Pixar’s latest is JUST subtle enough that you can ignore what it’s really about. Why you’d want to? Well, that’s up to you, but it’s your loss.
Luca Paguro (Jacob Tremblay) is a young sea monster, tending to his flock of fish on the ocean floor off the coast of the Italian city Portorosso. His days are spent looking at the items from the surface he’s collected, longing for something more interesting than his humdrum life. Upon meeting Alberto Scorfano (Jack Dylan Glazer), another sea monster boy that he sees walking onto land, he discovers that they look human as long as they stay dry and begins adventuring with the other boy. They strike up a very strong…ahem…”friendship,” and begin looking to run away together after Luca’s parents (Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan) decide to send him to the deep sea floor with his Uncle Ugo (Sacha Baron Cohen) to keep him from the human world. When they meet young Giulia Marcovaldo (Emma Berman) and join her in a race to win money, their dream of running away together begins to feel like a reality.
Okay, so right off the bat I have to tell you that this one is really gay. I mean…it’s so gay.
Sitting down to watch the film with the context surrounding it is a challenging prospect. Many critics had begun comparing it to Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name , given the Italian setting and what I assumed would be significantly more subtle subject matter. It’s Pixar, so I wondered how far they would go. The company made a statement that denied any overt queer subject matter, but upon watching the film I found it undeniable. There are references to coming out of the closet, to hiding one’s true nature because of the fear and nonacceptance found in many communities, and the jealousy that comes when neither closeted party is ready to make an open admittance. It’s blatant, but in a way that can be ignored if you are absolutely dedicated to hatred.
Aside from that the film covers many of the standard Pixar bases. It’s brightly colorful and lively, with the environments of a stone Italian village and a blue seascape contrasting nicely with the multicolored sea boys. Purples and greens pop against these settings, and the life brought to the main trio (Luca, Alberto, and Giulia) by the voice cast makes for a very wonderful time. It’s charmingly wholesome to watch the kids fall into a deep friendship while living with Giulia’s father (Marco Barricelli), a fisherman that hopes to land one of the sea monsters. The situation creates a lot of fun action, tiptoeing just on the right side of Abbott-and-Costello-dom without falling into pure parody. Director Enrico Casarosa, a 14 year Pixar mainstay, really stepped up and let his influences shine for this debut feature. One part Studio Ghibli, one part Luca Guadagnino, and one part Taika Waititi, the components fall into a blissfully peaceful and moving picture.
Tossing this directly onto Disney+ feels like it’s going to be an albatross around the neck of this film’s legacy for years to come, but only time will tell. Its stunning visual segments that take place in the mind of the title character cry out for an IMAX showing, but this was instead unceremoniously tossed to streaming in an era where most of us are crying out for a theatrical release. With no other Pixar films on the slate for this year (along with Soul and Onward going directly to the streaming platform in 2020), the whole affair and modern release format has left me with a sour taste in my mouth. Luca deserved better, and I urge you to give it your attention. For some youth that are struggling with their identity, Casarosa’s film could be the soothing balm that helps them feel okay about themselves. The rest of us have plenty to connect with as well, given the themes of loving friendship and found family, so I hope everything takes a chance on this one.
Luca is currently streaming on Disney+.