Everything about Pixar’s new film, “Luca,” oozes adolescence and a time of innocence. The comparisons to 2017’s “Call Me By Your Name” were bound to happen when the first concept photos were released, though “Luca” separates itself by focusing on pre-teens and infusing folklore in to an over-saturated market like the coming-of-age genre. While it may not be the tearjerker that “Inside Out,” or present you with an existential crisis that will keep you thinking like “Soul,” “Luca” will still warm your heart with its exploration of friendship. It’s very clear when watching that Luca is a very personal story for the director Enrico Casarosa. The characters are handled with such care and it feels like it was based on actual experiences.
Luca (Jacob Tremblay) meets Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazier) while fleeing from his parents and winds up a literal fish-out-of-water. The two grow close as Alberto is able to push Luca past his comfort zone and dream of traveling the world on a Vespa. While on land in Portorosso, the two meet Guilia (Emma Berman), and the trio plan on winning Portorosso Cup race.
At its core, “Luca” is a coming-of-age film that focuses on the trivial. The main antagonist of the film, Ercole (Saverio Raimondo) is unlikely to be intimidating to older viewers, but that speaks to the age of our protagonists. The biggest similarity to “Call Me By Your Name” is the backdrop of Northern Italy. Granted, there is a relationship between two boys in the forefront of “Luca,” though they are pre-teens that aren’t worried about romance quite yet. Their naïve nature hasn’t worn off yet, and perhaps a sequel taking place in the future could address this. Speaking of the setting of Italy, it’s illustrated beautifully with a unique animation style. The characters are cartoon-like, but a lot of the settings still have realistic features such as the town square.
The cast is a joy to watch. Jacob Tremblay (“Room,” “Good Boys”) and Jack Dylan Grazier (“Shazam!,” “IT“) have great chemistry, and Emma Berman brings balance into the friend group as Guilia. Sacha Baron Cohen feels a bit out of place in the film, he plays Luca’s uncle but has no more than three minutes of screen time. Why another actor with a lesser-known name couldn’t have filled the part is beyond me.
“Luca” moves at a rapid pace, maybe even a bit too fast at times, but being that it is a film aimed at children, it’s crucial that the adventure begins soon after the title card appears. It gets off the ground running while worldbuilding with a brief opening sequence that establishes the relationship between the humans and sea monsters. Then the film dives underwater to establish Luca’s world. The family dynamics do leave a bit to be desired, Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan nail it as Luca’s parents, but they are pushed to the side for a chunk as they search for their son. It allows for more focus on Luca and Alberto, but a few extra scenes with the parents could have been nice.
“Luca” is a great coming-of-age film about friendship, and it will likely hark back to a time in your childhood in some way. The target audience feels a bit younger than something like “The Mitchell’s vs. The Machines” from earlier this summer, but as it remains it’s a tight 85 minute (without credits) family adventure about friendship and does speak to a bigger issue of accepting others who aren’t like you. While it’s a shame that “Luca” got pushed onto Disney+ and won’t get a theatrical release, it’s included with subscriptions to the streaming service at no extra charge, so dive into this delightful adventure.