Luca (3 stars)

Luca

The Italian Riviera makes a glorious backdrop to Pixar's lovely, if not exactly ground-breaking latest

Pixar's reliably lovely computer-animated latest might be lacking in the magic of their finest hours but, admittedly, they've set the bar incredibly high for themselves. Unfolding on a stunningly rendered Italian Riviera in the mid-20th century, it pays homage to Fellini and other iconic Italian filmmakers. There's also, as first-time feature director Enrico Casarosa has explained, a dash of Studio Ghibli's Miyazaki in there, while fans of the work of Ron Howard will be happy to hear about the splash of, erm, Splash.

Penned by Jesse Andrews (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) and Mike Jones (Soul), the film explores well-worn themes through the adventures of an unusual protagonist. We're introduced to sea 'monster' Luca Paguro (voiced by Room's Jacob Tremblay), an adolescent who herds goatfish and is warned against heading above the surface by his fiercely protective mother, Daniela (a typically hilarious Maya Rudolph); 'They're here to do murders,' she warns Luca when he spots the bottom of a fishing boat. Sacha Baron Cohen pops up for some scene-stealing as the distinctly odd deep-sea dweller Uncle Ugo.

Curiosity inevitably gets the better of Luca and, after realising that emerging from the water transforms him into human form, he falls in with fearless loner Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer from It), another of his kind. Alberto introduces Luca to the thrill and wonder of human bits and bobs before these two outsiders brave the small town of Portorosso, where a fear of sea creatures such as themselves is rife. They are befriended by fellow outcast Giulia (Emma Berman), who delivers fish for her gigantic fisherman father, Massimo (Marco Barricelli), and enter a race against the town bully Ercole (Saverio Raimondo) in the hope of being able to buy themselves a battered Vespa with the prize money.

Particularly by comparison to Pixar's last film, Soul, and despite the razzle-dazzle of its otherworldly inclusions, the story does feel on the slight and perhaps under-ambitious side, with an overwhelming sense of familiarity at the outset as Luca strikes out on his own against his parents' wishes. The sea monsters themselves aren't the most eye-catching of creations, feeling a touch flat, yet there's great charm in the environments, the affection for Italian culture and in gorgeous little details, like Giulia's beautiful red corkscrew curls. Playing on a fear of difference and desire for acceptance will always have powerful resonance and it's done very deftly. And where Pixar always succeed is in delivering huge quantities of emotion, with the solidarity and pluck of the climax sure to touch your heart.

Available to watch on Disney+ from Fri 18 Jun.

Luca

  • 3 stars
  • 2021
  • US
  • 1h 36min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Enrico Casarosa
  • Written by: Jesse Andrews, Mike Jones
  • Cast: Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Marco Barricelli, Saverio Raimondo, Maya Rudolph, Jim Gaffigan
  • UK release: 18 June 2021

It's summer on the Italian Riviera. Two youngsters have set out to have the most fun they can have in a nearby seaside town. But, they have a secret to hide - they're sea monsters who can transform into people.