Disney Pixar and creative ingenuity are almost difficult to balance on the same plank today. With the continuing influence of sequels, prequels and live-action remakes that drives the superlative motives of this conglomerate giant, Luca is yet another film that failingly succeeds. Every new Disney Pixar movie almost feels like the last one with only the characters and the context setting them apart and Luca (2021) is no exception.
Luca is an adventurous tale of two young fish boys, Luca Paguro and Alberto Scorfano, who sneak out of their supposed underwater habitat in human disguise to seek out the joys of life on land. But the town folks are overzealously intimidated by the existence of marine creatures. Their strident vigilance against the ‘sea-monsters’ (as they refer to them) stem from a presumption of life underwater as a threat to their life on land. But fish out of the water, Luca and Alberto, knows no fear or the complex ways of civilized life. Soon they befriend a high spirited human girl, Giulia Marcovaldo, with whom they must team up, to follow up on their desperate quest to own a Vespa.
Fans of Onward (2020), a previous Disney Pixar offering, will find many narrative similarities of the film to Luca. The protagonist is always a social and cultural misfit or occasionally a hard on luck fellow with a spirit of defiance. In Onward, it is the elf brothers that secretly embark on a magical quest, much to the disapproval of their mother. The journey surely puts their bond and the companionship between the brothers to test but when their disappearance comes to the mother’s knowledge, she makes it a point to pursue and bring the brothers back home safe. In Luca, the friendship between Luca, Alberto and Giulia is put on trial more than several times and when Luca’s protective parents learn of his escape, they do not think twice before blending in with the human world to search for their son. Both the films end on a similar note banking on the emotions of a touching departure.
The conflict in Luca calls for thoughtful consideration of an eco-centric perspective and is also a well thought out argument on the insider-outside debate but it is not as evenly spread out. We are never given a complete picture or visual justification of the volatile attitude of the humans towards sea creatures. We are hinted at multiple threads – an opening sequence shrouded in mystery, the past of Luca’s grandmother, a missing right arm of Giulia’s father – but we do not follow any. Nor are we offered with an explanation of Alberto’s abandonment by his father. These loose ends keep us away from accurately connecting to the motivations of the characters. In this regard, Luca is an affectionate but incomplete eco parable of faith in nature.
Luca also has a few positive highlights. There is an affectionate portrayal of a colourful friendship between Luca and Alberto. And the name of the titular character may have been an intentional nod to director Luca Guadagnino and Call Me by Your Name (2017) which forms another beautiful sub-text of the film. Luca’s sincere small boy wonder works in the first half as he rides on the wave of new possibilities. Alberto too is hopeful here about the dreams concerning their life on land. In this way, the movie offers slow burn of a thrill throughout. But the change of everyone’s heart towards the climax is so quick in preceding all anticipation that every conflict resolves itself and the movie ends even before we know it. It has this same core philosophy at its heart as Wolf Children (2012) which is about the self-discovery of the essence of personal identity but without the magic of Onward, deliverance of Soul (2020) or the warmth of Coco (2017).
Another highlight of Luca is its comfortable use of bright colours and the beautifully put together images of a calm seascape, breezy landscape and a populous summer townscape. The sun-drenched exteriors are filled with the neighbouring kids playing friendly soccer in the town square surrounded by polychromatic brick structures. The people lazily strolling in the sideways and again random kids leisurely sucking on popsicles, Luca’s aesthetic is that of a picture-perfect summer movie but only lacking in a collective sense of a defining vision. Nevertheless, if unreasoned, it can definitely be our much-needed escape and compensate for the lack of a vacation trip this year.