With the new film Luca, Pixar is back with what is probably my most anticipated movie from the studio since the hype around Inside Out started to build up in 2015. Luca looked like a Pixar-ized Call Me by Your Name (which has its own problems), so I was very excited. It turned out to be a very good, but not quite great entry into Pixar’s legendary filmography.
What I liked the most about Luca was its very obvious coded message of gay acceptance. Even though writer/director Enrico Casarosa claims that the film wasn’t meant as such, the subtext is very apparent. The film follows Luca (voiced by Jacob Tremblay), a young sea monster whose parents are very protective of his travels. He wants to explore more of the ocean, and even more so, he wants to explore the surface. But his parents insist it is too dangerous for him to traverse away from his safe home because on the surface, the people living in the nearby Italian city hate the sea monsters. Basically, their whole town is a shrine to their distaste for the sea monsters.
Luca stays at home doing his daily job (basically, he’s a shepherd of fish) until he meets Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), another sea monster who goes above the surface daily. Together, they dream of a world without prejudice and where they can live their lives as the people that they are without experiencing hate or violence. Again… this is a pretty obvious metaphor. If this isn’t what’s meant by the film, then I’m not sure what it’s trying to say or do, other than being a fairly simplistic coming-of-age story. As someone who is not in the LGBTQ+ community, I can’t state definitively that the movie speaks to that experience, but plenty of people from that very community have already affirmed it works on that level.
There is no obvious romance in this movie, even between Luca and Alberto, but the themes of identity, acceptance, and growing up still very much play into the LGBTQ+ idea. And what’s so disappointing about it is the denial from the director. It still feels like Disney only being willing to do the bare minimum when it comes to representation, like with the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it lesbian kiss at the end of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. It seems like the studio wants to get the credit for their coded messages, subtext, and bare minimum representation, while still being marketable to everyone, everywhere.
Honestly, it’s pretty frustrating to watch Luca knowing it comes from Disney, because if I didn’t know that, I’d probably love it exponentially more. The themes are nuanced and tender, the story is jovial and simple, and the animation is gorgeous and unique. The characters almost look like those from a traditional stop motion claymation movie, but animated by Pixar. Putting these characters in an environment that feels fresh, vibrant, and alive just makes it that much more appealing to watch. With each new movie, Pixar seems to be blurring the line between animation and reality more and more, but they all have a similar visual style. If you compared a random background character from Soul, Ratatouille, and Up, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell which film they’re from. But Luca’s style looks different and unique, and I love the way it stands out from its peers.
The movie is also pretty hilarious. It’s not in the running for funniest movie of the year or anything like that, but there were consistent gags, both visual and verbal, that garnered laughs from my wife and I. This is a credit to the story overall that is simple and straightforward. There’s no big quest the characters have to go on and no existential crisis at the end of the movie like in Onward and Soul, Pixar’s two latest outings. It’s just a simple, solid, and easy to understand message about accepting people for who they are, even if it’s different from the norm.
As I’m sitting here writing this review, Luca has actually risen in my estimation. I originally slotted it in at number 14 on my Pixar ranking list, but before starting this paragraph, I moved it up to 11. It’s unfortunately what I know about the movie that’s non-textual (Disney’s history) that keeps me from loving it overall. If I didn’t know who made it, I’d say it’s the perfect movie for young children to watch and learn that it’s great to be yourself! I still think it’s a great movie to show to kids, I just can’t shake the Disney of it all. It’s a shame, because the movie is actually really, really good.