Luca is a totally pleasant summer movie, but it's nothing more. As expected, the visuals are gorgeous, the message is inspiring and the voice work is exceptional. But there's very little emotional impact, especially compared with recent tear-jerkers like Coco, Onward and Soul.
Jacob Tremblay, possibly the best child actor working today, voices the titular sea monster. Like Ariel in The Little Mermaid, he longs to be where the people are, above the surface. When exploring in the sea, he follows a fellow sea monster to a beach, who transforms into the self-assured Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer). After his anxious mom (Maya Rudolph) hears about his trip, she threatens to send him further into the ocean to live with his uncle. And so, like many pint-sized heroes before him, he runs away from home.
On their own, Luca and Alberto become fast friends, bonding over their mutual love for tinkering and stunts. But a rift forms when local human Giulia (Emma Berman) joins their group. Together, they plan to complete in the Porto Rosso Cup. It's an Italian triathlon: swimming, biking and eating pasta. (That got a big laugh out of me.) These scenes are the strongest in the film, as Luca and Alberto's ideas about the future diverge, and they're constantly trying to hide their true identities to blend into the town, all the while training for the big race.
Based solely on trailers, the film earned a lot of comparisons to the more adult Call Me by Your Name, given its Italian summer setting and male leads. But it's actually much closer to 1979's Breaking Away. Set in Indiana, four boys compete in a grueling bike race against local snobs and international athletes. It remains one of the best films about sports and childhood friendship. Luca suffers in comparison to both Best Picture nominees.
While the climax, where our trio face off against local bully Ercole (Saverio Raimondo), is thrilling, the film really only has one direction to go. Its final lines are moving, but it doesn't quite feel earned. Luca is like a brief beach trip: Enjoyable enough for an afternoon, but not especially memorable.
*This film is streaming globally on Disney+.