Saturday, June 19, 2021

Human Boys from the Deep: LUCA

As gentle and lovely as a seaside breeze, and as fragile and fleeting as a summer friendship, Pixar’s Luca is a magical animated movie. So many American animators claim Miyazaki as an inspiration, but here’s the rare film that proves it in action. In ways reminiscent of the Japanese master, director Enrico Casarosa (of the short La Luna) and his talented team have made a film aware to subtle shifts in character dynamics, legible to even a small child, but stirring in the detail, compassion, and earnest emotion, with which it’s carried out. And it’s one with nature, keyed into the dappling sunshine and soft tides, the waves lapping the beach and the drops of dew and rain slowly dropping on cobblestone streets. Within these sights, the story follows a timid young sea monster (Jacob Tremblay) who is curious about land. He falls into a quick companionship with a slightly older sea monster boy (Jack Dylan Grazer) who, shockingly to our young protagonist, lives in an abandoned lighthouse in a bay overlooking a charming cliffside Italian village. When out of water, these sea creatures look human, and the boys have fun learning to play like people do. Flipping their fins got them this far. Sure, the villagers in a small-town mid-century Italian paradise — with exquisite rustic architecture and period detail from crackling radios to apt movie posters — hate the mythical beasts of the sea, but they have gelato and bikes and plenty of pasta. The boys are going to like it here, if they can stay. Dazzling Pixar craft makes the movie a consistent stunner of light and movement as the boys try on life in this new place. The look of the film is a soft cartoony embellishment that’s rounded and cozy, befitting the swooning picturesque setting and sophisticated simple wackiness motoring the plot.

The picture remains causal and loose as far as these types of stories go, with the goals and stakes relatively small, but oh-so-big for those involved. The boys think they want a Vespa. They must avoid the younger boy’s parents (Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan), who figure out blessedly quickly what’s happened. They all must hide their identities and thus even the tiniest splash of water, no small feat by the beach. With Pixar’s typical clockwork plotting and mad-scramble climaxes done up here in a beautifully underplayed mood, the movie navigates a sweet whimsy. There’s strong melancholy in swift and impactful moments that never loses the overall childlike wonder, with soft but strong laughs and rubbery cartoony gags stretching the adorable character designs in fancifully well-designed slapstick. When a daydream finds a herd of wild Vespas roaming the countryside, or a bike crash ends with a halo of fish swimming around one’s head, or an eccentric uncle from the deep goes on about whale carcasses, the movie shows off its fantasy with quick shorthand strokes. And it has good fun watching the boys scramble around water to avoid capture, though of course the surly cat named Machiavelli smells something fishy. A fast friendship with a sweet underdog girl (Emma Berman) is a good sign; that her dad is a one-armed fisherman is maybe less so.

The consistent charming invention on display always returns to the boys’ shifting emotions, plugged into their perspective to an attentive and sensitive degree. Despite potential dangers and disappointments, the movie keeps things in perspective. This sunny and well-paced movie is always tenderly attuned to the dynamics of friendships, with the boys’ giddy good-natured playfulness, brash inquisitiveness, and nervous energies making for a fizzy boyish chemistry. And their evolving understanding of themselves and those around them makes this the rare coming of age story that understands such a process happens not all at once, in one momentous summer, but by testing and attempting, by forging new connections, stepping safely out of your comfort zone, discovering new talents, and learning how to be yourself. That Luca arrives at the same well-earned bittersweet teary-eyed character beats by the end that you’d expect of Pixar’s best should be no surprise. But it’s all the more impactful for slipping in naturally and honestly as an outgrowth of getting to know these characters, springing out of their smallest shifts of mood and maturation. The result is as bittersweet, sunny, and satisfying as a perfect summer day.

No comments:

Post a Comment