Take a look at those boys. They look like they’re having fun – building their own bike, getting out and about in the summer sun and generally enjoying themselves, right? Not quite. They’re not what they seem, for the two boys at the centre of Pixar’s latest, Luca, are from another world. Not aliens this time, but sea monsters, ones with the ability to take on human form once they make it onto dry land.
In truth, they’re not especially monstrous when they’re under the water and their lives there are very similar to those of their human counterparts. But young Luca (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) is overcome with curiosity about life above the water and, when he meets Alberto (the voice of Jack Dylan Grazer), he finds his new friend has made a life for himself in the idyllic Italian countryside and the pull of this new life becomes even stronger. Venturing into the nearby town, where the locals are all scared stiff of sea monsters, is a risky move but they don’t arouse too much suspicion – apart from one cat with a super-sensitive nose – and sign themselves up for the annual triathlon so they can buy themselves a Vespa.
This is Pixar at its most charming and endearing. The Italian Riviera setting is created in such a way as to make you long for the brilliant sunshine, the vibrant colours of the buildings clinging to the hillsides and the cool water flowing from the piazza fountain. It’s also Pixar at probably its most lightweight, which may well account for Disney’s decision to stream the film rather than release it in cinemas, even though there are scenes – especially underwater – which are more than deserving of the big screen. While the fish – or should we say sea monster? – out of water set up has plenty of promise, it soon fades away, leaving us with the more routine triathlon. It brings with it some fun action sequences, but it’s a narrative trope that we’ve seen before.
There’s generally a sense of déjà vu about Luca. We met two other boys on a journey of self-discovery last year in Onward, there are moments under the sea when it’s impossible not to think of Finding Dory and there is the almost inevitable favourite among Pixar themes. The one about acceptance, treating everybody as equals and how different doesn’t equal bad – not that there’s anything wrong with that. The speculation about parallels with gay romantic drama Call Me By Your Name has been dismissed by director Enrico Casarosa, who sees the film as purely about friendship. But when the narrative includes characters who are straddling two different worlds and trying to find their place, it’s a theory that has some traction, even if this lighter weight look at otherness equally applies to subjects such as race and immigration.
It’s an appealing confection, almost as tempting as the copious quantities of gelato consumed by the locals and British audiences even get a cameo from the voice of no less than TV chef Gino D’Acampo, although it’s very much of the blink-and-you’ll miss-him variety. As a piece of home entertainment for the family, it has plenty of summer and emotional warmth, but doesn’t linger in the memory like some of its predecessors. Pixar haven’t quite done it again.
Animation, Comedy, Family | Cert: PG | Disney/Pixar | Disney+ | 18 June 2021 | Dir. Enrico Casarosa | The voices of Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Maya Rudolph, Emma Berman, Saverio Raimondo, Sacha Baron Cohen.