Things I Like About Pixar’s Luca
The atmosphere and aesthetic of both the human town and the underwater one are endearing and immersive. They’re both delightful settings, instead of being compared in opposition to each other. It’s a gift that sea monsters can experience both worlds.
The sea monsters (calling them monsters sounds rude - sea people? Sea folk?) make a concept that’s been done over and over seem new. The attention to detail like each head fin becoming a lock of hair; the vivid colour schemes that mirror those of sea creatures; that only the wet parts of their bodies transform back to normal; the gorgeous animation of the transformations, with the water wetting and drying naturally. I never thought I’d be admiring the pattern in which water dries on someone’s back, but that’s Pixar for you.
The prejudice isn’t portrayed in a one-note ‘humans are inherently bad/judgemental’ way, but realistically. The townsfolk are afraid of sea monsters the way you’d be afraid of sharks - as unintelligent, feral animals. Like with sharks, the violence toward them is largely unprovoked and disproportional, since they hold no ill will of their own toward humans unless it’s reactionary and are content to stay out of their way, but you still get where the townsfolk are coming from. Especially having built fear and superstition of these ‘creatures’ deeply into their local culture and everyday lives. But they all get to know and trust Luca and Alberto as people, not just the Marcovaldos. For example, we see some of the kids cheer Luca on in the background as he does cycling training, and snicker when he insults their persecutor. The boys are children, like any other children. So when they transform in public, it’s shocking, yes, but they still move and talk and act the same way because they’re the same people, clear as day. Not monsters, not even animals. They feel fear and love and anger just like humans do. They’ve been living among them for, what, several weeks? And not hurt anyone. Then the Paguros appear and they are so viscerally parents, reuniting with their son. That’s a lot of hard evidence in the sea people’s favour, on both a rational and emotional level. Humans are on the whole very empathetic and love anthropomorphizing and connecting with non-human creatures; plenty of us would jump at the chance to welcome a species of confirmed equal intelligence. Neither the prejudice nor the acceptance feels unnatural. Even the happy ending acknowledges some will never accept them, but some will. That’s how it always has been and will be, in every society.
Luca is a strong, likeable protagonist. He’s relatable, the naive everyman next to an incredibly vibrant deuteragonist and tritagonist, but still has a lot of personality. He’s funny and adorable. I love his gradual arc of overcoming his multiple self-limitations. I love the way his ideals and desires evolve naturally as he starts to find himself and mature. First he wants to escape his problems, to be free and independent without really understanding what it means. By the end he’s putting in the work to repair and maintain his relationships with Alberto, Giulla and his parents. I love him realizing that although what he has with Alberto is wonderful and liberating and he needs it, it isn’t the only thing he needs or wants from life and the surface, that he shouldn’t put his friend on a pedestal or have to sacrifice his long-term happiness to please him. As someone who keenly enjoys learning, I love his blossoming zest for knowledge and discovering his own interests. Good luck in school, Luca! This is set in the 1960s, right? Oh, you’re gonna go insane when you watch the moon landing.
Give him ALL THE HUGS.
“Land monsters!” Yep, that’s humanity alright.
Huh. Walking really is just falling forward on one leg and catching yourself with the other over and over.
“Goodbye. Forever.” [Three and a half hours later] “See you tomorrow!”
I can understand thinking the stars are fish. They’re small shiny things in a big blue/black expanse that appear to swim away with the dawn. But Alberto saying with complete conviction that they’re specifically anchovies, of all fish, is so funny.
The boys hear a sailor be passed by another, wave at him and call to him, “What’s wrong with you, stupido?” They come to the completely logical conclusion that the phrase is a human greeting.
“Yeah, I’m kind of an expert on human towns.” “Have you ever been to the human town?” “No…”
How the Vespa picture is symbolic of Luca and Alberto’s friendship. First a rough sketch, it becomes coloured and more detailed during their time on the island. The addition of the telescope shows the cracks from Luca branching out, the rip shows the schism and finally it’s taped back together.
The scenes in Luca’s imagination. They capture the wonder of his mind and illustrate his thought process.
His grandmother being supportive of his curiosity.
The casual reveal that she goes to the town every weekend, and the elderly sisters seem to live there full time. Though the younger generation is bolder and more open about it, these different people have always existed in ‘normal’ society, because they are normal and deserve to live as such. Interpret that how you want.
Uncle Ugo. “You can’t stop it. If you open your mouth, the whale carcass will get in. Very good…”
Giullia is amazing. Brave, passionate, clever, funny. Staunchly devoted to her ideals. Quirky in her own way (she swears with cheeses!), yet also the more boys’ down-to-earth guide to Portorosso and human life. Her vendetta against Ercole and never once considering giving up her fight against his “empire of injustice”. Her love of astronomy equal to Luca’s. That she has her share of insecurities, but is nonetheless confident and secure in herself enough to want to win the race purely to prove she can. I see a lot of myself in her - or who I want to be - and would love to be her friend, so the implication that she didn’t have any real friends in Portorosso before the boys and may not have many in Genova either is heartbreaking. Her worry she’s too much is very relatable. Does anyone else get autistic vibes from her?
Give her ALL THE HUGS.
“I didn’t quit, they made me stop.”
The narrative and characters don’t dwell unnecessarily on Giulia’s parents’ divorce and separate living situation.
The Underdog’s friendship. Have I mentioned I adore dynamics built on outcast solidarity? Because I absolutely adore dynamics built on outcast solidarity.
