26 years after the release of Toy Story, Pixar’s debut film and the first fully digital feature movie, it is quite staggering how far the animation company has come. Responsible for five successful franchises and a whole host of critically acclaimed original works, they are often compared to the Japanese Studio Ghibli, as two of the very best animation companies working today. Though, once Pixar was bought out by the industry goliath Disney back in 2006, the company’s output began to subtly change, favouring sequels and unambitious projects that lent themselves to flourishing merchandising possibilities.
Luca very much fits into this new vision for the animation company, utilising Pixar’s tried and tested narrative template to create a beautiful if totally uninspired film. Set between the world under the sea and a beautiful seaside town on the Italian Riviera, the story follows Luca (voice of Jacob Tremblay) and his friend Alberto (voice of Jack Dylan Grazer), two amphibious young boys who venture from the ocean and into the unknown. Fantasising about human life, the two friends engage in wild dreams about owning a Vespa whilst trying to build their own from the scrap metal washed ashore.
Initially set in the ruins of a small settlement on a charming island, the relationship of the two friends blossoms into something quite beautiful, heightened by their setting and the stunning animation from the Pixar team. Though as their intrigue gets the better of them, the two decide to venture to the nearby town, traversing the sea with a lyrical beauty as they change from fish to human form with every leap from the water. Set to Dan Romer’s engaging score, this scene may well be Luca’s strongest moment, as the scene transitions the film from an original piece of alluring art to a cliché money-maker once they reach the port town.
Continuing Pixar’s eternally running theme of parental difficulty, illustrating the difficulty of ‘letting go’ much like 2004s Finding Nemo and 2020s Onward, Luca quickly begins to feel entirely predictable, recycling the emotional core Pixar has used time and time again. Beyond the anticipated clichés, and well established at the film’s opening is a strong coming of age tale that establishes a heartwarming connection between the boys, examining their new lives above the surface with bright eyes. Alberto is a self-confessed ‘expert’ in the surface world so teaches Luca how to walk on land and obey the rules of the humans, theoretically helping him to be born again.
Staying in their hideout until dusk, the opening half-hour of Luca feels like the best of Pixar’s ‘shorts’, establishing a truly captivating relationship between the two characters. It’s a shame this potential was never realised, favouring the colour and gimmicks of the town rather than staying exclusively with the boys.
Whilst Luca radiates a fun, vibrant energy, it also lacks the drive to create a cohesive, memorable story. Lacking the true ingenuity of Pixar of old, Luca feels like a cheap knock-off that utilises many of the production company’s trademarks but never commits to a true explorative narrative. Considering the colourful, dynamic opening premise, Luca never reaches the heights of its potential.