Sometimes films aren’t just about telling a story; they attempt to capture a feeling, a facet of the human experience that many of us forget as we get older. Disney and Pixar’s “Luca” accomplishes this beautifully.
The new animated feature, set in a bright and charming seaside town on the Italian Riviera in the late 1950s-early 1960s, is a coming-of-age story about Luca Paguro (Jacob Tremblay) and Alberto Scorfano (Jack Dylan Grazer), two friends whose summertime fun is threatened by a big secret — they’re actually sea monsters.
Directed by Enrico Casarosa (“La Luna,” “The Good Dinosaur”), this film offers an incredibly talented voice cast that offers the color and heart to this love letter to summer, including Maya Rudolph as Daniela Paguro, Jim Gaffigan as Lorenzo Paguro, Emma Berman as Giulia Marcovaldo, Sandy Martin as Grandma Paguro, and more. There’s even a surprise Sacha Baron Cohen appearance that I practically squealed over with delight.
“Luca” feels like a perfect spiritual companion to the likes of Studio Ghibli greats “Kiki’s Delivery Service” and “My Neighbor Totoro,” both of which I would call “slice-of-life” films. Pixar is no stranger to heartwarming tales that teach us a little something about ourselves, but this film felt especially refreshing due to its smaller scale and abundance of pure joy in every frame.
The animation this time around is also quite different from Pixar’s usual look, almost akin to that of Aardman Animations, the studio behind “Wallace & Gromit.” There were many instances in the film that looked as though they were stop-motion with clay rather than computer-generated animation. This is no lifelike depiction a la “Soul,” but rather a more imaginative, stylized take that really fits in with the film’s sun-glazed theme.
The character designs for Luca and company are as much technical marvels as they are charming to look at; each of the sea monsters are able to transform into humans at will upon reaching the shores of Portorosso (could the seaside town’s name be a callback to Studio Ghibli’s “Porco Rosso?”). The transformation sequences alone demonstrate Pixar’s ever-growing ability to subvert animation techniques as we know them to accomplish something so believable you forget entirely about the technology that makes it possible.
Composed by Dan Romer (“Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Superman and Lois”), the score for “Luca” is so organic and fun, with texture that mirrors that of the animation. Each tune heard throughout the film reinforces the summertime vibes and reminded me often of how cinematic and magical summers felt when I was younger.
While “Luca” may feel a bit light in story and stakes when compared to Pixar’s previous outing, “Soul,” it makes up for that in heart and charm as it takes you on a feel-good ride toward discovering yourself and gaining the courage to come up out of the water and into the sun.
Disney and Pixar’s “Luca” begins streaming exclusively on Disney+ starting June 18. There is one end credit scene to stick around for, though it doesn’t pertain to the plot. The film’s credits, however, provide a sort of visual epilogue for the characters. You can check out the trailer below: