The new Pixar film “Luca”, which can be seen on Disney Plus, is an Italian summer fairy tale.
In the world of fairy tales, Cinderellas may turn into princesses and frogs into princes, but a fish usually remains a fish. Hans-Christian Andersen’s “Little Mermaid” broke at the sad racial barriers between the water and the human world, and her slightly happier descendants in the cartoon, Disney’s “Arielle” and Miyazaki’s “Ponyo”, came up against this boundary. So it was time to rethink the idea of the amphibious sea monster that longs for solid ground under its feet. After all, today we have terms such as diversity and inclusion available that were not yet to be found in Grimm’s dictionary.
Luca, the teenage hero in the Pixar film of the same name, is a happy sea creature until he reaches the limits of his azure blue idyll. A few sunken objects from the human world, including a gramophone with a Maria Callas record, are enough to arouse his curiosity. Even when his overprotective parents warn him against the intolerance of a human race that would hunt him as a monster, he courageously scratches the surface of the water. And no sooner has he peeked out than another teenage sea creature pulls him ashore. What is special about their species: As soon as their skin comes into contact with air, they become humans. But woe, if it rains, then the spook is over.
Luca is overwhelmed by the paradise that his new friend Alberto can show him: We are in a true place of longing for the cinema, an Italian fishing village from the late fifties or early sixties: ocher-colored houses tower on a picturesque hill, connected by clotheslines, waving like colored flags. Friendly people cavort in between, old ladies eat croissant ice cream and would surely have a plate of spaghetti left for Lady and the Tramp. There is only one thing these rustic people don’t like, and that is sea monsters – even if nobody has ever seen one. But fishermen are superstitious, and so there is even a reward – if someone catches one.
Anyone who thinks that such a cliché Italy would be a bit exaggerated fails to recognize the love many Italians have for their immortal images of their homeland. Pixar director Enrico Casarosa himself comes from the area, to which he is putting a nostalgic monument here, the Cinque Terre. In the program of the streaming channel “Disney Plus” there is a documentary about research in the five villages north south of Genoa in addition to the film. In any case, the ambience is extremely realistic for a Pixar film, and the coming-of-age story of teenagers could work just as well in real-life films for long periods.
The self-confident red-haired girl they soon meet also looks familiar. Just like the gockel-like show-off guy with the shiny Vespa, whom she would like to wipe out. She finally wants to win the annual three-way battle against him, a combination of swimming, cycling and pasta eating. The boys, who no one knows are sea monsters yet, quickly succeed in forming a powerful trio with her.
It is one of the wonders of Pixar that they not only master the most diverse genres, but also always invent new ones – as the philosophical-essayistic stories “Everything is upside down” and “Soul” prove. With this production, realized by the artists in the home office, it seems to have made it easy for oneself at first glance and to have orientated oneself to beloved film classics between “Don Camillo” and “Cinema Paradiso”. But of course the result is far more complex: The flight from his loving, dominant parents (who now also appear in human form in the village) plunges Luca into a healing conflict of loyalty. What is not served, however, is the audience’s expectation of the two boys courting the girl – which makes it possible to tell an even deeper story of friendship.
It is well known that the senior artists of the Pixar studio have a reverence for the Japanese master animator Hayao Miyazaki. The warmth in human relationships, combined with a fluid treatment of the boundaries between reality and unreality, could come straight from one of his films. That’s more than enough for a little summer fairy tale. The best thing to do is to see “Luca” on the rickety wooden seats of one of these small open-air cinemas in an Italian seaside resort. Disney could have opened the cinema season with it, now it is the highlight in the streaming program of Disney Plus.
Luca. Animation film, USA 2021.
Regie: Enrico Casarosa.
See it on Disney Plus. 100 min.