Released: 18th June
Seen: 18th June
With all the films that are going to Disney’s premier service lately I’ve noticed a weird pattern regarding the films that they don’t throw a surcharge on the second it pops up… namely that they’ve been, largely, kind of bad. Sure there’s exceptions like Soul or Onward, but other films like Magic Camp, Stargirl and Artemis Fowl (a film that, no joke, didn’t pop up on their site’s list of original films when I went to look before writing this). Basically if a film skips cinemas and just pops up on Disney Plus I’m going to be going in with some trepidation… and then they just throw something like Luca up there and I wonder if they even know when they have a good thing on their hands.
Luca (Jacob Tremblay) is your very average young boy. He does his chores between bouts of lazing about, tries to stay on his parents’ good side and keeps looking off to far off places where he’s not permitted to go… oh, and he lives under the sea because he and his family are sea monsters and the “Far off places” is anywhere above sea level where people can see him. Of course, because this film needs a plot, he ends up following someone onto a beach. That someone being his new friend, Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer).
Once on land, Luca learns that sea monsters only look like sea monsters when they’re wet so he has to start learning how to walk on his very new human legs. Soon he and Alberto are running about and playing, right until his mother finds out that Luca has been running off in secret with some boy onto the dangerous surface world and so she plans to send Luca off to the deep parts of the ocean where he can be… oh, let’s say, converted into enjoying what his mother considers to be a normal life under the sea. Luca, not wanting any of that, runs away with Alberto on an adventure that will take them to a small Italian town where they run into Guilla (Emma Berman) and begin a new journey.
From the jump you can tell Luca is not like a lot of recent Disney Pixar fare, this one isn’t some grand metaphor for the meaning of life or the concept of human emotions, it presents itself as a very sweet little story about a couple of friends just having fun together in a little Italian town full of interesting characters, and one cartoonishly evil 16 year old who feels like he was lifted out of a Stephen King novel. It’s a nice simple film that doesn’t seem to ask for much other than a couple of laughs and to marvel at the animation.
The animation is right up to Pixar standards, which is to say it’s gorgeous as hell. Little details on the buildings are jaw dropping, the way the waves crash on the ocean feels real and the beauty of every shot is inarguable. Particularly mesmerising is the way the film handles that strange transformation between sea monster and human, every time one of our hero characters gets wet it just feels so natural and looks absolutely beautiful, until the exact second the beauty of the transformation needs to also be incredibly dramatic… so yeah, news at 11, Disney Pixar know how to make a film look really good. I know, shock.
What shocked me more was just how much queer subtext there is in this film. The film makers claim this isn’t intentional and you can almost believe that because the narrative never really leans into it (as I said, they aren’t trying to be a metaphor… it just happens that this one exists here) but oh my god if you want to see what happens when a film is just drowning in gay subtext, Luca has it all. From casual references to being born a certain way to having to hide your true self around people who might hurt you for being who you are to the looks of pure jealousy that Alberto gives any time Luca is spending more time with Gianna.
For crying out loud, the story has been compared to Call Me By Your Name by other reviewers and you know who directed that movie? Luca Guadagnino… so yeah, can we get a gay scholar to just go through and point out all the subtext? It’s there, it’s either accidental (which would be hilarious) or it’s intentional and someone’s lying to us but it’s there if you want to look for it and considering Disney’s weird history with queer content, I chose to look for it.
If you don’t choose to look for the queer content though there is still a lot to see, just as a sweet simple little buddy comedy this film is a delight. Every scene between Alberto and Luca just trying to learn how to be humans in their little tower by the sea is some hilarious charming stuff that’s gloriously performed by everyone from the actors to the animators. Yeah, this is not the best Pixar has ever done but god damn it even when they’re just going for “Good” they land on “Excellent” more often than not.
Luca might not be one of the best things that Pixar’s ever done, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t great. It’s a funny charming film filled with incredible visual flair, sweet charming characters, gorgeous scenery and enough gay subtext to almost make up for Disney Plus shafting all its actual gay content off to Hulu or Prime… almost… Ok not really, but at least it’s kind of there. It’s a great little film that probably should’ve had a chance in a cinema, but it’ll do fine at home.