Luca (Jacob Tremblay), a sea monster who lives beneath the Italian town of Portorosso with his family, is forbidden from going to the surface. He spends his days dreaming about what it might be like to be among the humans and a chance encounter with fellow sea monster Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer) results in him defying his family to experience life outside of the water. Once under the sun of Portorosso Luca and Alberto transform into ordinary boys, and they pass the time dreaming of getting a Vespa. Their adventures lead them to Giulia (Emma Berman), a young misfit intent on winning the Portorosso Cup Triathlon, and the two boys agree to help her while trying to keep their real identities secret.
‘Luca’ is a literal ‘fish-out-of-water’ story that recalls elements of Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ and Disney Pixar’s ‘Coco’. Essentially a story about three outsiders who come together, ‘Luca’ features the familiar moral about accepting who you are and not being afraid to be different. While that theme may have been done to death in movies over the years, particularly those made by Disney Pixar, it doesn’t hamper your enjoyment of ‘Luca’ one bit. In fact, in these doom-and-gloom pandemic days we’re all enduring, it’s a refreshing breath of sunshine that will hit the hearts of families across the world.
Once Luca leaves the water and discovers that he can pass himself off as a real boy, the film becomes an exploration of adolescence and the unbridled joy that being a kid brings. Luca and Alberto become fast friends as they adventure together and attempt to build their own Vespa. The carefree fun they enjoy is a new sensation to Luca who has been living under his parents’ strict rules. For a while he can excuse his way out of questions about his whereabouts but when his parents see through his lies, Luca trades the only life he’s known for the one he’s been enjoying with Alberto.
The addition of Giulia into the mix causes friction between Luca and Alberto. While she isn’t a sea monster, she is an outsider like them with no friends to speak of and a father who hunts sea monsters and fishes for a living. Part of the tension in the film comes from waiting for the inevitable reveal of Alberto and Luca as sea monsters to Giulia, but there’s also some interesting nuance about how jealousy can arise when someone new enters into the midst of an existing friendship. Luca’s bond with Giulia pushes Alberto to do something shocking, and Luca’s reaction highlights the fickle nature of childhood friendships and the delicate thread that binds children together.
There is a lot of fun to be had up to that point though. Luca and Alberto learn to do human things like riding a bike and eating pasta so they can help Guilia with the Portorosso Cup Triathlon. They come up against the competitive, and nasty, Ercole Visconti (Saverio Raimondo), and Luca has to evade his parents who come to the surface to search for him when they realise where he’s really going every day.
The animation in ‘Luca’ is absolutely stunning. The breath-taking landscape of Portorosso rings true of an Italian coastal town and the aesthetic places the film in the 50s or 60s. The vibrant colours really pop on screen, and it’s a shame in many ways that ‘Luca’ has been released straight to Disney+ rather than the big screen. At times, the locations look so real you’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching a blend of animation and real footage. The supporting characters, especially Giulia’s cat, really help to bring the film to life too.
The entire voice cast is fantastic. Jack Dylan Grazer is the scene-stealer as the confident Alberto, whose own backstory has a bit of a question mark hanging over it. He builds a strong rapport with both Jacob Tremblay’s Luca and Emma Berman’s Giulia, and all three actors draw you into the heart of the story. Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan are fun too as Luca’s hapless parents Daniela and Lorenzo, providing plenty of laughs once they arrive in the town of Portorosso.
‘Luca’ is everything you need from a family film and then some. Don’t be dissuaded by its simple and familiar premise because there’s so much more to this film than you’ll expect. It’s heartwarming, very funny and at times unexpectedly emotional, and it tells such a wonderful tale that you can’t help but be reeled in by its charm. Don’t be surprised if ‘Luca’ goes on to be considered a Disney Pixar classic in the future or if you and your family find yourselves watching it multiple times over the summer months.
Cast: Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Saverio Raimondo, Maya Rudolph, Jim Gaffigan, Marco Barricelli Director: Enrico Casarosa Writers: Enrico Casarosa (story), Simon Stephenson (story), Jesse Andrews (story and screenplay), Mike Jones (screenplay) Certificate: PG Duration: 95 mins Released by: Disney Release date: 18th June 2021