Luca dives out of the water

‘Luca’ Review: Low-Stakes Pixar Adventure Is a Breath of Fresh Air

After years of releasing emotional films that ask big questions – where do our emotions come from? How do we deal with grief? What’s the meaning of life? — it seemed pretty clear what we could expect from a Pixar animated feature. Soul was perhaps the most deeply thoughtful of all, which is part of what makes Luca, its follow-up, so surprising. There are no grand, ponderous questions, just the idea of two curious boys (who also happen to be sea monsters) visiting a town on the surface.

Luca, named after its young protagonist, is a low-stakes adventure that captures, more than anything, the whimsical outlook of its titular hero, and the experience of being a child. Told by his parents to never go to the surface, Luca (Jacob Tremblay) finds himself drawn towards it by the promise of the unknown. When he leaves his underwater home, he encounters fellow sea-monster-in-human-disguise, Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer). He promises Luca fun, adventure, and freedom by way of a Vespa, and slowly draws shy Luca out of his shell. In the nearby town of Porto-Rosso, the boys discover an annual race, the prize money of which could make their dreams finally come true.

Luca and Alberto’s sea monster forms seem like a metaphor for the awkward tween years where you feel distinctly out of place, trying to discover who you are and your place in the world. The film is really a sweet coming of age tale, focused on the duo’s friendship and how their adventure to the surface causes them to find themselves. The depiction of their childhood thoughts and emotions is so vivid and relatable, watching Luca is like being transplanted back into the shoes of a curious, imaginative child. There are dream sequences where Luca allows his imagination to run away with him, envisaging a life where he and Alberto can ride off into the sunset through a field of sentient Vespas.

Luca and Alberto in Luca

Jacob Tremblay does an excellent job in voicing our protagonist, pouring enthusiasm into his lines to reflect the excitable nature of the character. Luca endearingly tends to become excited about everything, but finds special interest in learning about the human world, marvelling at the things he was never taught beneath the sea. But the film doesn’t limit itself to a rose-tinted view of childhood, some of the more negative aspects are explored through Alberto – be that jealousy or neglect. The story might be lower-stakes than other tales Pixar has told, but the care given to presenting the relatable thoughts and feelings of its child heroes makes it as emotionally complex as we’ve come to expect.

The fact that the story is low-stakes has some definite upsides. Aside from being character-oriented, Luca gives you ample time to admire the scenery, and the production design is gorgeous. The character design may not be as realistic as usual for Pixar, but it contributes to building a world that is larger than life. The sky and the sea are both unreasonably blue, the grass is as green as a tropical paradise, and the buildings of Porto-Rosso are painted in vivid primary colours. The production design makes it look as if Luca and Alberto exist in a fantasy world where everything is bright and beautiful.

Luca is a wonderful change of pace for Pixar, devoting time entirely to the development and self-discovery of its endearing child protagonists. The visuals are bold and colourful, and the literal fish-out-of-water story is one that is as old as time and universally relatable. A sweet and fun coming of age tale that will remind you what it felt like to be a child.

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