Luca, Disney Pixar’s latest animated film, is a nostalgic love letter to director Enrico Casarosa’s past and an invitation to the rest of us to relive our childhood.
It is filled with all the fun, friendship and food that fans could wish for this summer. What struck me most about the film, like many a Pixar film before it, was the powerful themes that viewers of all ages, but especially a younger audience, may reflect upon and consider how they might apply in their own lives.
However, some ‘Disney magic’ elements were missing for me which steered the film away from being a personal Pixar favorite of mine. One of the main missing elements is ‘character music.’ That is, songs sung by one or more of the characters in the film. Clever, playful, atmospheric, and moving music often take Disney Pixar animated films to the next level for me personally. I also thought such music could have been appropriately incorporated into the film’s story. (I appreciate that there are several excellent Pixar films that do not have character music, but I did not feel the loss in those films like I did here).
Despite this, Luca is still worth a watch. Why? Let’s find out. Or, as the Italians would say, andiamo! (Let’s go!)
What is Luca about?
Luca introduces us to two best friends, Luca and Alberto. They dream big, take risks and share the ultimate summer – and the ultimate secret.
Luca and Alberto are sea monsters who live deep in the ocean near the town of Portorosso, Italy. When confident, outgoing Alberto introduces shy, timid Luca to life on land – where they trade fins for legs and look like humans – Luca learns that there is much more beyond the sea and beyond the dangers his family warned him about above water.
Embarking on the greatest summer adventure, the boys discover a shared love of exploration and invention in the small town where they come to meet Giulia. Giulia befriends the pair and the trio begin preparing for the Portorosso Cup – the ultimate triathlon of biking, swimming and pasta-eating. With their sights set on the Cup, it becomes increasingly hard for Luca and Alberto to keep their real identities secret.
How much of the film was inspired by director Enrico Casarosa’s childhood experiences?
What is perhaps most endearing about this film is its connection to the director. It is a personal touching tribute to a special friendship that existed in real life for Enrico Casarosa. The character of Luca himself is based on Casarosa, while Alberto is based on his real-life friend, also named Alberto.
“We found each other around 11 or 12,” Casarosa told Cosmopolitan about his inspiring friendship. “Right when you step [towards], ‘I need to kind of try and separate from the family a little bit,’ try to look for yourself. And he had complete freedom and he was passionate and he had a new thing every day, so it really helped me kind of get out of my comfort zone.”
This sentimentality won points with me and made me particularly excited to see the film. There are some beautiful moments where you can really see and feel the friendship – including those moments where friends may not be seeing eye-to-eye. The risk-taking, the stargazing, the tiffs, the hope for an adventure-filled future together, all while trying something new. This was the foundation for those moving themes that I mentioned earlier, which are plentiful.
What are some of the key themes?
Ultimately, Luca reminds us of the importance of fun and friendship. Luca and Alberto are opposites in certain ways but being different means that they learn from one another. The film also explores acceptance, working as a team, looking out for one another and being able to stand up for yourself. I expect that a lot of these themes will resonate strongly with a young, middle-grade audience.
What is also refreshing and energizing to see is a story based on the relationship between two young boys. With the boom of success that followed the Frozen franchise (which we know is based on the relationship between two sisters), it is now the boys’ turn. Disney Pixar has this wonderful way of building beyond classics we know and love and moving new characters into unchartered territory appealing to a modern audience.
How enchanting is the setting and background music?
Very. In almost every artistic depiction I have ever seen of Italy, it is always beautiful, and Luca is no exception.
The art of Luca is picturesque. The little seaside slice of imaginary life that is set in not-so imaginary Italy craftily contrasts the way of life and colors from underwater (light and dark blues, greens and purples) to the island, and finally to the town of Portorosso (deep reds, browns, yellows and oranges). The artistry is second-to-none as is to be expected from Disney Pixar.
In one of my favorite scenes, Luca and Alberto are diving in and out of the water, their forms rapidly changing from human to sea monster to human to sea monster. It is such a simple, impressive burst of energy and art in the film that captivated me. How the human characters resemble their monster counterparts is cute and thoughtful, and provides some light-hearted comedy throughout the film.
Another favorite Luca feature: one is not in Italy unless they curse like an Italian. Nothing crude, of course. In fact, they are more like catch phrases, and are very inventive – they play on different cheeses. “Santa gorgonzola!” and “Santa mozzarella!” are two plucked from present memory, that again, were just simple character and script additions that won me over in those scenes. They are funny, clever and give you an insight into character (particularly Giulia, who coins the phrases).
What’s the gripe about no ‘character music’?
To be clear, the term ‘character music’ is something I made up (I think). But it hit the nail on the head when I tried to work out what I thought was missing and why this film didn’t leave me magically, spiritually and emotionally flabbergasted in every good way like I had hoped it would. Not every film can be your favorite, but Luca seemed to have so many of the right ingredients and still fell a bit short.
By way of comparison, my favorite Pixar film to date is Coco which incorporated not only Mexican-inspired music, but also Mexican-inspired character music. Make no mistake – Luca contains beautiful music. The soundtrack will transport you to Portorosso. But you won’t be able to sing along, and it won’t invoke that overpowering laugh/cry/belt-out-the-tune-at-the-top-of-your-lungs sensation that can come swift and fast from some Disney songs, and I just can’t seem to ‘Let it Go’. (Geddit?)
Like I said in the beginning, I accept that many successful Pixar films before Luca have not included character music (see the Toy Story franchise, Cars, The Incredibles – just to name a few). But this film felt ripe for some catchy, Italian-inspired songs. I would have loved to see the bully of the film, Ercole, sing of his villainous, self-centered intent, which in turn, would have given him more depth and even more humor (though he was pretty funny songless, too). Family, pasta, gelato and the trophy Vespa just weren’t quite enough for me. I wanted those jams that would inspire me to walk out of the theater and into a music shop ready to purchase the soundtrack (Music shop? I know, I’m old.)
Before leaving the topic of Ercole, I also note that Disney Pixar appears to have moved away from traditional villains to shift focus more to self-reflective themes, challenges and triumphs (see Moana, Frozen 2, Soul, Raya and the Last Dragon). While this is important, it couldn’t hurt to throw in more dramatic tension created by an evil-doer when one exists, especially when the last few films from both Disney and Pixar Animation Studios have shied away from this.