Pixar films often fall into two types, major works and minor works. The major works deal with existential, big themes and ask us to look at what makes us who we are. Minor works are fun, whimsical tales often with a good moral but never delve into the headier side of what this studio has explored before. Soul, from last year, was major Pixar. Onward, from last year as well, was minor Pixar. Luca is minor Pixar and is a great example of what the studio can do even when they are tackling lighter ideas.
Set in an idealized Italian Riviera village, Luca is a bit of a riff on The Little Mermaid. Director Enrico Casarosa riffs from his own childhood as we follow a young boy, who is also a sea creature, who ventures onto land, posing as a human. Luca (Jacob Tremblay) has been warned time and time again by his parents (Jim Gaffigan and Maya Rudolph) not to go to the surface. His curiosity gets the better of him when he meets a young orphan Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer). Alberto lives mostly on land and tells Luca to tell his inner Bruno to "Silencio." Bruno is the voice inside you that tells you not to take risks.
Of course, when Luca leaves his nest (so to speak) his parents come on land to find him. Luca and Alberto quickly meet up with Giulia (Emma Berman), a human girl who fits in about as well as they do. These outsiders decide to enter the town race. Luca and Alberto dream of owning a Vespa, a vehicle they believe will take them anywhere in the world. For Alberto, this is everything as he has no home. For Luca, it is a chance at adventure but it is also clear he is hesitant to leave everyone behind. For Giulia, this is her chance to prove to everyone that she is someone and to rub it in the face of the film's villain.
The film spends a lot of time with the three of them training for the race. There are many good jokes about them literally being fish out of water and the animation is beautiful. This is a magical version of Italy not unlike the magical version of Paris in Ratatouille. The plot is a bit slight but the film feels personal thanks to the central friendship between Luca and Alberto. It is also a very charming film and one that you may not feel get its emotional hooks in you until the final act.
Luca is a loveable hero and his adventure is one worth taking. The film is wistful and fun, everything you might want in a Summer movie. Casarosa finds ways to make this a personal film, one that touches upon the importance of friendships, education, and living life to the fullest. Tell your inner Bruno "Silencio!" and go check this out.