Pixar remains about as steady a cinematic brand as there is. Even if some proclaim that they haven’t put out a masterwork in some time, you know you’re in for a treat when they put out a new film. So, it’s likely no surprise to say that Luca is a high-quality bit of animation. What’s perhaps a little more surprising is that it succeeds while trafficking in some of the things that “Lesser Pixar” usually does. It’s not a tear-jerker, it’s sillier, and it may slightly appeal more to children than adults. Don’t be fooled though, the messages that Pixar always has for the grownups are still here. It’s just in a vibrant package that goes down especially easy this time.
Luca has the look and feel of a more disposable flick, but that’s just on the surface. Beneath, it has the beating heart of a classic family tale in the making. If it’s another Pixar endeavor that’s just good or very good, as opposed to great, well…that’s not the fault of Luca. Everyone involved here is doing strong work, that’s for sure.
Luca Paguro (voice of Jacob Tremblay) is just your average pre-teen boy. Oh, except for the fact that he’s a sea monster. Below the surface, he watches what happens on land with complete curiosity. His parents, Daniela (voice of Maya Rudolph) and Lorenzo (voice of Jim Gaffigan), fear for his safety if he leaves the water, though his grandmother (voice of Sandy Martin) has more of a “boys will be boys” attitude. Worried he won’t stay put, they’re going to send him to the bottom of the ocean to live with Uncle Ugo (voice of Sacha Baron Cohen). One day, he finally runs away and heads up there, turning into a human, at least while on dry land. There, he meets another sea monster as human boy in Alberto Scorfano (voice of Jack Dylan Grazer), and that’s where the adventure begins.
While Luca is cautious, Alberto throws it to the wind. Before long, they’ve made friends with a local girl in Giulia (voice of Emma Berman), as well as enemies with a town bully. Hoping to run away and stay on the surface, they need money for a Vespa, which leads them to partnering with Giulia for a race. When Luca’s parents head to the surface looking for him, the race takes a wild turn. Of course, friendship is what’s truly at stake, as you might have imagined.
The voice work here is uniformly effective. Jacob Tremblay leads the way, while Sacha Baron Cohen steals his scene (it’s basically a cameo), but everyone is on point here. The bonding on display between Dack Dylan Grazer and Tremblay, as well as between Grazer, Tremblay, and Emma Berman, is certainly palpable. Jim Gaffigan and Maya Rudolph are reliable supporting voices, sure to make you laugh. The same goes for Sandy Martin. They all just do their jobs quite well.
Director Enrico Casarosa, as well as writers Jesse Andrews and Mike Jones, make Luca a lovely experience. Along with Dan Romer‘s score, the behind the scenes work is very strong. They may not be trying to hit the complex emotions of an Inside Out, Soul, or Up, but on its own terms, it’s wildly successful. Visually, Casarosa also makes this look unlike any other Pixar outing, to date, and that’s worth praising as well.
Luca will please children and parents alike. The message of friendship is a strong one, the visuals are lush, and trust me when I tell you that you’re going to want pasta when it’s all over. Even if this Pixar outing doesn’t last forever in your memory banks, it’s a supremely enjoyable way to spend a summer day. Don’t miss it!