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review

Luca is available to stream on Disney+ starting June 18.Disney / Pixar

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  • Luca
  • Directed by Enrico Casarosa
  • Written by Jesse Andrews and Mike Jones
  • Featuring the voices of Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer and Maya Rudolph
  • Classification G; 96 mins

Critic’s pick


Santa Maria! You’d have to be a particular kind of stupido if you decide to make a movie full of dated Italian stereotypes. Unfortunately, that happened with 2018′s Little Italy, a film so bad that it’s just bad.

All this to say, that I approached Luca with more than a little trepidation. My children (now ages 11 and 9 for the fellow parents keeping track) had watched the charming trailer more times than I could count, and had even asked if they get to watch it before other kids (they have wised up to my gig).

As much as I found the trailer wistfully enchanting – especially since travelling to Italy has been on my imaginary itinerary for a while, and Harry Styles’ Golden video from last year made me experience a dire sense of FOMO – I was nervous. Would lines like, “What’s wrong with you, stupido!” or the all-too-common sights of Vespas and gelato mar all those delightful, sun-soaked visuals of an Italian seaside town? Basta!

Fortunately, I’m here to tell you that despite a few eye-rolls, I found myself smiling in endearment at Luca’s coming-of-age story, despite the aforementioned Italianisms that pop up pretty regularly throughout the film.

I’m certainly no authority on Italian culture, so I’m sure I missed many inside jokes. But for the most part, I felt like I was laughing with the characters, not at them. That’s likely because Oscar-nominated director and senior Pixar artist Enrico Casarosa actually grew up in Italy, and clearly draws from his personal experiences in telling this film.

The story is about a sea-dwelling boy, Luca Paguro (Jacob Tremblay), who is told time and again by his mother Daniela (Maya Rudolph) not to even dare venture close to the surface, and stay away from land monsters. Life seems pleasant enough underwater, but Luca is often blowing bubbles of boredom. The shimmering surface beckons despite his mom’s voice ringing in his ears. Luca needs the nonchalant nudging of his new best friend, Alberto Scorfano (Jack Dylan Grazer) – whose catchphrase is, “I’m kind of an expert” – to go exploring.

Unlike The Little Mermaid’s Ariel, Luca and his kind are not mer-people, but some sort of four-legged sea creatures with a tail, who transform into humans when they do step onto land. So it’s not like Luca has to barter his voice or anything, and it makes for super cool visual effects. When Luca gets his first look at life on land, he’s mesmerized. Who wouldn’t be? The warm sun, a gentle breeze through the trees, water lapping at the shore – it’s a pretty picture. Soon, Alberto and Luca have a new goal – to explore the world on a Vespa. The bromance is truly delightful.

Their desire for this adventure brings them to the little seaside town of Portorosso, where they encounter the villainous Ercole Visconti (Saverio Raimondo) and the spunky Giula Marcovaldo (Emma Berman). Luca and Alberto befriend Giulia and decide to enter the town’s contest together for their own purposes: Giulia to finally shut Ercole’s vainglorious prattle, and the boys to get their Vespa.

Along the way, they experience many Italian delights. Plates and plates of pasta. Gelato. Espresso. All while Luca and Alberto try to stay away from water (which immediately turns them back into sea creatures).

As you get immersed in the story, you’re also entranced by a lovely escape to a nostalgic Italian summer that’s inspired by visits to real-life places and rendered in a style akin to that distinctive Miyazaki aesthetic. I also want to get my hands on the original score – the music soars gorgeously.

For my kids, Luca was a lesson in acceptance, friendship and forgiveness. For me, those same messages were even more meaningful, given recent real-life examples of the ways in which humans discriminate against each other. I look forward to watching Luca again. Then I can tell my inner-critic to “Silencio Bruno!” and just enjoy this Italian summer treat.

Luca is available to stream on Disney+ starting June 18

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.

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