“Luca” Review: Pixar’s Latest Film Captures the Magical Feeling of a Summer in the Mediterranean

Alberto and Luca in “Luca.” Photo Courtesy: Disney+

Rating: 6/10

I was initially disappointed by the setting of Luca. The latest animated film from Pixar, which opens on Disney+ this Friday, June 18, tells the story of the 13-year-old Luca (voiced by Jacob Tremblay). He finds a best friend in Alberto (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer), and they spend a dreamy summer at Portorosso in the Italian Riviera. The thing is — and here’s where my discontent arose — Alberto and Luca are not regular teenagers but sea monsters who live underwater in a world hidden from humans.

Luca is a shepherd and herds his family’s goatfish but dreams of bigger things. Guided by Alberto, the two kids leave the seas and go to Portorosso in search of adventures and the Vespa that will make them possible — when dry, sea monsters transform into creatures indistinguishable from humans and definitely able to ride scooters. Let me add here that the transformation from sea monster to human comes with some Disney-suitable modesty garments made of seaweed. Also, Alberto lives by the motto that “everything good is above the surface” and believes that Vespas are “the greatest things humans ever made.”

The film, which is set during the summer months in the late 1950s and early 1960s, transports you to Italy from the opening credits set to “Un Bacio A Mezzanotte” by Quartetto Cetra. Other Italian pop songs are scattered throughout the movie, like “Il Gato E La Volpe” by Edoardo Bennato and “Viva La Pappa Col Pomodoro” by Rita Pavone.

The characters speak English with sort of an Italian accent, and here and there they say some well-known words in Italian — a little bit in the same way Coco did with English and Spanish. So you’ll hear “aspetta,” “silenzio,” “forchetta” and “piccoletto” and be able to understand their meanings in context.

The fictional town of Portorosso — and with it the whole Italian recreation of the movie — seems almost a bit too stereotypical sometimes. There’s a gelateria, kids play soccer in the town’s square, old men play cards, you can see laundry hanging on clotheslines, there are copious amounts of pasta being eaten and everyone moves their hands a lot when they talk. But as has been traditional in recent Pixar projects, the production team made a trip to Italy to research the “local culture, architecture and overall feeling of the film’s setting,” according to the film’s production notes. Luca was directed by Enrico Casarosa (La Luna), who grew up in the port city of Genoa.

I grew up in the Mediterranean city of Barcelona myself and have vivid memories of the summers I spent by the sea, having the same sunkissed cheeks and nose all the kids in this movie sport. That’s probably why the movie’s recreation of a whole anthropological underwater world puzzled me a little bit, especially when a story simply about a couple of friends in the Mediterranean for the summer could have been unbelievable and fantastical as-is. I didn’t see the need to add the supernatural element to something that already is dreamy and almost filled with magic.