Luca: A Commercial For Vespa, A Lot Of Colour, A Welcome Pixar Film
Words By Arnel Duracak
“…a reminder that diversity and difference are what make us who we are”
Unlike Pixar’s large catalogue of tear jerkers, Enrico Casarosa’s Luca (2021) represents a more emotionally and thematically dialled down entry, however it still retains the gusto and “simple message told well” approach that has made Pixar’s films so successful.
What especially makes Luca such an enjoyable film is that it anchors its story to such simple (albeit overdone) tropes and allows the central friendship between Luca (Jacob Tremblay) and Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer) to develop into a familiar one. When these two characters share the screen and imagine a world beyond the one they know, Casarosa is able to tap into what made the likes of the Toy Story films and more recently, Soul (2020), so unforgettable. In hindsight, what that is, is the idea that something lies beyond the toybox or beyond the Great Before, and its very inaccessibility is what draws those emotionally dense moments that made these films so memorable. Whether that’s the struggle for identity that 22 (Tina Fey) has in Soul which is keeping her from being sent to the Earth, or the idea that toys have to find other ways to mesh with the human world in Toy Story.
For Luca and Alberto, their fascination lies with the land. The two of them are essentially fish like beings that spend their time living in the sea, but dream of the world beyond the sea. When they do exit the water (something that is ill advised and essentially forbidden for Luca whose parents are played by Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan), they transform into human versions of themselves. Casarosa plays with that idea by using the affordances of the animation medium to create a series of exciting sequences involving Luca and Alberto’s navigation of their human and fishlike selves. In doing so, Casarosa finds a neat way of building the friendship of the two boys through their discovery of things that are not of the sea (an alarm clock, record player, wrench etc.).
The use of Italian culture and objects (like the Vespa) allow Luca and Alberto to envisage the world beyond and the freedom that it offers. While the Vespa acts as a symbol of that freedom, it eventually has a lesser significance as the second act kicks in and is almost forcibly brought up to remind you of what Luca and Alberto’s purpose beyond the water is while all the events around the sea town, Portorosso, occur. Heck, at times the film leans so heavily on the Vespa brand to the point where it feels like you’re watching a commercial for Vespa with some amazing animations, a well composed soundtrack, and some killer colour grading.
Alberto and Luca in Luca
It is essentially in that second act that the film’s emotional and thematic density wanes as more side characters are introduced like Giulia (Emma Berman) and the eventual antagonist character of Ercole (Saverio Raimondo) with his own agenda. The problem isn’t so much in their presence in the narrative as much as it’s the divergence from the shared experience and growth of Luca and Alberto’s friendship. As mentioned, the Vespa becomes more of a reminder of the boys’ dream rather than something to look forward to. Furthermore, the exclusivity of the shared experience between Luca and Alberto also loses that spark as more things get in the way (the Portorosso Cup Race, Giulia’s own presence). In this sense the film falls more into a spectacle rather than an exploration of the ideas of freedom, individuality, and acceptance that were initially established.
When it comes to Giulia, her gradual inclusion in Luca and Alberto’s bubble isn’t so much the reason that the spark wanes, but it’s more the fact that she almost feels underutilised just when you think she will play a bigger role in strengthening the bond between the boys. She almost becomes relegated to the sideline after a point only to remerge in the final act and salvage the bond and time lost between Luca and Alberto. It is, of course, important to test the strength of the central friendship, but it almost begs the question of “so what?” after a point and leaves you wondering whether more could have been done to capture the curiosity and dynamic the boys share during the films opening sequences.
Nonetheless, Luca is still one of Pixar’s most vibrant and colourful films to date, and like the Oscar winning animation Coco (2017), it finds a nice way of working in aspects of the country and culture in question, to the heart of the world. While Coco’s thematic depth and maturity are more fleshed out and refined, Luca is still a welcome addition to the world of animation and a reminder that diversity and difference are what make us who we are.
Luca is now available on Disney+
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