Spoiler warning: Read at your own discretion.
Ah, Luca. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve watched this movie. A favorite of both my toddlers, this is one of those ‘special’ movies that is watched back-to-back, multiple times a day. Such habits drive many parents up the wall. I remember myself wearing out my 90s Little Mermaid VHS and my mother pulling her hair when she listened to ‘Part of Your World’ again. I guess it goes without much saying that with my childhood love of mermaids, I’m drawn to its predecessor. Luca, a story about an adolescent sea monster that dreams of the surface world.
Strangely enough, where many children’s movies begin to irritate or annoy the rational adult after mass viewings, Luca is still as sweet and entertaining as the first time I snuggled my children on the couch and watched it. Why is this? Pixar is known for its tear-jerking themes and motifs, but this didn’t feel like the typical Pixar film. The color palette, story, and animation mirrored that of a studio Ghibli film. Still, even with my love of Ghibli films, I cannot watch them the number of times I’ve watched Luca and still hold the same magic. No, Luca is something special. Just the right amount of cheese, seriousness, and nostalgia to make it something more.
Luca carries the typical best-friends-forever trope: the character Luca, the good kid or “boy scout” becomes quickly fascinated by the supposed bad kid and free-spirited Alberto (Luca states in his panic after following Alberto to the surface world, “I’m a good kid!”). So much so that he becomes brave enough to push the “good kid” boundaries because of the cool charisma of his new BFF. Luca has loving, albeit, overprotective parents, while Alberto’s parents are completely absent in his life. An obvious juxtaposition emphasizes Luca’s search for freedom and Alberto’s arc in accepting structure. And of course, about halfway through the film, a girl named Guilia enters the picture and challenges their BFF relationship.
With such a description, you’d expect this movie to be predictable and cliche. But such tropes did not bore me; they drew me back to films I watched as a child, while at the same time surprising me with its nuances unique to only what Luca can give. The little world-building details such as “phantom tail” when the sea monsters are in human form and still feel their tails, or the misunderstanding of idioms such as “under the dogs” make this film endearing.
And moreover, it is refreshing. In an age where reboot and remake are the norm, it is a relief to finally watch something original and creative, while maintaining classic themes.
The best part of the film though is the overall main theme. In that, the main theme evolves. Within the first ten minutes of the film, Luca gives a monologue about freedom. And fortunately, the word ‘freedom’ is not overused or shoved into the audience's faces (unlike another Disney film that came out recently about dragons shouting the word ‘trust’ at the audience every few minutes, but we’ll save that for another review).
Instead, the meaning of freedom evolves for Luca throughout the film. Luca’s daydreams give the audience glimpses into his young, boyish mind, and his interpretations of freedom. What simply begins as a vision of looking onto a boat at the surface while submerged, becomes full-blown fantasies of space, learning, and education. In his daydreams, Luca changes and starts seeing himself as more human than sea monster. And what started as a yearning for freedom, evolves into a thirst for knowledge and growth. To me, this is realistic of reality; we rarely get the original dream we set out for. As we mature, our dreams mature with us into something new and exciting.
Overall, Luca is a breath of fresh air, making something simple more complex.
Thanks for reading------as always, enjoy life!