Friday, June 18, 2021

Luca

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Sea monster Luca (Jacob Tremblay) has always been warned by his mother not to explore the surface. According to her, humans only have on thing in mind: Murder. Taking this word of caution to heart, the 13-year-old sea monster is still lured to the human world after meeting Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer) who has been living on land for quite some time now. The two become best friends as Alberto teaches Luca the ways of life on land. Threatened by his mother to be sent with his uncle down in the deep, the duo run away to the closest coastal city, Portorosso, whose inhabitants are obsessed with finding and killing their kind. There they meet town bully Ercole (Saverio Raimondo), the proud owner of their much-coveted Vespa and perennial winner of the town’s annual Portorosso Cup. They also find a new friend in Giulia (Emma Berman) whose father takes them in to train for the coming race. But is their newfound friendship bound to last once their fishy secret is revealed?

Will Pixar ever come up with a great disappointment? Probably, but not today. Those who were half-traumatized by the very mature theme hiding behind the unassumingly child-friendly surface of Soul last December need not worry. Luca is light and serves as Disney’s love letter to Italy, focusing on the ever-relevant theme of inclusivity and tolerance set in the backdrop of a picturesque summer in a small coastal town along the shores of the Ligurian Sea. It’s like a cross between Little Mermaid and Call Me by Your Name, sans the LGBTQIA+ undertones.

Little Mermaid in the sense that this is a cautionary tale of underwater creatures who have their own civilization down there in the deep. One of them will always be curious enough to find out what is on the surface. The difference here is the absence of a romantic angle and the convenience of the sea monsters’ ability to automatically take on human form while on land, provided they don’t get wet. On the contrary, the coming-of-age aspect and budding bromance between Luca and Alberto as well as the setting in a quaint Italian town gives off similar vibes as Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name.

The storyline is your typical fish out of water narrative taken a bit too literally. The use of a different species as a metaphor for discrimination is obvious enough for the discerning viewer, the animation for which stands out just enough to be eye candy for a younger audience. While the premise of sea monsters whose greatest dreams in life is to travel the world on a Vespa and go to school is absurd at best, all you have to do is substitute species with race, skin color, religion or sexual preference, among others, to better understand the underlying real-world equivalents they are alluding to.

And so, comes the question. Is this going to be yet another woke project from Disney to shove down our throats? I’d say not really. If anything, it’s a piece of art that subtly instills the concept of tolerance and inclusivity in a younger generation in hopes that when it is finally their turn to lead the world, no shoving down of anything down anyone’s throat would no be necessary anymore, because the moral lesson is already too obvious and self-explanatory to begin with. As they say, start them young.

Perhaps it’s wishful thinking for it to happen in this lifetime. As grandma sea monster declares in the ending as if self-critiquing the film’s chosen conclusion, “Some people, they’ll never accept him, but some will.” Baby steps, then. In any case, even devoid of its central theme, what you will enjoy the most about Luca is the nostalgia for bygone innocence we associate with adolescence, that worry-free setting of lazing by the sea and meeting a new friend; wanting to ride a Vespa or go to school being the sole life and death dilemmas that have to be dealt with. Before you become a jaded adult.

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