Review Round-Up: Enrico Casarosa’s Luca

Pixar’s latest travels to the Italian coast for a summertime tale of friendship… and sea monsters.
Luca - Enrico Casarosa

Directed by Enrico Casarosa, who turned heads with his delightful 2011 animated short La Luna, Pixar’s Luca has been described as a celebration of childhood friendship and “a love letter to the summers of our youth” — but with sea monsters.

The film follows the exploits of Luca and Alberto, a pair of sea monsters fascinated by the human world as depicted by the picturesque Italian village of Portorosso. But whereas Alberto can’t wait to get into mischief, Luca is a bit more shy and timid — and suffice to say, hijinks ensue.

Luca is also an homage to Hayao Miyazaki as well as Italian filmmakers like Federico Fellini, and its storyline was influenced by Casarosa’s own childhood summers in Genoa, Italy. With all that in mind, how does his directorial debut stack up to the fabled studio’s previous efforts?

Justin Chang, “One of the studio’s loveliest movies in years”

The movie may look slight or modest compared with its more extravagant Pixar forebears; certainly it lacks the grand metaphysical ambitions of the Oscar-winning Soul (whose director, Pete Docter, is an executive producer here). But that may explain why it ultimately feels like the defter, more surefooted film, and one whose subtle depths and lingering emotions belie the diminished platform to which it’s essentially been relegated. Luca is big in all the ways that count; it’s the screens that got small.

Robert Daniels, “Fails to venture outside of safe waters”

Luca retreads too much well-cultivated ground and reworks so many achingly familiar tropes as its best qualities sink to a murky bottom. While some material may hit with younger audiences, Luca makes for Pixar’s least enchanting, least special film yet.

David Ehrlich, “One of the most grounded and enjoyable coming-of-age stories the studio has ever told”

The shortest Pixar movie since Toy Story, and one of the few that manages to keep its high-concept premise anchored to a simple human scale, Enrico Casarosa’s Luca is effectively the Disney+ equivalent (read: non-alcoholic version) of an aperol spritz on a late summer afternoon: sweet, effervescent, and all the more satisfying for its simplicity. At times, Luca is so modest, so restrained, so not about sentient action figures or a family of superheroes or the nature of the human soul that it almost doesn’t feel like a Pixar film at all.

Steven D. Greydanus, “A sweet film burdened by tiresome tropes”

[A] gentle, overtly Miyazaki-esque coming-of-age period piece struggles under the heavy weight of iron-clad Disney/Pixar formula requirements and story beats. The charming elements work well enough to carry the film, but only just.

Germain Lussier, “A lovely, funny movie that tries a little too hard”

If you watch Luca, the latest film from Pixar Animation Studios, the odds are you’re going to like Luca. There’s not much not to dislike; it’s bold and beautiful to look at, the characters are entertaining and complex, and the story is dramatic and emotional with just the right amount of action. On top of all that, the music and setting give the entire movie a distinct, palatable feel. All in all, Luca is very good. It’s just missing a certain cohesiveness that would’ve made it great.

Moira Macdonald, “An adorable film set in dreamy Italy”

We’ve gotten accustomed, with Pixar, to animated films with stunning visual beauty; pity that Luca, sweet as it is, doesn’t quite deliver that other Pixar trademark: smart, witty stories both funny and at times achingly poignant. (The best, in my humble opinion? Inside Out, Up, Finding Nemo, Ratatouille. But everyone has their own list.) Luca never quite rises beyond being adorable — and hey, these days, adorable is fine. Adorable can take me out to lunch anytime. Adorable is a gift that’s always welcome. But… there’s something that just isn’t there.

Petrana Radulovic, “Understated brilliance”

Luca doesn’t explore big, existential emotions like the Pixar films that made the company an industry leader, but it captures the fleeting halcyon days of summer in a sweet, understated way. Casarosa subverts the typical Pixar formula, not just in the movie’s visual stylings, but also in the way he weaves in the emotions, using smaller story moments.

Richard Roeper, “Shimmers with gorgeous visuals, sweet story”

Whether it’s Sully and Mike in Monsters Inc., the lively residents of the Land of the Dead in Coco or Remy in Ratatouille, the magic-makers at Pixar love to make movies featuring entities we humans normally find frightening or repulsive but are actually lovable and funny and brave and endearing once we get to know them. The formula is invoked to great effect once again in the breezy and sweet and wonderfully colorful Luca, in which the creatures in question are sea monsters that are anything but monstrous.

Dana Stevens, “Nostalgic, moving, and beautifully crafted”

[T]here’s something almost too glossily pleasant about the tale it tells of misfit kids learning to accept their differences and form their own alternate family. There are worse things a family summer movie can be than sweet, kind, and affirming of interspecies friendship in all its forms. But after the high-concept ambition of Pixar films like Inside Out, Coco, Soul, and even Toy Story 4, Luca, for all its pictorial loveliness and standout voice work, feels slightly underwhelming.

Drew Taylor, “Magical, emotional, and unlike anything the studio has made before”

As far as high concept, hugely adorable Pixar set-ups go, Luca is one of the very best. It presents a relatable conundrum (Luca’s overprotective parents, played by Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan, forbid his attempted adventuring), steeped in the framework of a classical fable (along the lines of something like The Little Mermaid), with just enough modern flourishes and thematic complexities to keep it compelling and contemporary. If this clever conceit were all that Luca made special, it would be pretty phenomenal. Thankfully, though, there’s much more beneath the surface.

Mel Valentin, “Pixar once again delivers awe and wonder in equal measure”

Far more straightforward and less convoluted than Pixar’s more recent efforts, Luca turns less on the never-in-doubt outcome of the triathlon or the inevitable discovery of Luca and Alberto’s non-human natures by Portorosso’s townspeople than on the evolution of their friendship and the inclusion of Giulia as an equal member. The world doesn’t hang in the balance. Portorosso won’t live or die as a community based on their actions, but for Luca, Alberto, and Giulia (and by extension, audiences channeling their inner preteens), the stakes couldn’t be higher or more important. Their experiences, while particular to a fictional, fantastical time and place, are also just as universal.

Luca begins streaming on Disney+ on June 18. Watch the trailer below.

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