Luca (2021): Pixar’s Latest Direct to Streaming Film Barely Scratches the Surface of Quality

“Luca” is directed by Enrico Casarosa (Up, Coco) and stars Jacob Tremblay (Room, Wonder), Jack Dylan Grazer (Shazam!, It), Emma Berman, Saverio Raimondo, Maya Rudolph (Life of the Party, Brides Maids), Marco Barricelli (The Book of Daniel, Holy Silence), Jim Gaffigan (The Jim Gaffigan Show, Bob’s Burgers), Peter Sohn (Ratatouille, Monsters University), Lorenzo Crinski, Marina Massironi (Bread and Tulips, Letters to Juliet), and Sandy Martin (Ray Donovan, Dumbo). This film is about a young sea monster named Luca disguised as a human who exits the water and enters land. In other words, he has reached “the surface,” much to the dismay of his overprotective parents. While he is there, he meets a new human friend, Alberto, who lives near the Italian Riveria. Together, they form an unlikely bond and attempt to experience “the best summer ever.”

I almost did not review this film. And I say this as someone who loves Pixar. But I think when it comes to Pixar, it’s almost like watching a sibling you love take a few punches. As you may have learned over the years on Scene Before, my primary goal is to tackle mostly theatrically released content. Unfortunately, “Luca” was often marketed as a Disney+ exclusive. The film was originally going to come out in theaters, but a few months ago, it was decided that the film would go straight to Disney+. This made me think a few things. Either Disney is treating Pixar movies like they are afterthoughts, because even though I particularly was not as enthused by “Soul” as much as other people, that movie did very well review-wise and maybe “Luca” would receive the same treatment. Or Disney does not have much faith in “Luca.” We’ve seen movies that were supposed to come out in theaters over the years get streaming releases and people would often speculate the reason why the movie went to streaming in the first place is because it was not good. In fact, Disney+ is part of this trend with “Artemis Fowl,” which was BAD. But, knowing Disney, money talks, so maybe they thought “Luca” could underperform at the box office so maybe this was a way to boost Disney+ subscriptions. The COVID-19 pandemic changes each and every day, right now it is changing for the better depending on where you live, but people still question if it is going to stick around longer so for all I know, Disney took a safe route with “Luca.” The bright side is, unlike “Black Widow,” which will release theatrically and on Disney+ for a $29.99 fee, “Luca” is free for all subscribers.

I have decided to review this film and count it towards my end of year events like The Jackoff Awards because “Luca” did end up coming out in one theater in the United States. Specifically the El Capitan in Los Angeles, a cinema dedicated to Disney productions. So what do I think of “Luca?”

It’s the worst Pixar movie yet. And I cannot believe I am saying this because “Soul” came out last December and I said the exact same thing about that.

Now to be clear, I have not seen every single Pixar film. I still have not watched “Brave,” “Monsters University,” and “The Good Dinosaur” from start to finish. Maybe one day I will catch up on those, but for now, they’re still on my to do list. For all I know, those movies may be worse than “Luca.” But I want to bring up something that I have gathered over the years. Pixar has one of the best batting averages of all the studios working today. Thus far, I do not think they have given us one bad feature film. They’ve all been at the very least, likable. This even includes “Soul,” which again, prior to “Luca” I thought was the worst Pixar movie. Speaking of lesser Pixar movies, I took a screenwriting class in my sophomore year of college. My professor said he saw the movie “Onward,” which as of the conversation he had with the class, I happened to see as well. He thought that when it comes to Pixar, it is lower tier. But he also stated that bad Pixar is better than most movies. In a way he’s right. Because when it comes to Pixar, I think they do a better job at not specifically catering to a younger demographic and going after mature themes that can resonate with both kids and adults. “Luca” is no exception to this, because the story to “Luca” involves our main character being told that he must avoid a portion beyond the world they know, that portion being “the surface.” The way this plays out kind of reminded me of my relationship I have with my parents when they go into a “helicopter” mode essentially. Because Luca is the one kid who is brave enough to do something even though it is often discouraged by his parents, and he defends himself by referring to his carefulness. When it comes to certain aspects, Pixar not only excels at topping a lot of animations, but many other movies in general. It’s like Stephen King. Even some of his inferior work is supposedly better than a lot of books.

