Pixar Animation Studios takes us away in their summer film LUCA to Italy and tell a story of acceptance and friendship with two sea people frolicking on land. We reveal in our review how warmly this was recommended.
OT: Luca (USA 2021)
The Italian Riviera, sometime between the fifties and sixties: Luca is a prepubescent sea creature with overprotective parents. One day, however, Luca is overcome by a mixture of curiosity and a rebellious mood, so he goes ashore, where he is surprised to find that he looks like a human when he is dry. No, he also meets the adventurous and somewhat loud-mouthed Alberto. He teaches Luca what it’s like to just think about the moment, to have your own way and to fit in with the human world. Luca and Alberto soon dream of getting a Vespa and racing freely around the area. So they mix with the population of Portorosso and take part in a race with fisherman’s daughter Giulia in which there is enough money to, well, get one Nearly-Vespa to afford. But not only Luca’s parents could stand in the way of this dream, but also village bully Ercole or Giulia’s father…
“Luca” is now the second Pixar feature film in a row to be dumped on Disney+ without a theatrical release. According to the US industry portals, there is discontent within the animation company from Emeryville that the Disney company does not even give families and animation fans the option to enjoy “Soul” and “Luca” on the big screen (with the exception of a few special screenings). Not to mention that it sends strange signals within the company when Disney considers some films to be so valuable that they are initially released for a fee on Disney+ parallel to a “In the cinema where it is possible” release – while Pixar’s films are like that due to the pandemic Total failure “Artemis Fowl” will be dealt with. It’s a shame, and we can only hope that, firstly, the strange evaluation models devised during the pandemic will soon be a thing of the past. And secondly, we can only hope that the Mouse House will once again give the creative powerhouse Pixar the appreciation it deserves. We wouldn’t want to miss more films like “Luca”. Because with this art fairy tale, director Enrico Casarosa (who directed the Pixar short film “La Luna”) delivers an enchanting processing of childhood memories.
An Italian coastal village as the setting for a Pixar film: Portorosso.
Before Casarosa moved to the United States to make films, he was a shy boy who spent his childhood in an Italian coastal town and (like the title character in his film) had parents who were too gentle with him because of well-intentioned care. When he met the slightly older, outgoing boy Alberto, whose parents kept him on too long a leash, the two became friends immediately. They both saw themselves as outsiders who had each other’s backs and got into all sorts of escapades. Today the real Alberto is a fighter pilot and colonel. Nevertheless, he and Casarosa continue to have a close friendship. A realistic film adaptation of Casarosa’s summer adventures might also have been appealing. But similar to the magical realism short film “La Luna”, in which he dealt with how he watched his father and grandfather argue as a boy, Casarosa took a different approach: he wanted to respond to the overwhelming feelings of joy and Paying tribute to the nostalgia he feels when looking at Polaroid photos from that time – and since the emotional truth is more timeless and magical than reality, the story of two prepubescent boys in the 1980s became a fairytale tale about two sea people living in one land in Italy, which was sliding between the fifties and sixties.
“Because emotional truth is more timeless and magical than reality, the story of two prepubescent boys in the 1980s became a fairytale-like tale about two sea people who go ashore in an Italy somewhere between the 1950s and 1960s.”
This is an approach that is reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki – which is no coincidence. As a child, Casarosa devoured Miyazaki’s early TV series and is also a fan of his filmmaking for Studio Ghibli, which was immediately responsible for several anime classics that (not necessarily conflict-free, but certainly) simply let us look into the lives of their protagonists without major conflict. They just happen to have magical creatures as neighbors, work with them or are magical creatures themselves, even if it just adds texture to the story and its emotions. “Luca” is a Pixar version of this: The focus of this film is Luca’s initially intensifying, later changing friendship with Alberto, as well as the efforts of both to integrate into Portorosso. The annual Portorosso triathlon with modified rules also plays a role, as Luca and Alberto take part in it to fulfill their shared wish of a Vespa, which promises them mobility, freedom and motorized joyrides into the unknown. But the competition training held together with the lively Giulia puts Alberto and Luca through unexpected tests, during which they have to realize that, despite their sympathy for each other, they have different personalities and therefore sometimes set different priorities due to varying hopes, needs and fears. The sea monster element pops up in that Luca is hiding from his parents, who are looking for him to warn him out of fear of what might happen to him if he is found out. Luca and Alberto have internalized this fear so much that they too startle on land when they get wet and therefore look like sea creatures again. Ultimately, however, this aspect only plays a minor narrative and thematic role.
Alberto and Luca dream of a Vespa – and ice cream!
It wouldn’t be more intrusive to match the film’s narrative tone: “Luca” focuses on friendship, the urge to explore and self-acceptance, all of which is conveyed through summery, childlike adventures. The sea monster element is little more than a parable supporting these aspects, the meaning of which is left wide open. Casarosa and writers Jesse Andrews and Mike Jones leave it up to the audience to decide which “real self” Luca and Alberto are hiding, allowing for a wide range of identification potential. Either way, through its low-conflict approach, “Luca” very unobtrusively shows what a world that pursues this partial message of the film looks like: “Yes, well, we live in a society where such differences are noticeable, but… otherwise… *smiles with a shrug*” The fact that this low-conflict approach works is, on the one hand, due to Casarosa’s direction, which consistently shows the intimate nature of the film as well as the characters and the director’s deep passion for the setting. One feels personally invited into Casarosa’s imaginatively distorted childhood stories, as if he were pouring his heart out to focaccia, ice cream and iced tea under the starry sky. More drama would get in the way of this comfort.
The wonderful optics of the film consistently carry this feeling further: Intensely inspired by aesthetic details from Miyazaki films and European stop-motion productions such as “My Life as a Zucchini”, “Luca” touches on Pixar’s striving for a balancing act between photorealism and naturalism. House style. The figures move in a slightly staccato manner, the water makes picture-perfect waves, the lush green meadow and the picturesque stone buildings look as if someone had taken realistic computer animations and blown them up and rounded them off for an extra dose of cosiness. In terms of narrative and animation, “Luca” is a little calmer, more relaxed, and savors the moment more than is usual at Pixar, so that the delayed movement seems all the more meaningful in the near standstill – this is not only due to the influence of Miyazaki and Italian film classics from the late 1940s to early 1960s , but also fits perfectly with the basic feeling of the film: “It’s a not-so-accurate memory of a summer that was so drastic, but actually also characterized by a lot of relaxation.”
“Intensely inspired by aesthetic details from Miyazaki films and European stop-motion productions such as “My Life as a Zucchini”, “Luca” strips away the Pixar house style that strives for a balancing act between photorealism and naturalism.”
Perhaps it would have been good for “Luca” to experience even more narrative calm and “carpe diem” deceleration. This would put us even more clearly in Luca’s position and allow us to enjoy the flair of Portorosso with him. And feel more closely what it’s like when you grow fond of the boastful, eccentric Alberto, and yet you realize that you don’t just want him as a teacher for lifestyles. And, of course, there are already enough articles to be found about whether Pixar should have made “Luca’s” tale of tolerance and self-acceptance more specific or not. But no matter where you come from in these considerations, the following is almost certain: “Luca” will brighten your day, awaken nostalgia for certain times and places even if you have never experienced them, and the beautiful ending of “Luca” is a comforting one -blue-hearted sigh.
Conclusion: Beautiful visuals, lots of flair and likeable characters make “Luca” a relaxed, warm gem in the Pixar canon.
“Luca” is now available to stream on Disney+.