At the bottom of the sea off the Italian Riviera, Luca Paguro gets up early to graze his family’s cattle of fish on a reef not far from home. While fulfilling his duties, he is unable to take hopeful, terrified glances at the surface of the water.
‘Raya and the last dragon’: Disney’s return to the great tales of its golden age
He has been told a thousand times that the ‘inhabitants’ of the surface, the human beings, are vile and evil creatures who would not hesitate to rip the neck of a ‘sea monster’ like him. But the fascination he feels for objects and human culture can. One day, his friend Alberto Scorfano will teach him that creatures of his kind, when they leave the water, transform into humans. A discovery that will turn your life upside down.
The new film from the Pixar studio, after the multioscarizada and transcendental Soul, is presented to us as a childish fable without pretense. Stripped of any hint of gravity, it rises as an honest, bright and fun proposition. Also political, since it can be read as a plea in favor of disarmarization and against mental closure. It is regrettable, however, that it is released directly on Disney + without going through conventional cinemas: this beautiful, unusually beachy tale was well worth being discovered in a summer cinema.
The lightness of a summer tale
Fascinated by almost everything that surrounds human beings, Luca and Alberto dream of one day owning a Vespa to travel freely and discover Italy. It happens that to get a motorcycle they need money. Lucky for them that, every summer, it is held in the small rural town of Porto Rosso – an obvious nod to the Porco rosso by Miyazaki – a competition that they could get a good pinch of.
Both will be joined by the 100% human Giulia Marcovaldo: an intelligent and outgoing young woman who, however, is no better adapted than the two young sea monsters. His only friend is his father, a sturdy one-armed fisherman with few words. Giulia also dreams of winning the competition, which consists of a triathlon with a section by swimming, another by bicycle and a substantive stop to eat pasta.
Around this absurd test of skills, the new Pixar film weaves a story of friendship between misfits. Three young people who grow up discovering that what differentiates them from the rest of the kids in Porto Rosso is that they don’t mind being different from the rest of the kids in Porto Rosso.
Luca and Alberto live their adventures like fish out of water, literally. They should avoid getting wet, because when they come into contact with water, their skin flakes off. That is, they must make strenuous efforts to live among others, hiding their nature. They want to learn to fit in, even if it means putting up with the passive-aggressive verbal aggression of young people their age, for ‘not behaving’ as most do. Until they understand that they are not the ones who must change.
Without abandoning neither his humor nor his light tone – here is his strength -, Luca it becomes great from his speech. And it is resolved as a fantastic and pertinent fable about kids who ‘come out of the closet’, although not in a literal sense – homosexuality is not explicit – but metaphorical: its protagonists understand that there is nothing wrong with being who they are, that its nature does not harm anyone. That showing themselves as they are to the rest should not be a reason for social exclusion but quite the opposite. And whoever fears diversity longs deep down for a tailored and unnatural uniformity: that everyone be like him.
The pulse between Disney and Pixar continues (and already tires)
Given the circumstances of its premiere in streaming, it is inevitable to talk about Luca in terms of its place in the animation industry today. In March, Disney released Raya and the last dragon simultaneously in cinemas and on your platform. It was understood that the gradual reopening of cinemas and the shortage of major premieres would benefit a box office thirsty for a good blockbuster, but the results were rather timid.
Now, however, the picture is different: cinemas extend hours, the little ones have more free time and the total of possible competitors with a Pixar film right now amounts to zero. In fact, most cinemas don’t even screen an animated family alternative. So the premiere of Luca It could have worked perfectly as a leisure alternative for the family audience: it was the right time and place. And yet the film can only be seen at home, in streaming, if possible near a fan given the temperatures.
Why? In October 2020 Bob Chapek, CEO of Disney, announced that the company was going to undergo a severe reconfiguration whose objective was to enhance the online exhibition window. But when it came to moving the board, its main pieces were in a safe place: Cruella or Mulan have been seen in theaters. In fact, Disney seems to be using Pixar as a kind of guinea pig in this reconfiguration: the films of this prestigious animated studio can only be seen on Disney +. Exclusivity: powerful claim to attract subscribers.
It could also be understood as another consequence of the clash between Disney and Pixar, which results in the certainly tiresome dynamic we are talking about here. In compensation for each sequel to Toy story, Cars, Finding Nemo or The Incredibles, Pixar had creative freedom to make a Reverse or a Soul: films with a thematic and conceptual ambition that led many to consider the debate of if the studio of the flexo had forgotten that their films are also seen by children.
Well, the debate about the target audience of Pixar films could well settle it Luca, and her purely childish breath. On pain of being branded a ‘minor Pixar’ – whatever that means -, as not a few critics have pointed out. Some have even hung the sanbenito of being the film that confirms that “Pixar has lost its special touch“.
In the opinion of whoever writes this, nothing is further. It happens that often the lack of ambition does not arouse suspicion or arouse passions. But the good cloth, in the ark is sold and away from the solemnity of ribbons like Soul or Reverse, Luca she is proud to be what she is: a wonderful summer children’s fable.