(2021) Animated Feature (Disney*Pixar) Starring the voices of Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Saiverio Raimondo, Maya Rudolph, Marco Barricelli, Jim Gaffigan, Peter Sohn, Lorenzo Crisci, Marina Massironi, Gino La Monica, Sandy Martin, Giacomo Gianniotti, Elisa Gabrielli, Mimi Maynard, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jonathan Nichols, Francesca Fanti. Directed by Enrico Casarosa
Different scares us. Different makes us suspicious. Human beings don’t handle “different” very well. We never have.
They don’t get much more different than Luca (Tremblay). You see, Luca is actually a sea monster, living in the Mediterranean just off the coast of Italy. But he’s not exactly thrilled about it; he finds life under the sea repetitive and boring (I’m sure most human kids his age would snort “join the club”). He longs for a different kind of existence and when he asks where boats come from, his overprotective Mom (Rudolph) and Dad (Gaffigan) try to deflect his interest in another direction.
But like most boys, Luca has a curiosity that just won’t take no for an answer. When he meets fellow sea monster Alberto (Grazer), a much more free-spirited sort than Luca, he learns that once their kind leaves the water they magically transform into human beings. It’s only when they become wet that their true nature is revealed.
At Alberto’s urging, the two boys decide to investigate the coastal fishing village of Portorosso (Miyazaki fans will appreciate the reference) where they meet Giulia (Berman), a young girl who is also high-spirited, and dreams of winning an annual competition in which a *gasp* Vespa is the top prize, but local bully Ercole (Raimondo) who has a shiny Vespa of his own stands in her way. She dreams of winning the Vespa and the boys know that the iconic Italian scooter is their ticket to exploring this great big new world they’ve discovered. However, they have to be very careful not to reveal their secret to the townspeople who are superstitious and frightened of the “monsters” and would be very happy to put a harpoon into the both of them if they ever found out the truth.
This is another movie that was meant to be released theatrically but the privations of the pandemic exiled it to a streaming service instead, and in some ways that’s a shame because the animation here is absolutely gorgeous and would look OUTSTANDING on a big theater screen.
The problem is that the story really feels like it’s been done before – and to be honest, it has. Honestly, I could hear Ariel bursting into “Part of Their World” at various times during the movie. That’s not the only thing that brings a sense of Déjà vu though; the characters look a bit like the stop-motion characters in Aardman films (except for Massimo who’s a dead ringer for the Dad in Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs), and the detailed background art? Pure Miyazaki.
I can see the anti-Italian defamation league (assuming there is one) getting hot under the collar here; almost all of the male Italian characters have some sort of bushy moustache (not unlike a cartoon pizzeria owner) including the cat Machiavelli. The villagers or Porto Rossi subsist on a diet of pasta, gelato and perhaps fish. All they were missing was a Mafia turf war.
That’s not to say there isn’t some worthwhile stuff here; the movie has a few genuine moments here and there and if the humor is a bit infantile, I get the sense the movie was also meant for a younger audience than other Pixar classics. Still in all, this was a Pixar effort that didn’t quite hit all the notes that they usually do. It’s not quite as bad as anthropomorphic automobiles, but it’s not one of their prouder moments either
REASONS TO SEE: Wonderful animation, as we have come to expect from Pixar.
REASONS TO AVOID: A pedestrian story and characters who are overly familiar.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some rude humor, mild profanity, some cartoon violence and mature themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Portorosso is based on Cinque Terre, where director Enrico Casarosa spent his summers as a boy.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Disney Plus
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/23/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews; Metacritic: 71/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Little Mermaid
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10