With that being said, “Luca” does not really feel like a Pixar movie. It feels like an okay movie with a somewhat intimate story that occasionally has some nicely animated shots and sequences, but it feels cliché and very low in terms of stakes. I mean, yes, there are some occasionally high stakes, but compared to other Pixar movies, they are low. Plus it repeats the same motifs that you see in Pixar films like “Ratatoullie” and “Monsters Inc.,” specifically the idea that humans are dangerous. The depth to Luca’s character is also admittedly somewhat surface level, pun intended. Luca is by no means the worst character in the world, but we barely know anything about him other than the fact that he is a sea monster-human hybrid and his parents do not want him near the surface. Yes, we see him doing sea crap in the beginning of the film, but my question is, what does he do for fun? Is there… Anything? Maybe that’s the point, because maybe that’s a way to establish how much more interesting the human world is. Because it is a world where people actually do s*it. In the sea, we don’t see any of that. That could be intentional, but it also slices out a sense of dimensionality to Luca as a character. This technically stands as a flaw to me, but at the same time, I would love to know where the writers were coming from on this.

I will also say that when it comes to characters in this movie, the surface characters had some work that I feel would need to be done as well. I think the chemistry between Luca and Alberto is fine, although I feel like there are some things I would change about how their plot moved along because by the end of the movie, I honestly questioned how they were in the positions they found themselves in, but I want to point out the villain, Saverio Raimondo’s character of Ercole Visconti.

Now, I know that this is an animation, so in a way you can get away with making your characters more expressive for the sake of establishing who they are, but when I watched this movie, I could not help but think that Ercole was ridiculously over the top to the point where he almost had no dimension to his personality. He is a surprisingly wacky villain for a story that honestly feels as small as it is. He feels like he belongs in a different movie. Honestly, if I had to make a comparison, he kind of reminded me of the villain from “The Secret Life of Pets 2” who came off as if he were written with the intention of catering to people who needed everything established in front of them. Granted, if I had to prefer watching one character over the other I’d choose Ercole, but nevertheless.

This movie has some okay ideas, but the execution of everything at hand leaves a bit to be desired. I liked some of Luca’s fish out of water experiences, where he learns about stuff like space and Vespas, but the story weirdly feels rushed and as if some details were overlooked. I think the relationships Luca has with Alberto and Giulia are fine, but I do not think I will remember them compared to the relationships I have seen in other Pixar movies like Joy and Sadness in “Inside Out” or Fredrickson and Russell in “Up.” Simply put, this movie is good, but it could be better. Perhaps in more ways than one.

In the end, “Luca” is an okay film, but it is also currently my least favorite Pixar movie. It is perhaps the one that I am least likely to watch again. Even though I said “Soul” was my least favorite Pixar film before this one, I could see myself turning that one on again because it has a lot of deep elements that make you question the meaning of life. “Luca” is a simple movie, but at times it is a little too simple. I never really found anything in “Luca” that resembled an “oomph” factor. Some of it feels very “been there done that” while other portions feel less interesting compared to some of Pixar’s other work. I will say though, the film is nice to look at. I really like the designs they went for with the sea monsters, and the underwater scenes are eye-popping. In the technical department, Pixar once again does not disappoint. I just wish the movie were better. I’m going to give “Luca” a 6/10.

“Luca” is now available on Disney+ for free for as long as you are a subscriber.

Thanks for reading this review! Summer is here! And that means it is time to review some big movies! This summer we have “Black Widow,” “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” “The Suicide Squad,” and “Free Guy” just to name a few titles! But before we get to any of that, we will be diving into a long-awaited sequel. So long in fact that I bought tickets for this movie in February 2020, only to find out it would be delayed until the following year. That sequel, my friends, is “F9: The Fast Saga,” which is now playing everywhere. I will be reviewing the movie hopefully by the end of the month, so stay tuned for my thoughts!

Also coming soon, stay tuned for my brand new review series “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Chest of Reviews.” My review for the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie, “The Curse of the Black Pearl,” will be available on July 1st. I will be reviewing all five “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies in preparation for “Jungle Cruise,” which like “Pirates of the Caribbean,” is inspired by a Disney theme park ride.

If you want to see all this great content and more, be sure to follow Scene Before either with an email or WordPress account! Also be sure to like the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Luca?” What did you think about it? Or, what are your favorite AND least favorite, Pixar movies? My favorite, it’s “The Incredibles,” also my most cherished animated film of all time. Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

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