It’s been a long time since the release of a new film from Pixar was event cinema and something to be truly excited about, they had an amazing run for an impressive amount of time but then started to produce fare which lacked their trademark intelligence and thoughtfulness, and yes, Cars was the beginning of that decline and I shall never forgive those involved in making it. There’s been some valiant efforts with Soul and Onward both having great elements but disappointing as a whole, but it’s not since Inside Out that they released something special.
Everyone hopes with each new film it will be a return to form of course, but alas Luca is another movie which is cute and sometimes sweet and sure, it looks great and everything, but the script is rather average. There’s nothing wrong with the movie, it just doesn’t do anything that we haven’t seen before many a time. Quite literally a fish out of water movie, mixed with a buddy comedy and aspects of the good old fashioned underdog sports nonsense, Luca (Jacob Tremblay) is some sort of weird half fish thing who despite his youth works as an underwater shepherd, taking a bunch of fish out to graze, all of whom remind of some of the sillier Aardman characters. But in a very unsubtle way it’s made clear he wants to go out and see the world very early on, though the film doesn’t explore this element out as before we know it Luca meets Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer) and discovers that when they emerge from the ocean they transform in to a human beings, though if they get even briefly wet they start to turn back, and well, you can guess what happens later on in the film without exactly being a genius.
Alberto has been mucking about as a human for a fair while now and he introduces Luca to the ways of the land monsters, as Luca used to call us, and soon both boys are obsessed with Vespas in one of those plot contrivances that yes, is somewhat odd and slightly forced. They try to build their own but fail over and over again, and when Luca’s parents Daniela (Maya Rudolph) and Lorenzo (Jim Gaffigan) discover what he’s been up to his land dwelling ways may be over. Except they aren’t and the threat never feels that real as Luca buggers off with Alberto to a small town, meets a Vespa owner called Ercole (Saverio Raimondo) who’s a bit of a twat to them, and then the sweet natured Giulia (Emma Berman) who they bond with and quickly team up with and plan to enter a forthcoming triathlon which is normally won by Ercole, and it’s one where Luca will have to take part in a bike race, Alberto a food eating competition, and Giulia a swimming competition.
Though the set up is initially unusual and nicely playful, once the film establishes the world it’s set in the plot points are rather predictable. Alberto’s jealousy over the friendship between Gulia and Luca is frustrating and plays out in the kind of way a million other movies have, and there’s a number of other tropes which are actively annoying to watch. It’s what you might expect from a Dreamworks movie or any other major studio that trots out fun but insignificant fare, but Pixar used to be a lot better than this. There are glimpses of the good old days, every so often it does something original and fun, Luca’s dream sequences are especially inventive and beautifully illustrated, his uncle is an amusingly weird old bastard and Luca’s parents dashing about soaking kids in the hope of finding Luca is fun, but these moments only served to make me wish it had the gumption to be far more unusual far more often.
If this was your first animated movie, or you’d never seen anything by Pixar before, then you might rate this more highly than I did. There’s nothing innately wrong with it, bar perhaps a couple of dodgy Italian stereotypes and Ercole in particular is a tedious villain, while the moral messages are imparted in ways which aren’t too heavy handed and which definitely can’t be argued with. It also often looks stunning, this might be the most beautiful Pixar movie yet which is really saying something, but the script is often lazy, and almost the opposite of Onward which started averagely but had a superb final act, whereas this starts extremely well but the final third is something even a young member of the audience will have predicted.