LUCA Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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LUCA Review

Alexander Wallace dives in.
Ah, Italy. That peninsula that looks bizarrely like a stiletto boot kicking a rock into another rock rivals only the French in the Anglosphere’s vision of high class and high culture. It was the land of the Romans and the Renaissance. It has given us Verdi and Palestrina and Vivaldi in music, Michelangelo and Donatello and Petrarch in art, Eco and Calvino and Dante in literature, and Fellini and Leone and Pontecorvo in film. It has given us our idea of ‘high cuisine’ in a way that the French don’t seem to have done in a way that endures in the public conscience.

(to the French readers here: don’t worry, for only Paris is worthy of Rome)

So then it is only natural that Pixar turns its attention to that wonderful country. It has done so in Luca, its tale of fish out of water - quite literally - along the coast of Liguria. It was directed by Enrico Casarosa, a native Genoan, and based strongly on his time growing up there, as well as on the works of Hayao Miyazaki. You can certainly see the influence of Studio Ghibli here, as it has a certain sentimentality and wistfulness that permeates the entire production.

The fish people who live under the waters off the coast of the Ligurian town of Portorosso herd fish for their scales (from which they make clothes) and live in fear of the boats that harvest above them. The inhabitants of Portorosso, likewise, have a traditional fear of the sea monsters that are said to lurk in their waters. These two parallel societies hate each other and fear each other, and the fish people drill into their children the notion that they should never step ashore. It is Luca, our main character, who goes against his mother’s wishes and makes those fateful steps onto the beach.

While I was watching this film, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a study from Germany a few years ago that the Germans who hated Syrian refugees the most were the ones who regularly saw said refugees but never actually got to know any of them. Bigotry, as has been shown many times, comes from imposing one’s own conception of somebody on the reality of somebody else. That is what has happened both above and below the shoreline; these are two peoples that shun each other out of a disdain born of assumption. Many bigots are shocked out of their bigotry when they really get to know somebody of the group they hate; in the film, the process is kickstarted by that spirited little fish boy.

Luca forms a trio with fellow fish boy Alberto, who introduces him to the pleasures of the land, and Giulia, a human girl who gets the two boys involved with the traditional annual triathlon of swimming, pasta eating, and cycling. They are opposed by Luca’s parents, who search for him to bring him back below the water line, and Ercole, the local tough guy who likes to raise hell for the other children of Portorosso. The children here are the ones who, before any of the adults, are willing to look past the division of species and to accept each other as equals.

This is a beautifully animated film; when underwater, you can almost feel the currents pushing you about. All the sea people and all the marine life are wonderfully visualized and pulse with life. Portorosso is beautiful with that old world charm, recognizable from its portrayal in films like The Godfather Part II and Aquaman. From a life like mine, lived in a cookie-cutter suburb, it is enrapturing.

Luca has shown that Disney+ has no signs of stagnation, and Pixar has no signs of running out of steam. Like Soul, this film was wonderful, with a heartwarming message, likeable characters, and beautiful animation. It’s another movie to salve us during these miserable times, and those looking for that diversion will be quite satisfied in its provision.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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