The title character lives his life as a sea creature with an interest in human things, and with parents who say to stay away from the surface. Then he turns into a human on dry land, and has to hide his fishy identity from the other people he befriends. Yeah, it sounds just like The Little Mermaid meets Splash, and that’s exactly right- Luca knocks off familiar territory without an effective message of its own to dive into. It’ll underwhelm older viewers as they say aloud while watching, “aw, this isn’t as good as when that other movie did the same thing!”
The real trouble ripples around the inconsistent use of water, as Luca and his new friend Alberto always get perfectly dry in a heartbeat. In one of the more offensive scenes to that logic, Luca and Alberto are sleeping over at the house of new friends, and in the morning, they turn back to their aquatic selves because of the dew. But next time they are seen waking up in the morning, the dew is no longer a problem- they just wake up as humans! What gives? Even the way these creatures talk makes no sense, such as when the Mom says, “aw, sharks” instead of, “aw, shucks.”
It’s connected to the usual complaint that applies to every Pixar film ever made: the decided absence of any logic. It’s one of those things the studio seems to actively choose to never get better at, and this is no exception. And whenever the boys are on a bike, several times they fall off, and when that happens, just forget about broken bones, cuts, bruises, or any laws of physics. Those are not even the laziest parts; in the beginning, it’s established that Luca is a shepherd for fish that bleat like sheep, and after his opening few scenes his whole job is pretty much forgotten about, not even the parents ever really mention it, especially when they’re all on dry land.
On the surface world lies the beauty of Italy, while it’s for the most part not a deep delve into authentic Italian culture, there are a few nice touches, including the fun soundtrack and the funny way it uses pesto pasta. But it ultimately just resorts to the stereotypes about Italians, with the only character talking in the proper accent being the villain, which of course, is extremely exaggerated. The setting would work if the Italian culture actually effects on the plot, because right now, if the events of the narrative were relocated to the coast of Florida, nothing changes.
Though the way the two leads are constructed still earns some complement; Alberto and Luca must maneuver through a rough ride together, and their differences keep outweighing each other on the way. Alberto doesn’t like rules, Luca is too afraid to take chances, and both of those traits are contrasted perfectly by the way they act. Alberto calls the voice inside his head, “Bruno,” and gives Luca his own philosophy to silence that conscience: “Silenzio Bruno!” The way these two say this shows how different they really are. Jacob Tremblay, the voice of Luca, says it as if he sees Bruno as his parents, who spent his entire life talking down at him and making him feel inferior. Whereas when Jack Dylan Grazer, the voice of Alberto, says “Silenzio Bruno,” he says it more like he’s already had a lot to overcome, and that to him, Bruno is just a distant relative who occasionally peckers at him. While ultimately kids, these two still think how fish people are expected to think, more specifically about the night sky they pretty much never see—Alberto thinks the stars are anchovies, and the moon is a giant fish; it shows how similar the mind of an animal can be to the whimsical innocent imagination of a child.
If only these solid character moments were enough to save the movie as a whole, as its details are super inconsistent. One brief shot shows a photograph of a live action person, while another shows a live action TV program playing in the background, which right away ruins the credibility of this world. That goes as well to the people created 100% digitally; the ugly art style that Pixar envisioned this time around is not at all suitable for 3D animation. This could have looked really cute if it were done in hand drawn animation, but the smooth, rounded edges of the characters instead just remove any of the texture on them. There’s never a feeling of being able to reach out to touch whatever is on screen, it’s just done with the same level of technology that was available fourteen years ago. At least The Good Dinosaur made up for its badly designed characters with its breathtaking landscapes. There’s not a single flattering object to look at in Luca.
Yet there’s one visual set piece that works: the familiar setup for a terrifying monster movie opens the feature, introducing the creature in darkness to the sound of opera music, frightening these fishermen. Next time the creature is seen, it’s just an adorable little child with no evil intentions. This is a great way to establish the core conflict of the feature, and erases the horror clichés to explore why humans are more frightening than what lurks below.
Except there’s something greater about Luca that parents should be far more terrified about: the dangerous message it’s teaching kids. It has happened in so many movies made for the little ones… basically, the child wants to do something that is against the parents’ wishes, but the antagonistic parents are just made to look close-minded. So then the child rebels against the parents to go do that one thing they’re forbidden from doing, and after a long journey, the parents go, “Oh, you were right, I was wrong, now go ahead and do that one thing you love doing.” It may be presented with a whole, “be yourself and follow your dreams” type of message, but that really just feels like bogus tacked on last minute to hide from gullible parents the real message: “Kids don’t need to listen to grownups.”
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!