By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Not every PIXAR movie starts off with a bang. Sometimes the hook isn’t there, especially when viewers don’t really know that the world is fearful of legendary beasts in Luca. People should learn to love them and I wondered if this film may be this studio’s return to Monsters Inc.
Instead, we have another coming of age tale by Enrico Casarosa making his directorial debut. He drew upon his childhood and knowledge of local (Roman) folklore for his story. I believe he was struggling to decide in what kind of movie to make. It’s definitely inspired by A Little Mermaid. Plus, it has that The Good Dinosaur cum Finding Nemo vibe–especially when the parents go searching for their runaway son. Eventually, the perspective switches into something akin to Splash and Ponyo. This multi-tribute mix is okay, but when this film is loaded with the requisite Studio Ghibli references, I was tempted to turn this film off.
Luca (Jacob Tremblay) is a fresh faced curious merboy who longs for something more than that of a sheep herder. He herds the fish equivalent of that animal, and when he gets glimpses of that life in a sea-side town, his curiousity gets the better of him.
Alberto Scorfano (Jack Dylan Grazer) is another sea folk who can’t deal with the future on his own. The two meet and form an instant friendship. They help each other out but when the young Luca meets Giulia Marcovaldo (Emma Berman), the possibility of losing a best friend (or is that jealousy?) becomes obvious. The boy wants to learn about the world from her. He even suggests they can take part in the Portorosso Cup Triathlon so they’ll win enough money to buy a Vespa. I’m curious why the girl isn’t mentioned in the lad’s plan for the three. I’m sure Luca would’ve loved the idea, but Alberto is cautious since they’re not human.
The story comes together when we see Luca adapting to this new life and becomes loved by the surface people. Alberto never tried to integrate. He’s like Fonzie in the early seasons of Happy Days until he gets accepted into the Cunningham family. Plus, I’m curious about the father went. Was he abandoned or killed (a result of a monster hunter capturing him)?
This movie doesn’t quite hit the same high notes as other PIXAR works because it left me asking questions. The press for this film was about how friendships develop, but I saw something else. I believe this film is more about how to face stigma. The added narrative of the ‘school bully’ wasn’t required.
One big plot hole concerns why these merfolk are hunted. The limited dialogue suggests they are the scourge of the seas since they scare the fish away, part of this town’s economy. There used to be plenty of sea life, but nobody wants to venture to where the bounty is huge. In those other parts of the sea, everybody can reap the benefits. But if they are to stay closer to shore, where the pickings are limited, everybody’s going to struggle. The messages in the film are there, but it takes multiple viewings to make sense of it all.
3 Stars out of 5