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Pixar is fresh off surpassing its 25-year anniversary and the animation studio is showing signs of evolution. It has churned out every sequel it could think of, for Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., The Incredibles… and then Toy Story again. And now it’s treading into new waters. Its last two releases, Onward and Soul, quite obviously explore loss and death. So how does a more matured Pixar deal with splashy summer fare? With Italian sea monsters, of course!

After a number of years of Pixar nostalgia for the most part, oh, besides Coco, which was about a kid meeting his dead relatives (uhh… Pixar are you ok?), Luca feels kind of random. But it’s a welcome detour, for sure. The studio went back to the drawing board with this one, and while its concept is not particularly original, it brings a lot of what we love about Pixar movies, just through a new avenue.

This fish-out-of-water tale is uncomplicated, but captivating.

Disney+’s Luca tells the story of a young sea monster (Jacob Tremblay) who meets a more rebellious young sea monster (Jack Dylan Grazer) on their surface misadventures. In this iteration of seafaring legends, these underwater monsters can turn to humans the moment they have dried off, making the idea of hanging around their neighboring Italian Riviera town, Portorosso, an enticing place for their rebellion.

The story may remind Disney fans of The Little Mermaid, but a better comparison would be slice-of-life Studio Ghibli films such as Kiki’s Delivery Service. More than being concerned with a clever high-concept or a laundry list of marketable characters, Luca sweeps one up in its breathtaking views and understated, effortless storyline. While it does build into a lively third act, Luca kind of has the feel of an indie foreign film. No wonder Call Me By Your Name keeps getting thrown around it. And while some may be put off by how simple Luca’s concept is, less is effective in its own kind of way.

Visually, Luca dives into a fresh new side of Pixar.

Pixar has also been well known for providing some incredible realism to their visuals from the beginning. For Luca, the studio is going for a watercolor, hand-drawn aesthetic that is exciting to see the studio take on. There’s a more imaginative touch to director Enrico Casarosa’s eye, who memorably made the short La Luna in 2011 before this feature debut.

Along with how it looks on the screen, Luca is full of cute humor. Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan voice a funny odd couple of parents to Luca, and an adorable, suspicious cat named Machiavelli will likely capture the hearts of viewers. Luca certainly had an innocence and childlike wonder to it, much more so than other Pixar films. It also further explores this sense of nostalgia the studio has often explored through its movies. The entire movie feels as if it's told through a memory, a quality the best summer movies all possess.

Luca embodies the feeling of summer in a timeless, profound way.

Luca is best described as the illustration of the feeling of summer. It’s full of hope, adventure until it becomes about the sense of bittersweetness and longing as the seasons change. What it doesn’t fulfill in story, the movie makes up in atmosphere, particularly in the way Dan Romer’s beautiful score carries you through it into its emotional finale. Luca has a great message to tell for all audiences about friendship through Luca and Alberto’s arc along with expressing a powerful theme of self acceptance.

The Disney+ release is the animation studio's attempt at a lighter, more intimate type of film that only asks you to sit back and take in the Italian influence. While it’s not the studio’s most memorable film, it’s a delightful combination of feel-good entertainment for all ages and a rewarding pivot for Pixar to daydream off to for the moment.

8 / 10 stars
Rating: movie reviewed star rating out of five
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