In Pixar's new film Luca, available on Disney+, two young sea-monster pals, Luca and Alberto, in search of the magical Vespa scooter and freedom, head to the surface for an adventure on the Italian Riviera.
Luca and Alberto can pass for human, as long as they stay dry (therefore, rain, etc., is not their friend). How this happens remains a mystery.
Luca is director Enrico Casarosa’s love letter to his beloved home of Italy. The nation's culture is featured throughout: its music, and colorful coastal architecture abounds in the film’s stunning animation.
Likewise, staples of Italian culture, including opera, pasta, gelato, and Vespas play roles within the film. This focus on culture is proposed so beautifully, almost like Casarosa exclaiming “Come, experience my first love!” This cultural welcoming is such a compelling part of this film.
Luca is a refreshingly simple story that seems to echo the great Japanese animation director Hayao Miyazaki. (Spirited Away, Ponyo). It's a truly fun film for the whole family.
Yet, friendship is the film’s true strength. Luca (voice of Jacob Tremblay) is scared to visit the surface, but, through his newfound friendship with Alberto (voice of Jack Dylan Grazer), he grows comfortable being “above water.” Alberto, despite his own demons, is kind and excited to share his knowledge with Luca.
He teaches Luca to walk, shows him all the human goodies and knick-knacks he’s collected, and explains to him everything he knows about the night sky. As they venture into the nearby fishing village, they soon meet Giuliana, a feisty human with a penchant for underdogs.
A fast friendship grows among the three of them. Giuliana teaches them all about the traditions of her hometown. It’s apparent that these characters have a deep affection for one another.
They are friends in the truest sense: they learn from each other, waste time together, and even sacrifice for one another. Luca is an authentic take on friendship in a world where people are longing for true friends.
Beyond friendship, we see the themes of imagination, belonging, dreaming, and a desire to learn and grow. Children’s natural curiosity is encompassed in the characters. Luca longs to explore the surface, and in a typical childlike way, this is only increased by his mothers’ insistence to never venture towards it. This is a valid concern for a mother, for an Italian fishing village wouldn’t take kindly to a visit from a sea monster!
Yet, through the encouragement of his grandmother and guidance of his new friend, Luca learns how to safely venture to the surface. This theme within the film can lead to important conversations between children and their parents on the dangers of the world and the importance of boundaries to keep one safe -- no doubt important themes for reflection!
The story itself is refreshing and uncomplicated, especially compared to recent Pixar films. Luca, Alberto and Giuliana create a profound friendship due to their common curiosity and love for adventure.
Unlike most children’s film, there isn’t a “big bad villain.” While, there is a town bully, the true villain seems to be Bruno: the voice in one’s head that tells one not to try new things and to be different.
Ultimately, Luca shows us that maybe, with the help of good friends, old and new, and a zest for life, we, too, can realize that certain people and things are more important than our “Vespa” and the longing to explore.
Nik Guiney, C.S.C, is a 3rd-year temporarily professed seminarian for the Congregation of Holy Cross and a graduate student at the University of Notre Dame. Originally from Ohio, Nik loves photography, film, traveling and the Cleveland Browns.