There was a time in the late 90's and throughout the 2000's where Pixar seemed to be able to do no wrong. They made thought-provoking but wildly entertaining animated movies that appealed to every age in the theater. They walked a thin line between something for adults and something just for kids, and there movies were a massive mix of emotions. You and your family was getting something truly special each time a new Pixar film came out.
But these days, Pixar has become just another animated studio these days. They are making fluff pieces just for kids. They are repeating themselves, instead of challenging themselves, which seemed to be defining characteristic of theirs. Sure, every once in awhile, they remind us what made them special in the first place. Every once in awhile, they make something like "Inside Out" or "Soul" and I find myself getting excited again. But then they continue to make things they make now. There is nothing wrong with making safe kids movies...I guess. I just always appreciated Pixar because they dared to treat kids smarter than any other studio, and now they seem to fall in line with them.
"Luca" is about a sea monster named Luca Paguro, voiced by the incredible child actor Jacob Tremblay. Luca is training to be a goatfish herder. His life has grown mundane, and he dreams of going to the surface and seeing what land life is like. His parents forbid it though, out of fear of the humans, see humans hunt sea monsters, so it would be very dangerous for Luca to venture to the surface.
So guess what Luca wants to do? Go ahead. Guess. Like a shoemaker who wants to be a musician, or a rat that wants to be a chef or a princess who wants to be a warrior or a world of cars that wants to make sense, Luca wants to go to the surface. Like so many Pixar movies recently, this is about a person who wants to defy the odds and take a risk. A just message for a family film, but one we've seen so many times when Pixar used to mix things up and that it feels redundant. So of course, Luca makes a friend. His friend's name is Alberto (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer) he's a free-spirited, expressive and enthusiastic sea monster who ventures to the surface world alot. When he shows Luca that when sea monsters are on the surface and the water dries off their skin, they appear human. Luca can't resist then, he wants to see the surface more often.
Alberto is hungry to see the whole world, he has a dream to get ahold of Vespa, a motorcycle where he can travel the world. Alberto gets Luca excited about an Italian triathlon with a cash prize big enough for them to buy a Vespa. So disguised as humans, they train for the triathlon, and make friends with a human girl named Giulia (Emma Berman) who helps them train. One thing I will praise "Luca" for is the small scale of the story's stakes. Not every single storyline in movies has to be a world crisis. In fact, its good to remind kids that the small things in life matter, and how dedication and hard work to something than help them earn some type of reward and help them gain confidence they will need in this world.
There's humor in this movie but its all slapstick silliness around when Luca and Alberto get wet. They are able to dry at a break-neck speed which makes you question science and logic in equal measure. The mythology of the sea monsters is very vague, and usually Pixar is much better building a world for the characters and story to compliment, and that's just not the case here. The animation is top-notch, which is something we can always depend upon with Pixar. There is lots of talent in the voice acting department, including Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan, all of whom do good work here.
Pixar doesn't seem to be itself these days. It's weird to me that "Onward," "Soul" and "Luca" did not appear behind a paywall on Disney+ like all of their recent releases. I don't know what's going on behind the scenes, if anything and I am not trying to stir the pot. It's merely an observation. If Disney is going to act like they don't care, why should I care? "Luca" isn't a bad film at all. It's quite entertaining and I think how much you like it or love it will depend on how much you are pulled into this world. These days, it seems Pixar is either making things exclusively for adults or they are playing very kid friendly, when back in their golden years they treaded the line perfectly. They are just another family studio making family movies. That isn't a bad thing, but its very different then what they used to be.