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Review: 'Luca' (2021) Dir. Enrico Casarosa

Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Maya Rudolph, Jim Gaffigan, Giacomo Gianniotti, Marina Massironi and Sandy Martin


Disney / Pixar take us on a trip trip to sun-kissed waters of the Italian coast for another bright and breezy, feel-good adventure, free from the any major sense of peril and danger...

Under the waves of the Italian coast, two young aquatic sea creatures called Luca (Tremblay) and Alberto (Grazer) find that they take on a human form when they leave the water. Alberto has done so many times, but Luca never has.

Alberto takes Luca out into the human world where he is introduced to everything from the joy of breathing air, running, jumping and even building a Vespa. But Luca needs to keep his surface dwelling adventures a secret.

When Luca becomes smitten with Giulia (Berman) on land and is drawn into owning a Vespa of his own, both he and Alberto set out to compete in a mainland race, but without blowing his true identity and risking all he has come to admire and respect about the human world...

'Luca' marks a nice change of pace for Disney / Pixar. This is a film that feels it will be overlooked compared to the franchise busting stories and sequels of fast talking cars, talking toys or loud superheroes. 'Luca' feels like this generation's WALL-E or Ratatouille; character based, with a lot more heart and soul to the story and personal journey's over large scale adventures and tales. It's about discovering the wider world around you, finding enjoyment in simple things such as learning, spending time with friends and exploring new sights, sounds and tastes. It also focuses on friendship and accepting who you are, and what you can do, without being ashamed or afraid. But as we are not all able to relate to being sea creatures on the Italian coast, the messages are delivered in a fun, comical way that only Pixar can do so well.

The celebration of Italian culture is there right from the start, focusing on villagers making a living from fishing, and their love of fine food, drink and culture. Of course, the overarching threat to this is while the community lives with the myth of sea monsters in their waters, two of them are right under their noses who need to hide their identity for fear of being "speared".

On Italian culture, it's just a shame our main leads are voiced by two young Americans - Jacob Tremblay and Jack Dylan Grazer. Both talented actors and creating innocence for their characters, but slightly detach from the Italian authenticity of everyone else around them. A supporting cast including Marco Barricelli as Guila's father Massimo, Saverio Raimondo as the local bully and Giacomo Gianniotti as a fisherman at least sounds perfect for the roles.

As always there is a character that appears out of nowhere to steal the show, and this time it's an Italian cat with a moustache, Machiavelli, looking just like his owner. You can't help but love these random quirky Pixar creatures.

It's refreshing to take a Disney/Pixar adventure that doesn't revolve around good versus evil, or over-shadowed by a sense of great peril and danger that must be defeated.

Safe to say, the animation has evolved year by year since 1995s feature length Toy Story and twenty one years and twenty two films later, the animation is as gorgeous as ever. Without reinventing the wheel, for if it ain't broke, we don't fix it, Pixar simply enhances techniques and textures that have worked before. Namely, water. It's 5 years since Finding Dory but something about the animation on and above the waves here is more natural and detailed than ever. Colours, textures and lights are some of the boldest, smoothest and brightest we've seen underwater, more so than Finding Nemo. The ripples of waves, the breaking of light, the pockets of bubbles and foam; it's little things that make a big, natural impact.

Dan Romer provides an authentic sounding score peppered with mischief and Italian passion, and coupled with the look and feel of this story gives audiences something nice and different than the usual American-based outing. And of course, on land there is nothing Pixar can't do to create any world they choose.

On land, it's the sun-kissed fictional Italian coastal village of Portorosso, set in a time before iPhones, superheroes and race cars. Buildings are colourful, bright and just what you would expect. You could look at many shots of this film and feel the warmth of the sun, the crunch of stone or stand and gentle Mediterranean breeze over long grass.

This is a trip back to simple times when, regardless of being a sea creature or not, Italian director Enrico Casarosa (who directed the Pixar short La Luna in 2011) celebrates being a child. Though the usual array of humour, heart and community, this a beautiful looking and sounding film, and often something we take for granted with Pixar, but that 'Luca' allows us to appreciate more away from the typical fast-paced, outrageous fantasy it gives us.

Keeping small secrets from over-protective grandparents, following in the footsteps of those older then you who you aspire to, building your dreams and having adventures that push creativity, imagination and bravery. We've all done it, and it's made all the better here in such a glorious location as the Italian coast, and with a sense of naivety and discovery thanks to seeing it through Luca's eyes as a new human on land.

This doesn't break into new territory for Disney or Pixar, but it's perfectly timed in the midst of a world suffering from a pandemic, in that it helps us escape. Escape to a different time, a different world and a different outlook to life. It refrains from hitting home too hard a message about self-worth, friendship and growing up, but does so enough to make Luca's journey a meaningful one, while still being entertaining, sweet and beautiful to look at for 90mins.

'Luca' explores the adventures and coming-of-age for our young leads for a gentle viewing experience, but remains a gorgeous looking animation produced with real Italian heart.

'Luca' is a co-production between Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios

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