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  Luca Wishing On A Vespa
Year: 2021
Director: Enrico Casarosa
Stars: Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Saverio Raimundo, Maya Rudolph, Marco Baricelli, Jim Gaffigan, Peter Sohn, Lorenzo Crisci, Marina Massironi, Gino La Monica, Sandy Martin, Giacomo Gianiotti, Elsa Gabrielli, Mimi Maynard, Sacha Baron Cohen
Genre: Comedy, Animated, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Luca (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) is what is generally known to humanity as a sea monster, a strange, scaly, blue-coloured creature which lives in the water and as a kid version, has been instructed by his parents never to venture onto dry land - the people there want to do nothing but harm to sea monsters, is their message. Luca passes his days as a shepherd to goatfish, but has recently been noticing objects on the ocean floor, dropped by the Italian boats up above, usually accidentally. This awakens his curiosity and he begins to stash them in a cave... and then he meets Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), also a sea monster, who lives up above.

Luca was a Pixar movie, but one that while you imagine it would have been able to clean up at the box office had it been released there, thanks to pandemic safety concerns their parent company Disney decided to give it a token theatrical release in the West and mostly supply it to their streaming service. If health was your concern, you could not blame them, and later that Summer there were movies being held back even further, children’s ones especially, and while in less afflicted nations they were allowed to see this in cinemas, like Soul the previous Christmas, Luca was probably the least seen of the Pixar works since they hit big in the nineteen-nineties.

Obviously, the Disney service still had millions of subscribers, so it was not exactly wanting for attention, but nevertheless if a Pixar movie could fly under the radar, then this one was doing so. Was it worth seeking out for non-Pixar fans (and non-little kids, for that matter)? It assuredly kept up the colourful, exquisitely rendered computer animation standards they had become renowned for, yet it did feel a shade second division, with its message of tolerance welcome but rather pat in this context. Basically, they could have made the story without bothering to emphasise the troubles with tolerance angle and it would have made very little difference to the results.

Some identified gender positive themes in the tale of a sea monster who can become human looking as long as they did not get their skin wet, while others preferred to regard it as a racial allegory, and the fact it was vague enough to operate as both, and more - the anti-bullying aspects and pro-disabled acceptance were present in the mix as well - meant it was probably best not to make a meal of them. And indeed, Luca did not, its subtlety actually very appealing even if you suspected it was trying to be all things to all people: if Pixar announced their next project as being about a gay kid, then that would be a bigger act of creative bravery than settling for fish person metaphors, and Soul with its black lead had not really been about race either, we just accepted his colour. Again, that was a step forward in family animation, so not worth protesting.

Back at the plot, Luca and Alberto do not have to avert any disasters as this was a kids’ animation that did not feature an apocalypse, another reason for finding it refreshing in its age of bombast, so what this involved was training for a big race in the fishing village, all so the boys could win a prized possession in the shape of a Vespa scooter. They imagine this will liberate them and in frankly trippy sequences our hero envisages what that would be like, wild, weightless flights of fancy just one step away from a CGI recreation of Yellow Submarine. But there is a villain in the local Vespa-owning rival, Luca's parents are looking for him, and he is now entranced by the stories of learning his new friend Giulia (Emma Berman) is telling him, the value of knowledge another message the film wished to impart (accurate knowledge, too - Alberto is woolly-headed in that department, despite his worldly stance). The now-overused betrayal trope in Pixar was back, but not so much it derailed proceedings, and overall if it was not top tier from this production house, it was calming in its effect. Music by Dan Romer.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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