de facto film reviews 3 stars

The latest from Pixar, and unfortunately the second in a row to forgo a theatrical release as a Disney+ exclusive, Luca, is a slight, but heart-warming tale set in the sun-drenched summer of an Italian Riviera. A film that celebrates friendship and accepting your true identity that should garner swoons from audiences young and old alike.

Luca follows a young sheltered sea creature named Luca (Jacob Tremblay) living under the sea with his overbearing parents (Maya Rudolph & Jim Gaffigan). Having been raised fearing the unknown of the world above the sea, Luca meets the rogue adventurer Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer) who takes him on land only to discover that out of the water they transform into humans. Once on land in a small fishing village, they befriend the peppy Giulia (Emma Berman) and discover there’s more to life than previously thought.

Luca is as gorgeous as anything you would expect from Pixar. There’s not a single frame here that doesn’t immediately grasp your attention. The warm Italian environments are luminous and inviting and the exquisite sound design adds subtle layers to the surroundings. What a shame the studio decided to go for a strictly digital release. As our leads discover bike riding, eating gelato, and scarfing down loads of pasta, you experience every richly textured sensation.

Director Ernesto Casarosa infuses enough personality and energy to differentiate Luca from the recent Pixar formula. This is a much breezier, lighter film with less emphasize on plot as it is on character. Casarosa is more interested in basking in the warm setting and on the smaller adventures between Luca and his friends. While it may be slight overall, this is an intentionally subtle film, both in its story and in its metaphors. While not at all explicitly said or portrayed, it’s hard not to view Luca’s trajectory as a metaphor for adolescent queerness and the struggle to embrace your true self. It’s only when the film attempts to wedge in a traditional story, that it becomes less interesting, particularly the tired subplot of Luca’s parents that arrive in the village to find him and bring him home.

Both Tremblay and Grazer bring a great a deal of humanity to their characters, their chemistry is notably on point. Newcomer Emma Berman is another standout in the voice cast, giving the character of Giulia some real attitude. Jim Gaffigan and Maya Rudolph are finely matched as Luca’s parents, adding depth to the potentially one-note characters.

Luca doesn’t compete anywhere near the upper echelon of Pixar, but it’s a breezy, diverting adventure as is. It’s intoxicating visuals and rich surroundings are finely matched by its charming voice cast and engaging characters.