It’s the type of low-key storytelling that still aptly reflects on a meaningful chapter in all of our lives, while Pixar still flexes its chops when it comes to generating emotionally authentic frames. A lack of showiness allows these warm feelings to ruminate in a meaningful tale of friendship and its inclusive ability to connect (there are LGBTQ undertones to the character’s closeted existence). The talented voice actors also imbue heart and spirit into their earnest roles, as the central trio of Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Emma Berman bring their roles to life with youthful vitality.
Superb animation is almost a given with modern animation, but Luca’s impeccable details don’t make the achievement any less impressive. Whether it’s the crisp sparkles from the bright blue seas or the rustic cracks in each Italian countryside building, Casarosa and his team create a photo-realistic lens spiced up with animation’s creative powers. My only significant issue with Luca comes in terms of its generic base. Jones and Andrews rely too much on generic contrivances to set up the base of their narrative, making the first 15-25 minutes a slog as the film discovers its pace.
Once Luca gets going, the film creates impeccable splendor for the eyes and heart. The refreshingly low-steaks storytelling creates a self-assured deviation from standard practices, drawing upon genuine sentiments without overworking its central ideals.