Luca (Review)

A beautifully light tale from Pixar brings us back to a refreshing simplicity, but lacks the courage of its convictions. The animation is wonderful, the evocation of coastal Italy is sublime. It’s a summer vacation of a film, complete with an undercurrent of romance. Alas, this romance never comes to fruition. A promising queer story letting us know the depressing filmic reality that, in family movies, romance arcs are fine for heterosexual children, but the connection of two boys is only ever Platonic.

This sour note aside, there is a lot to love here. It is a well constructed, though very surface level, tale of prejudice and its baseless nature. We follow Luca, a sea monster. These sea monsters are fish men when water touches them but look human when dry. Unfortunately, the local human town fear sea monsters and wish to kill them all. It’s an overt metaphor for fear of the other, but is limited by the other being a literal other. This allows only fable like depth though does let the film present the hypocrisy of prejudice.

The sea monsters look up to the human life, Luca dreams of escape to the local town. He ventures to the surface and meets Alberto, a friend. Only ever a friend. They develop a deep bond and realise they need a Vespa, as a poster tells them a Vespa is freedom. This leads to an escape to the local town, then meeting a young human girl, Giulia, and then partaking in a traditional triathlon: cycling, swimming and pasta eating. All to win the money to maybe buy a Vespa.

It is all low stakes charm and knowingly silly. These low stakes aid the story about prejudice. There is never a high level of threat; it never gets too sad. At all points the story has its eyes focused on acceptance and joy, a lovely little message for younger audiences. Here, the naivety feels right, giving the depth needed for a family story while still tackling an important message. It does feel a touch throwaway, though. Never quite funny enough, the characters not quite compelling enough and all feeling purposefully underplayed.

Ultimately, the romantic tease at the centre stings. Romantic arcs are no stranger to this genre and here one is set up. But it will never be, a lingering conservatism inherent in where this film comes from will never let it be. So, it feels manipulative. Especially in this tale of the hypocrisy and ignorance of prejudice to not use that one platform to do something.

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