By: Sara Kinne-Lugo
Disney and Pixar's original feature film LUCA is the perfect kickoff to summer. A tried-and-true coming-of-age story with a twist, LUCA is the feature directorial debut of Enrico Casarosa, who was Oscar-nominated for another Italy-set piece, Pixar short “La Luna.” The voice cast features Jacob Tremblay as Luca Paguro, Jack Dylan Grazer as Alberto Scorfano, Emma Berman as Giulia Marcovaldo, Saverio Raimondo as town bully Ercole Visconti, Maya Rudolph as Luca’s mom Daniela, Marco Barricelli as Giulia’s dad Massimo, Jim Gaffigan as Luca’s dad Lorenzo, Sandy Martin as Luca’s grandma, and Giacomo Gianniotti as a local fisherman.
LUCA follows the titular young boy (Tremblay) on a frolicking, but dangerous, romp through a lively and sunny Italian seaside town. But, he and his newly-made best friend Alberto (Grazer) share a secret - they are sea monsters from another world just below the water's surface. Unfortunately for them, the town of Portorosso is not welcoming of their kind. How will they discover themselves, while simultaneously hiding their true forms?
The boys set their sights on buying a Vespa, as they are naively convinced it’s their ticket to exploring the world. Lucky for them, they stumble upon my favorite character - street-smart Guilia (Berman) - who takes the boys under her wing with my favorite exchange in the film:
Giulia: You know, we underdogs have to look out for each other, right?
Alberto: What's, "under the dog's"?
Giulia: Under-dogs. You know, kids who are different. Dressed weird, or a little sweatier than average.
From there, the trio’s friendship blossoms, as they train together for a local cup race. Winning the cup is the boys’ shot at affording a Vespa, and therefore setting off for their dreams of exploration. (Side note: Contrary to what I predicted from watching the trailer, Guilia’s dad, Massimo [Barricelli], is a total gem, who may even rival Guilia for my top favorite character). I won’t spoil the rest of the story, but of course there are ups and downs, breakthroughs and discoveries. Although some of the twists were easily guessed ahead of time, it didn’t make them any less sweet.
The setting of the film, Portorosso, isn’t a real city, but it was based on real locations, such as Cinque Terre in Italy. Thanks to Casarosa’s time growing up in Genoa, and of course the diligent research Pixar does before any film, LUCA was able to welcome viewers into a fictional town that felt completely believable. From the warm, sunny terra-cotta tones of the buildings, to the vibrant blues and greens of the Mediterranean Sea, this film was a pleasure to view. Just like in Finding Nemo and its follow up, Finding Dory, I was in complete awe of how realistic and beautiful they were able to make an animated ocean. Truly, my mind is blown.
LUCA is a story of a young boy growing up, making friends, making mistakes and learning from them. It’s a story of realizing that you can choose family in addition to your blood relatives. While the concept was really nothing new, and was easily predicted in parts, LUCA truly shines with its sweet, relatable characters, and meticulously-crafted fictional Italian Riviera town of Portorosso.
Disney/Pixar could be accused of playing it safe with LUCA, but I don’t think this film needed to be anything aside from what it was. For me, it was very refreshing to watch a Pixar film that didn’t rip my heart out and tear it to pieces, before stomping on it, and then, oh yeah, lighting it on fire. Yes, I teared up at some of the more heartwarming moments (name anything, I’ll cry in it), but once the movie was over, I felt happy and light, like I myself had taken a (1 hr 40 min) mini-vacation to the Italian Riviera. After the countless heavy events of the last year, I found myself welcoming LUCA’s bright, whimsical, and happy tone with arms wide open.
LUCA is streaming now, exclusively on Disney+.