NEW YORK (CNS) – While it does nothing to solve real-life parents’ perennial problem that obedient children rarely have adventures, the animated fantasy “Luca” (Disney +) from director Enrico Casarosa is otherwise a seductive tale full of charm and Italian flair.
Too complicated for toddlers, who might also be scared, this is quite a nice fare for everyone else.
The premise of the film is indeed fantastic since the titular protagonist is a young sea monster (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) living in the waters off Liguria. Sweet shepherd of fish, Luca’s benevolent nature, like that of everyone around him, completely belies the menacing nickname humans have given them.
Although shy, Luca is also curious and, with encouragement from Alberto (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer), a more daring and experienced peer whom he accidentally meets, he makes the astonishing discovery that he and his new boyfriend are all two turned into preteen boys on dry land (which Alberto is already aware of). Luca is naturally anxious to explore the unknown world which is thus opened to him.
After his overprotective mother Daniela (voiced by Maya Rudolph) and well-meaning but distracted father Lorenzo (voiced by Jim Gaffigan) learn of Luca’s secret activities, they threaten to send him to live with his uncle Ugo, living in the depths of the sea (voice of Sacha Baron Cohen). So Luca and Alberto take a break and leave for the nearby town of Portorosso.
There, they befriended Giulia (voiced by Emma Berman), a strictly human local girl, and enjoyed the hospitality of her fisherman father, Massimo (voiced by Marco Barricelli). Plucky Giulia has a long-standing rivalry with the arrogant Ercole (voiced by Saverio Raimondo), the town tyrant, who repeatedly beat her in the annual Portorosso triathlon.
Partly to Giulia’s satisfaction and partly to earn enough money to buy the Vespa they both wish to own, Luca and Alberto agree to participate in the event as teammates. But their plan risks being thwarted since Daniela and Lorenzo, having taken human form, are in pursuit of their son.
Touches of humor – triathlon is all about biking, swimming and eating pasta – always attractive characters and quaint visuals combine to make this Pixar production to a high standard. Themes such as the tensions that develop within the central trio, Alberto offering Luca the prospect of a carefree Tom Sawyer-Huck Finn lifestyle while the studious Giulia makes him want to go to school, are well treated.
The closest thing to the kind of scatological material that comes up so often in youth films is a fleeting scene in which Alberto picks up his nose. The Italian penchant for transmitting ideas physically is represented by some non-verbal expressions of disdain. But these are louder than harsh.
In the midst of a comedic situation, a child momentarily in danger makes the sign of the cross in what those who are on the lookout for wrongdoing might consider frivolous. As for the priest of Portorosso (voiced by Jonathan Nichols), he is portrayed as part of the community – a pleasant, if bland, presence among his parishioners.
Colorful and touching, “Luca” is a quality offering suitable for almost all ages.
The film contains characters in peril and some rude gestures. The classification of the Catholic News Service is AI – general sponsorship. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG – Parenting Advice Suggested. Some materials may not be suitable for children.
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Mulderig is on the staff of the Catholic News Service.
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