Turns out sea monsters are afraid of humans. Fair enough. Humans don’t have a great track record. Especially with things they don’t understand. Or that they’re afraid of. I’d be afraid of them too, if I were a sea monster.
Anyway, rational or not, that’s the psychology of the sea monsters in Pixar’s new movie, “Luca.” The rules of their underwater domain say stay in the underwater domain. Don’t go up. Don’t show yourself. Hide. Conceal your identity.
Luca (Jacob Tremblay) isn’t listening though. He’s not a bad little sea monster. He’s just curious. He lives off the coast of a quaint little Italian village, and, while he is a bit shy and timid, he can’t help but sneak a peek of the wonders above.
And he’s not alone. One day when he’s close enough to the surface to make his parents cringe, he meets fellow sea monster, Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer). Alberto doesn’t have much family to keep him in check – he just says his dad isn’t around much – and he’s every bit as curious and three times as bold as Luca.
Also, Alberto knows a secret: If sea monsters go onto dry land, they don’t just flop around like fish out of water, gasping for oxygen through their gills; rather, they turn into humans – breathing, walking, talking humans.
At first when Alberto shares this secret with Luca, Luca is characteristically timid and reluctant. But he’s also curious. And he’s drawn to Alberto like a magnet. So Alberto offers a solution. He calls Luca’s inner scaredy-cat “Bruno,” and teaches Luca his mantra: “Silenzio Bruno!”
And thus, Bruno is silenced. Luca and Alberto’s relationship is strengthened every day as they explore the terrestrial world. But Luca’s parents are a bit of a complication, so the pair formulate a plan to run off together on a Vespa.
But they need a Vespa. Which isn’t cheap.
Yet, ah ha, they catch wind of the Portorosso Cup Race – a triathlon of swimming, biking and pasta-eating – that has a cash prize. As they inquire further, they’re quickly introduced to the local scene. There’s Ercole Visconti (Saverio Raimondo), an arrogant, good-for-nothing jerk who, yeah, fine, always wins the race.
Then there’s Giulia Marcovaldo (Emma Berman), a young girl who always loses the race but is nice in her own way and befriends Luca and Alberto. After some negotiation, she agrees to add Luca and Alberto to her triathlon team.
So they have a team! With two sea monsters on a competition that involves swimming, you’d think things would be looking up. But remember, when Luca and Alberto go into the water, they turn back into sea monsters – and they can’t let that cat out of the bag. They have to figure out some other arrangement to beat Ercole. And everyone else. Without letting on that they’re monsters. Or being found by their parents. Silenzio Bruno, Silenzio Bruno . . .
“Luca” is sweet. Nothing groundbreaking. It’s just sweet. The relationship between Luca and Alberto is nice, it’s good, it’s warm. It’s complicated by the plot they weave themselves into, but, in other ways, it’s simple, pure.
Add that to a beautifully composed film, set in a beautiful location and we’re off to the races.
This is not a very ambitious film. The themes of identity, shame and self-confidence are immediately evident and never strained too hard with divisive political overtures. Some may balk at that, wishing for more. But I say it’s for the best.
“Luca” is simple. It won’t knock your socks off. But after a year-plus of drama, it feels kind of nice to just chill by the beach with a friend.
“Luca” is rated PG for rude humor, language, some thematic elements and brief violence.