Review: Disappointing 'Luca' shows cracks in Pixar's armor

1950s-set story tells basic story of tolerance and falls below animation studio's usual high bar of quality.

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

An Italian village learns a lesson in tolerance courtesy of some wayward sea monsters in "Luca," a weak entry in the Pixar canon despite some local flavor from its 1950s seaside locale. 

Jacob Tremblay voices the title character, a sea monster who lives underwater on the Italian coast, and is of the age where he's beginning to wonder about the world above sea level. His parents warn him to never, ever go the surface. Naturally, the first chance he gets, he's poking his head above water. 

Jacob Tremblay and Jack Dylan Grazer voice characters in "Luca."

There, he meets Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), a teenager and fellow creature from the deep, and he learns a little something about his kind: outside of water, sea monsters become human. There's a slight catch: any contact with water and their true sea monsterness shows. But only until dry, then they can easily pass as human. 

(If that is the only snag — there's no time limit? no other repercussions? — the sea monster community should have long figured out a better system for this whole human-passing thing, but these issues don't seem to have been given a second thought in Jesse Andrews' and Mike Jones' piffle of a script.)

Alberto's hideout has a poster of a Vespa hanging on a wall, and Alberto and Luca dream of the possibilities of getting on board one and traveling the globe. (They're blissfully unaware of the scooter's limitations.) They eventually make their way to town where they run afoul with a cocky teenager (Saverio Raimondo) who bullies them into competing in the town's Portorosso Cup race, a triathlon of sorts that involves legs of biking, swimming and eating. They run the risk of exposing their true selves, which would make them enemies of the sea monster-hating town. But it's too late to back down now. 

First-time feature director Enrico Casarosa gets some mileage out of his Italian setting, and he includes copious shots of pasta- and gelato-eating. But the unquestionably thin story relies on routine morals about friendship, underdogs triumphing and the importance of being one's true self and fails to support even its own logic and world-building.

From any other company, "Luca" would be underwhelming and easily forgettable. Coming from Pixar, however, long the gold standard in animation, it's a disappointment, another sign the studio's stamp is not what it once was. Toss this one back in the water.




Rated PG: for rude humor, language, some thematic elements and brief violence

Running time: 96 minutes

On Disney+