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Let’s start by ushering the elephant out of the room. Luca, the latest animated confection from Pixar, is most definitely not a sly, thinly-veiled nod to the LGBTQ love story Call Me By Your Name.
Now, if you are determined to find the parallels and squint really, really, realllly hard, it is conceivable to read gay subtext into this story of friendship between two boys — er, sea monsters — set in an idyllic, seaside Italian village. But honestly? This is a tale as old as time about the joys and endurance of true friendship, as well as acceptance.
Luca (★★★★☆) isn’t one of Pixar’s deepest, most narratively sophisticated efforts but it’s an easy, enjoyable watch. A departure from Pixar’s frequent quest for visual perfection, it feels breezier and more relaxed, forged in the freewheeling style of Aardman Studios, home to Wallace, Gromit, and Shaun the Sheep. The characters even have those familiar, rounded Aardman mouths, as well as long, loose limbs that persistently defy the basic rules of biological function.
The screenplay by Mike Jones and Jesse Andrews is funny and fresh, overflowing with punch and love, and Enrico Casarosa, a Pixar artist making his directing debut, breathes life into each and every moment. Not a frame is wasted; the film has a vibrancy that is as refreshing as a big scoop of citrus gelato.
Jacob Tremblay and Jack Dylan Grazer are magnificent as the timid Luca and boisterous Alberto, two sea monsters who, upon emerging from the depths, take on human form and become obsessed with winning a Vespa in an Italian village’s annual triathlon, which includes cycling, swimming (uh-oh!), and gorging on a mountain of pasta.
The small, textural details incorporated into the characters — tight, soft curls of hair, wriggling, expressive toes (at least when in human form), luminescent globes for eyes — are nothing short of astonishing.
The movie is abundantly, joyfully Italian — at times, it’s as though Casarosa were channeling Fellini — and nowhere is this more evident than in the seaside setting, with its cobblestones and villagers.
A particular standout is Massimo (Marco Barricelli), a looming, burly, one-armed fisherman with a mustache so huge it casts its own shadow. He’s father to Giulia, vibrantly voiced by Emma Berman, who befriends Luca and Alberto and imparts upon them what it means to live as humans, as well as how to properly eat a plate of linguine.
Luca premieres Friday, June 18, streaming exclusively on Disney+. Visit www.disneyplus.com.
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