Our Take: 4 Stars
Summer vacation may be over but that does not mean that fun summer vibes and good times have to end! Jump right in to Disney Pixar’s newest film, ‘Luca’, where the water’s fine. With its nostalgia, youthful energy, and colorful cast of characters, this film will have you smiling, laughing and (maybe) crying. Its beachy atmosphere combined with the enjoyable emotional roller coaster make it the perfect summer send-off.
To find inspiration for his feature directorial debut, Enrico Casarosa delved deep into his own life and history. The story that he crafted, written for the screen by Jesse Andrews and Mike Jones, is a delicious blend of myth and autobiography. Like the title character, Luca, Casarosa grew up in Italy and spent his summers on the Italian Riviera. Luca, in many ways, is a reflection of his creator. Casarosa said that he was very shy in his childhood, but everything changed after making a new friend, named Alberto (just like Luca does in the film). Alberto urged Casarosa to come out of his shell and to follow his dream of being an animator all the way to the United States.
Very rarely does Pixar make a bad film, and they definitely haven’t done so here. On the surface level, “Luca” is gorgeous. The animation is just the right mix of simplicity and reality, creating a fitting picture for this beautiful mix of life and fantasy. The animation and music create a stellar mood for the film, one that is consistent throughout the entire picture.
On top of the film’s charming mood, its messages of friendship, following your dreams and facing your fears create a classic Pixar hit with a youthful energy. It is refreshingly grounded in a very human story. Where in recent films Pixar has delved deep into the metaphorical, this film is firmly rooted in humanity. While maybe not as complex and openly philosophical as other films such as “Soul” (2020) or “Inside Out” (2015), there is a pleasant simplicity and humility to the film that has, perhaps, been lacking from other recent Disney Pixar films. While the plot is largely predictable, there are enough unexpected twists and turns to keep viewers of all ages interested. With its sense of nostalgia and themes and plot structure to match, watching “Luca” feels like growing up all over again.
It is not a perfect film, however. While most of the characters are very well fleshed out, the antagonist, Ercole, is flat and juvenile, and only serves as a plot device. While Ercole really is a secondary antagonist who motivates the underdogs, his development is so nonexistent that any scene he is in immediately breaks the audience’s suspension of disbelief. In a film with so much character development, the lack thereof becomes very evident.
Additionally, while this film is made by an Italian man, and is about life on the Italian Riviera, it still feels like an American look at Italian life. Cultural aspects highlighted in the film felt too generic to be personal. Things like pasta, vespas and soccer, while common in Italy, do not craft a deeper connection to the setting and create an almost lazy feel.
While Casarosa had one specific message in mind — the childhood friendships that help us become who we are — audiences have found many different interpretations of the film. The concept of having to hide one’s true self before eventually embracing it has drawn comparisons from both immigrant communities and members of the LGBTQ+ community. While these interpretations were unintentional, Casarosa encourages them — a film works when the audience can see themselves and their life in the characters and events of the story.
“Luca” is surprisingly hard to pin down. It is a beautiful film that is a strong addition to Pixar’s illustrious filmography. On first glance it doesn’t feel like anything special when compared to other Pixar films, but as it goes on it surprises you by its depth, its originality and its consistent and charming atmosphere. Carefully crafted plot progression and storylines allow Luca, Alberto and Giulia to grow up right in front of the audience’s eyes, and allows the audience to grow up right alongside them.
“Luca” may not be the best film Pixar has made in recent memory, but it certainly holds its own and stands apart from the mean.