Ercole is a refreshingly good archetypical bully. No tragic backstory, no rushed redemption. Just a pompous, immature teenager who derives pleasure from the suffering and subjugation of others. He’s petty enough to order his lackeys to slap each other “with contempt” for him and ruthless enough to enthusiastically attempt to murder two children just because they’re different. Despite his simplicity, he’s never quite unbelievably evil. The murder thing is a little jarring, but it’s a very fast and reckless decision, he doesn’t seem to comprehend the true consequences of it. Some people are like that - worthy of being called “land monsters”.
The Underdogs fracturing his reign of tyranny even before he gets his proper comeuppance, with it demonstrated from his first scene everyone else in town already can’t stand him, they just can’t defy him effectively.
Luca and Alberto’s friendship is cemented and broken by the sea at sunset.
While everything about them makes much more sense in hindsight, Giulia doesn’t even suspect Luca and Alberto were sea monsters until she sees the latter transform. She meets two runaways who have no (at least by land standards) formal education; no knowledge of ordinary societal customs, like money and eating with cutlery; think the stars are fish; are paranoid about getting wet; and won’t tell her anything of their pasts or families. And she just rolls with it. Hey, weird kids gotta stick together!
On the same note, her not bearing any prejudice toward them after the reveal. She doesn’t even seem that angry they lied to her. She’s grown up listening to Massimo and the other townfolks’ anti-sea monster sentiments, but her sole thought is to be concerned for her friends’ safety.
The scene that reveals Alberto’s father abandoned him explains so much without a lot of spoken explanation. Show, don’t tell and all that. The lack of any adult supervision in Alberto’s life was already suspicious - given he spends his days stealing from humans, jumping off of tall structures and staring directly at the sun he’s obviously in dire need of it - but there’s something so cold about his father just… leaving. We never hear his personal reasons, because there’s nothing reasonable about this. We don’t hear anything about a mother. Alberto’s entire character is put in perspective. No wonder he was possessive and controlling of Luca. He’s been alone for so long, friendship, respect and admiration are gold dust to him. No wonder he’s constantly telling his fears and doubts to shut up. You realize that every second of every day his dad doesn’t come back, he has to tune out the constant worry that he’s a nuisance. A burden. A waste of space. Why else would your own father not even want you? Any minute now Luca will see you’re just dragging him down and leave too -
Give him ALL THE HUGS. And his dad ALL THE PUNCHES.
Which makes Luca telling him, “Silenzio, Bruno!” really powerful. Oh my God, what if his dad’s name is Bruno? This implies he was emotionally and verbally abusive before he walked out.
Luca’s parents are flawed and make mistakes that contribute to the rift between them and their son, but are still well-intentioned and only want the best for him, and are willing to admit their faults. I’m always a fan of realistic good parents and nuanced parental relationships in fiction.
Massimo is such a good dad! I like that they set him up to be the cliché ‘gruff, intimidating father’ and ‘scarred, bitter disabled person’ but he’s loving, sensible, wise, kind and fair. He’s introduced extremely dedicated to sea monster hunting. Yet it becomes apparent that’s a manifestation of his protectiveness of his family and community, not bloodlust or ambition, so of course he chooses peace and the expansion of the town’s community in the climax. You can tell Giulla’s modelled her heroic values on his. His missing arm is accepted and acknowledged as a part of his identity, but it’s shown how he lives with it fine and it doesn’t make him a tragedy or an ultra-competent martyr.
Machiavelli! Fluffy baby. Chunky cat. Very good boy. Who’s a good cat? You’re a good cat! Yes, you are! Yes - [clears throat]. His rightful suspicion of the boys and them gradually winning him over with fish is hilarious.
Technically, there’s no rule that says a sea monster can’t win the Portorosso Cup!
Though isn’t given much focus, that Giulia isn’t the least bit annoyed Luca and Alberto win instead of her. Winning and dethroning Ercole was her drive every summer for the last five years. But she’s nothing but proud of her friends. It’s that security in her identity again. This is a prime example of why I admire Giulia.
In the end, the real Vespa was the friendship they found along the way.
Massimo adopting Alberto! So sweet and cathartic.
“You got me off the island, Luca. I’m okay.”
The music throughout. Especially when the theme kicks in at the end as the train moves away and the sun breaks through the clouds.
The pictures in the credits of each fish boy thriving in his new life and the Underdogs keeping in touch!
Alberto gushing over Massimo’s knives and being told he can’t handle any -> Massimo giving him a knife for his birthday in the credits.
Kittens! I thought Machiavelli couldn’t get any better and I was so wrong.
Oh, Massimo’s wife is a dog person. No wonder they divorced.
I’ve heard a lot of the fandom ships Luca and Alberto, and the chemistry is definitely there. Giulia is Luca’s BFF and Alberto’s sister. But if you want a romance, these two boys would work really well together as a couple. Since they’re children and fish people, would their ship name be ‘guppy love’?
Please watch this movie. It’s ‘for kids’ in the best sense of the word; for the child inside all of us, however old we are on the outside. It’s warm and funny and beautiful. It addresses difficult subjects in a mature way and has valuable lessons that don’t feel preachy or forced. This movie is like a supremely delicious chocolate sponge cake: light, fluffy, sweet, just grounded enough in its richness but not weighed down by it, simple without lacking anything.
But what does the handshake phrase mean?!
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