A Fish Out of Water, or Dead in the Water?
The latest from Disney/Pixar promises to be the beautiful summer adventure we've come to expect from the prolific animation studio conglomerate. And it... somewhat delivers? I don't know, you tell me. Luca is a literal fish out of water story featuring a half Italian boy, half sea monster who struggles with identity and battles boundaries (mostly set by his parents). Make no mistake, the animated feature does absolutely nothing to offend; and perhaps that's its problem: it doesn't do enough to separate itself from the pack. Ironically, it has an identity problem of its own. I want to be clear here, this brings me to joy to do this - I wanted to love the film! But, here we are. Now, I'm going to dive into exactly what I mean here and diagnose the issues I have with Pixar's Luca.
The Originality (or Lack Thereof)
The primary issue with Luca is that it's far too similar to other, better films. I've seen the comparison be made to The Little Mermaid for boys, and while that might be apt, it doesn't even scratch the surface. What Luca screamed to me from the beginning was Call Me By Your Name meets The Shape of Water, but, of course, in children's animated feature form. Neither film is in any way suitable for kids, but that's where Disney/Pixar comes in. The parallels are so glaringly obvious for anyone familiar with the films that were the clear sources of inspiration for this. Italy, riding bikes, the relationship between the protagonist(s) and the relationship between amphibious beings and humans. The list goes on, but I digress. Even if this film wasn't incredibly derivative of these films, and likely others, it would still be far too run-of-the-mill to differentiate itself from other better entries in the Disney/Pixar canon.
Surprise, surprise, right? Yes, of course the script has to be great in order for the film to be great (or even good, for that matter). The script not only feels uninspired to me, but it also feels entirely rushed. We barely get the chance to get to know Luca or even his parents before he's thrust into this contrived, forced plot and conflict that really just goes through the motions. I understand that this film is meant for kids, but even the jokes and gags feel lazy or half-baked. They were even created just to fill runtime, and not only that, the narrative momentum was just killed by these lazy jokes and contrivances in the plot. To expand upon the contrivances, the primary conflict feels so lackadaisical in the way that it's merely conjured up for the sake of just being there. What I mean by that is the conflict does not serve the story in any meaningful way except that it has to exist out of mere necessity. Conflict is created in the form of petty arguments between the protagonists, the parents who just HAVE to pursue him out of the water, and a so blatantly on-the-nose villain who has unbearably awful lines of dialogue to pinpoint the fact that, yes, he's the villain in case you weren't sure. Not to mention, the rules of the universe are not consistent when dealing with water on skin revealing the fact that they're sea monsters. There were also moments of complete lapses in logic. For instance, the beginning of the penultimate race: Luca was... um, cheating? And then he surfaces on shore and no one suspects that he was the one causing chaos for the other competitors? Also, are we condoning this? Are we teaching kids it's okay to cheat so long as you're facing obvious villains in life? I just could not believe that this was even a thing in the film. I could go on, but I hardly feel that it's even worth the time.
Listen, I know what you're thinking. I'm being way too harsh on this kid's movie. That's entirely possible. And I also know what you're thinking: if nothing else, the animation was at least beautiful, right? Well... sort of. There are times in which the animation IS beautiful. And I will give it that. But I felt that even the animation at times was wildly inconsistent or even rushed. I simply could not understand why the underwater scenes looked sub-par when at other times, the out-of-water scenes looked gorgeous. There were also times in which the transitional scenes just didn't look right. I felt at times that the animation team just could not wait to get to the beautiful moments that they half-assed the others. Don't get me wrong, there were times in which this film looked the best that Pixar ever has, but I just wished that they had put their all in, well, all of it. The same goes for the script. I just can't help but lament the fact that this film had such great potential, but just didn't quite get there.
As you can probably tell, this film isn't likely to garner a favorable rating from me. It was a grand disappointment as it was one of my most anticipated films of the summer. I am a huge fan of what Disney/Pixar conjures up for us, but this left me wanting more. A lot more. The film lacks originality, which is what Pixar is typically known for: its uniqueness. The film's script is just filled with uninspired jokes/gags, it's thin on character, it's chock full of contrivances and inconsistencies, and it works against itself where narrative momentum is concerned. The animation is almost top-notch, but opts for mid-shelf instead. The film also has tremendous gaps in logic, which may seem like an unfair criticism for a film about fish-people, but even animated films need to work within the confines of the rules of their respective universe(s). Overall, Luca is sure to please your kids, nieces, or nephews, but it's not likely to satisfy your cinematic hunger. Ultimately, it's worth a shot, but in the end, I would just say save your time for Pixar's other superior entries.
Luca is a Disney/Pixar film and is currently available to stream on Disney+ (Plus).