'Luca': Movie Review
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Pixar’s new animated comedy, LUCA, is about a young teenage boy who visits a beautiful seaside Italian town with his newfound friend, but all their fun is threatened by a deep secret: they are both sea monsters from another world just below the ocean’s surface. Instead of movie theaters, Disney decided to release LUCA for free on its Disney+ streaming service. LUCA isn’t as spectacular a production as the best of Pixar’s animated classics, but it’s a perfectly delightful, heartwarming, funny family movie with appealing characters where friendship overcomes prejudice and sinful pride.
The movie opens on a small boat at night on the ocean, where two Italian fishermen discuss fairy tales about sea monsters. They’re fishing near a small, isolated island where, legend has it, the sea monsters live. One of the men winds up an old Victrola phonograph to play a beautiful aria. Luca, a young teenage sea monster, startles the two men when he tries to take some things on the boat, including a wrench and a playing card. Everybody gets scared, Luca accidentally gets caught in the fishermen’s net for a moment, and the record player tumbles into the ocean.
Luca goes back to his family’s house under the sea, where he’s the shepherd for a school of small fish they tend. His mother warns him about going near the surface where the deadly land monsters live. “The curious fish get caught!” she says.
Despite his mother’s admonition, Luca becomes curious about the objects he tried to steal from the boat the night before, which have landed near the seaweed field the family’s fish like to eat. In the nearby distance, Luca spies the little Victrola record player that fell overboard. He swims over to the Victrola to inspect it, but behind him a man in an old-fashioned diving suit and helmet comes up and says boo. Luca cowers, but the man approaches him and takes off his helmet, and it turns out he’s just a young teenage sea monster like Luca. The boy starts talking while he puts some of the human objects on the ocean floor into a bag. The boy accidentally takes Luca’s shepherd’s staff and swims away, but Luca swims after him. The boy swims to the isolated island and uses the staff to pull Luca onto the beach. Immediately, Luca starts to change into a human boy, as does the new boy.
Luca finds out that the new boy, whose name is Alberto, has been living on the island as a human by for a long time. Alberto lives in the ruins of an old lighthouse at the top of the hill that comprises the island. He collects things from the land monsters that have fallen into the ocean. Luca discovers how to get the Victrola started, then notices that Alberto has a poster of a red Vespa motor scooter. Alberto tells Luca the Vespa is the greatest thing the land monsters have invented and will take a person anywhere in the “stinking world” you want to go. The ad says that, “Vespa is freedom.”
Luca looks around the room at all the junk Alberto has collected. He asks, “Are you gonna make one? It looks like you have all the parts.”
Alberto says sure, why not, and the two boys begin building their own Vespa, but without the motor of course. They keep building scooters to ride down the hill on the island and into the ocean. One day, however, Luca falls asleep. He rushes home where he learns that his parents have discovered he’s been visiting the land. They want to send Luca away to live in the deep ocean with his Uncle Ugo, but Luca runs away.
He and Alberto decide to pose as human land monsters in the nearby town, called Portorossa. They figure that’s the only place they can get a real Vespa to travel the world.
In the town, however, they run afoul of the local bully, an older teenager named Ercole, who owns a fancy red Vespa. Luca is saved from getting a dunking in the town fountain from Ercole by a young teenage girl named Giulia. From her, they learn that Ercole is not only town bully, he’s also the perennial winner of the town’s annual triathlon race of swimming, bicycling and eating a large plate of pasta. When they learn the winner of the race will also receive some prize money, Luca and Alberto decide to enter the race and win it so they can buy their own Vespa. They convince Giulia to run the race with them. She can do the swimming, Alberto can eat the pasta, and Luca can ride the bicycle.
Alberto and Luca’s plans hit a couple snags when Luca’s parents come looking for him, and Alberto becomes jealous of Luca’s friendship with Giulia.
Though not as spectacular and masterful as Pixar’s best movies, LUCA is a breezy, funny, heartwarming animated adventure. Ercole, the town bully, is a totally conceited, selfish boy who thinks he’s God’s gift to the world. Meanwhile, Alberto and Luca are in danger of being killed by the townspeople if their true identities as sea monsters are discovered. Ultimately, however, Alberto and Luca’s friendship, and the friendship they develop with Giulia and her father, overcomes the town’s prejudice and Ercole’s selfish pride.
Some people are reading the story of LUCA as an LGBT allegory where two boys have to hide their secret identity from the world to protect themselves from danger. It’s possible, we suppose, to read the movie that way. However, there’s nothing salacious in the movie’s content supporting this interpretation, unlike the three homosexual and cross-dressing scenes in Disney’s live action remake of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.
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