Enrico Casarosa, Jesse Andrews, Simon Stephenson, Mike Jones, Julie Lynn, Randall Green
Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Saverio Raimondo, Maya Rudolph, Jim Gaffigan, Marco Barricelli, Peter Sohn, Lorenzo Crisci, Marina Massironi, Gino La Monica, Sandy Martin
In a time when Disney and Pixar release two to three animated features a year, it’s impossible for every effort to be a hit. Luca very much wants to be among the big boys, but it cannot find a unique way to go about it.
Minor Pixar to be sure, Luca doesn’t fall into the category of abject failure like The Good Dinosaur did, but it still feels like a half-finished work rushed through a production pipeline by an untested young director. Enrico Casarosa may have had a senior role in films like Toy Story 4, Incredibles 2, and Coco, but those films don’t seem to have influenced his style with Luca, but his wonderful Oscar-nominated short film, La Luna, certainly did.
Neophyte directors have a tendency to play to their strengths as best they can and at least inventiveness is one of Casarosa’s best talents. The story revolves around a pair of sea creatures who look human when their fins and scales are dry. Jacob Tremblay voices the titular Luca, a sea creature longing for adventure in the great wide somewhere. It’s a defining characteristic of many of Disney’s numerous animated heroes, but the idea isn’t a common theme in Pixar’s pictures, which may explain why this film feels like mid-tier Disney as well.
In his quest for adventure, Luca meets Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer) whose father has left him behind, so the alberto searches for dry-land trinkets to adorn his dilapidated parapet home. The pair become fast friends andb as Luca becomes frustrated by his insular parents, they go undercover as human children in a small seaside village where sea monsters are feared and hunted, though no one has yet captured one. There, they meet young human child Giulia (Emma Berman) and the trio form a solid friendship until Alberto begins to feel marginalized as Luca becomes enamored with Giulia’s informative personality and their plans to travel the world on a Vespa begin to collapse.
The opening sequence, and subsequent adventures, feel a bit like The Little Mermaid, which was also about an undersea creature who longed to be where the people were. The only difference here is Luca and Alberto, and the rest of their species, become human when on dry land whereas Ariel had to give up her voice to an evil queen for the privilege of having legs. While the similarities largely end there, it’s hard to get away from the pall of simply being a male-centric Little Mermaid-esque adventure that hangs over the production.
Luca employs vibrant animation and the story is ultimately fulfilling emotionally, but it cannot escape the overwhelming sense of predictability. It’s the kind of film that might have fit better on the Disney slate rather than the Pixar family of films, largely because we’ve set so many high expectations of Pixar that even gentle, modestly involving kids’ fare can feel ill-fitting and purposeless.
Potentials: Animated Feature
December 7, 2021