How many settings and transitions can one story survive? We have no shortage of coming-of-age craftsmanship, nor do we have a drought of aquatic-based heroes struggling to adapt themselves to the land all around them. Pixar and Disney especially have managed to coax that fire with a relative competency for decades now. Luca, their latest feature film, does not shed that uncomfortably undemanding style but leans into accepting it for what it is. A boy dreams of the blue skies up above, limited to his dwelling in the ocean. We all dream of leaving the nest (in this instance, ocean rock house) at some point. To question and be curious is only natural, and that is understood well within Luca.
Enrico Casarosa marks his debut feature with an amicable charm and an expected setlist of comedians in supporting roles, acceptably light dramatics, and pacing that offers a decent fish out of water tale. “The curious fish gets caught,” feels all too similar to Finding Nemo, where our fishy friend explores the world to the detriment and initial disgust of his overbearing parents. Jacob Tremblay has more of a presence than the protagonists of most other Pixar features, but even then, the message his character presents does not get to grips with the area around him. Change is scary, but it takes time to adapt. Luca adapts in no time at all, but damns those who may be initially fearful. They must take like a fish to water. Sink or swim. How effective this message will be, only time will tell. What will not be effective is the constant allusion to how a Vespa offers freedom.
But there is a charm in places. A love of Italy and its scenery will certainly help. Luca does not boast an incredibly unique design, but there is an underlying beauty to the characters. Grumpy sea creatures and an incompetent but loveable, titular lead wander the waves, ones that look expectedly similar to the colours and stylings of Finding Nemo and Finding Dory. That is not a knock to Luca, for it soon grows out of this area, but the simplicity of the landscape is effective. We can focus more on the characters and their motivations; however similar they are to The Little Mermaid. Rather than love, these two lads look for life experiences. Football, pasta and all the friendship that comes from bonding above the deep.
That smaller scale serves Luca well, for our expectations can be notched down, and our forgiveness less reserved. A bold and difficult set of circumstances see animators, actors and all that made Luca possible stick together. It is light and lovely but feels more akin to sketch marks for a project that had a further depth to it. Some of that is lost in the primitive simplicity of the story set out here. Predictability is fine so long as there is comfort within. That unique spark Pixar could once pride themselves on is fading rather fast, but Luca neither defies nor defines the expectations of an unsure audience. Stories of an old island and the mythological monsters that linger beneath are waved away as aspects of fiction. We should not be all that surprised when they emerge from the depths of the devilish ocean. Less surprise when their remorseless actions are to steal a few playing cards. Italy lives another day against the villainous creatures of the deep.