The latest animated Pixar adventure, Luca, follows two boys during an unforgettable Italian summer. We watch their friendship blossom as they navigate who they are and what they’re hiding from the world. If your mind goes to a coming-of-age film like Call Me By Your Name, the story framework is admittedly similar. However, the protagonists here are sea monsters who take human form when they go ashore, pivoting the narrative ingredients over to The Little Mermaid and other Disney works beyond that.
Despite the common threads, Luca is a deliciously adorable tale with lovable characters, dazzling visuals and colors, and a tender message about growing up that hits you square in the heart. It wouldn’t be a Pixar movie if kids and parents alike weren’t a sobbing mess by the end. Bet on needing tissues.
The new film finds Luca (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) and his friend, Alberto (It: Chapter 1’s Jack Dylan Grazer), hiding their secret from everyone in their seaside Italian town. To callback to another Pixar classic, let’s just say this town believes fish are food and not friends. So, they’re ready with their knives and pitchforks whenever there is any mention of a sea creature. They just don’t know that Luca and Alberto are a pair of fun-loving kids who are prepared to bring their own sparkle. Fortunately for the friends, whenever they step out of the water, their flippers and fins turn into fingers and toes. Hopefully, they can make a splash in their town, make some new friends, and stay away from any water.
Luca doesn’t have the most exciting start as we learn more about the titular character’s aquatic life. Life under the sea is more or less the same as it is above. There’s nothing that grabs you like the lush and imaginative worlds of Inside Out and Soul. For this, it belongs more on the shallow end with Onward and Good Dinosaur. (Those two films, well, more so Onward, have enjoyable characters who make up for the missed opportunities with their story settings and operations.)
It’s once Luca becomes friends with Alberto that the film takes off without ever really looking back. The central friendship feels genuine and has a satisfying arc. Scenes such as the boys are flying through the countryside on a Vespa and frolicking about town are beautiful—as is the relationship that Alberto develops with a big, burly seaman named Ugo (Sacha Baron Cohen). The mission of Luca’s worried parents, Daniela and Lorenzo (a perfectly cast Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan), searching for their son, punches up the warmth within the story. A sequence of them splashing water on all the town’s children (in hopes of it being their own) will stick to the memory wall.
All the lessons are realized in the end, and it’s at the end that you truly fall in love with Luca. Even though you’ve seen these messages worked into other narratives, it’s a timeless one that I don’t mind exploring again and again. I’ll cry every time, especially now that I am a parent.