Final Verdict: An irresistibly charming family film about friendship, growing up, and being different.
About The Film
Pixar Studios is back. Having already conquered the skies with 2009’s Up, the human subconsciousness with 2015’s Inside Out (wait, what?) and metaphysical dualism with 2020’s Soul (just normal kid stuff, right?), the master storytellers now set their sights on the sea with a literal “fish out of water” story about friendship, belonging, and growing up. Oh, and also sea monsters.
Luca (debuting exclusively on Disney+) may not quite reach the lofty heights of some previous Pixar classics, but it demonstrates that even an average Pixar film is superior to most other animated movies available. This film is irresistibly charming and brings back some of the playfulness that has been missing in the more serious recent films.
The simple plot revolves around a sea monster who leaves the water for the first time (gaining the appearance of a regular boy while dry) and befriends a fellow out-of-water sea monster. The simplicity of the story is works in its favor. The story is given ample room to breathe and perfectly captures the nostalgic vibe of the leisurely summer days of childhood. The slower pacing and lower stakes allow the focus to stay on the characters and their budding relationships. There is a refreshing innocence to the film, amplified by the bright and beautiful animation style and music. On the one hand, the slower pacing also means that not a lot actually happens in the film. The antagonist and main plot objective do not show up until over 30 minutes into the runtime. At its core, Luca is a celebration of friendship and growing up, that just happens to include sea monsters.
A less bombastic story than many animated films, and also a direct-to-streaming debut, will likely result in Luca flying somewhat under the radar (similar to Raya and the Last Dragon earlier this year). The film made me nostalgic for my own childhood summer days and spurred me to think fondly back on the friends I spent them with. On rare summer days I visited Disneyland or traveled to the beach, but most were spent sleeping in, hanging out with friends, and making memories. Luca has more in common with those later breezy days than an extravagant vacation, but when I think back on my childhood, those were often the best days.
Profanity: None. The closest the film comes is when one boy tells his friend to “shut up.”
Engage the Film
Innocent Friendships and LGBTQ Allegories
That the sea monsters serve as a metaphor is clear. What they are a metaphor of is less certain. Much of the conversation and commentary surrounding the film places Luca as an allegory for embracing a LGBTQ identity (the film’s release during “Pride Month” only adds to this interpretation). Viewed through this lens, it is not hard to conceive many aspects of the film that work seamlessly within this framework. The story centers on the relationship between two boys who are “different” and forced to conceal their true identity for fear of what people might think. Any viewer looking for LGBTQ undertones is certain to find them.
But the Pride narrative is not the only possible lens to approach this movie. In fact, in an interview director Enrico Casarosa explained: “The other side of being a kid is that you always feel like you’re the outsider . . . Me and my friend felt like such losers when would hang out. And I love how the sea monster is a wonderful metaphor for feeling different.” While a LGBTQ identity is one type of being culturally “different,” the film allows for much broader application (shyness, Christian, socially awkward, disabled, etc.).
Luca was developed as a very personal story for Casarosa, revisiting the childhood experiences he had with his best friend. It is perhaps a testament to how sex obsessed today’s culture is that any story showcasing a close relationship between two characters of the same gender is assumed to be necessarily sexual. The central relationship between Luca and Alberto in Luca seems more in line with the important role male-to-male brotherly friendship that C. S. Lewis championed. While the wider culture seems intent on making everything about sex, Christians need not do likewise.
The Wonder of Creation
Many fish-out-of-water stories share a theme of discovery and wonder and Luca is no different. Luca initially believes Alberto that the moon and stars are actually fish until his human friend, Giulia, pulls out a science book and explains the truth. Luca peppers her with questions about what lay beyond the stars, and solar system, and universe until eventually Giulia admits, “I don’t know.”
In one sense, this theme could be taken in a negative, pro-Darwinian sense whereby science trumps ignorant superstition (similar to the militantly atheistic 2018 animated film, Smallfoot). Yet, Luca doesn’t go down that road. The universe doesn’t lose any of its wonder for Luca when stars are revealed to be balls of gas rather than swimming fish. Instead, the world takes on a whole new depth of mystery. As with Pixar’s Soul, the “great beyond” is left unexplained and mysterious, leaving room for Divine Creator and acting as a reminder that there is an amazing reality to creation that goes beyond what a science book can reveal.
The Important Responsibility of Parenting
Although unlikely to be grasped by young viewers, parenting also plays a central role. Luca has loving but overbearing parents, Alberto is an abandoned orphan, and Giulia has divorced parents (with an off-screen mother and a gruff but affectionate father). The film subtly explores the impact that these parents have on their children, resulting in rebellion, insecurity, and a longing for affection and belonging. Parents who watch Luca with their own children will surely be challenged and reminded of the great responsibility of raising a child.