Luca


Where’s Aquaman?

(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
NEXT:
Settlers

Aquaman


Under the sea, a princess waits.

(2018) Superhero (Warner BrothersJason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Temuera Morrison, Ludi Lin, Michael Beach, Randall Park, Graham McTavish, Leigh Whannell, Julie Andrews (voice), Djimon Hounsou, (voice), John Rhys-Davies (voice), Andrew Crawford, Sophia Forrest, Natalia Safran. Directed by James Wan

 

It’s no secret that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has far out-stripped the DC Extended Universe for box office supremacy. There are a lot of reasons for that; regardless, the fact of the matter is that DC has a lot of catching up to do, and here’s where they start.

Arthur Curry (Momoa) a.k.a. Aquaman (although he is rarely referred to by that term) is the son of Polynesian lighthouse keeper (Morrison) and Atlanna (Kidman), a princess of Atlantis. Bullied as a young boy, he learns that due to his half-Atlantean lineage he can communicate with sea animals, control water and swim faster than a dolphin. He can also breathe underwater as well as on land. He is tutored by Vulko (Dafoe), an advisor to the king of Atlantis, Arthur soon becomes a kind of superhero, although he prefers very much to be left alone to drink beer and brood, mainly over the disappearance of his mother and his father’s sad faith that she will return to him someday.

However, the arrival of new princess Mera (Heard) tells Arthur of a power struggle going on in the deep. Orm (Wilson), his half-brother, has claimed the throne, although Arthur apparently has a better claim. Orm means to declare war on the surface dwellers and who could blame him, given all the pollution and damage we have inflicted on the oceans. Arthur and Mera will need to go on a quest to find Neptune’s trident, the most powerful weapon in Atlantis that has been lost for generations, if they are to challenge Orm and save the human race.

Wan is an accomplished director who has launched two major movie franchises – Saw and The Conjuring – and looks to give DC a badly needed infusion of fun. It’s no accident that Jason Momoa’s Aquaman resembles Chris Hemsworth’s Thor in many respects; the roguish demeanor, the royal bloodline, the affection for humans and the wisecracks; Wan’s no fool, and that lighter sort of superhero sells better in today’s market than the brooding, dark heroes of DC’s recent past.

Other than that, this is pretty standard superhero movie stuff; big battles, lavish special effects, the existence of the human race on the line. Aquaman is at its best, oddly enough, when Momoa’s charm is allowed to shine through; the big special effects are almost too busy with too much going on so that the end result is not eye candy but vertigo.

Heard delivers the best performance of her career as the agile Mera, and Kidman lends needed gravitas as Atlanna. There is also a subplot involving regular Aquaman nemesis Black Manta who is played by the underutilized Mateen, who is due a superhero character of his own one of these days. The wow factor is definitely here, but the movie is a little too long, a little too overwhelming. Still, where it shines, it really shines and Momoa is certainly an action star for the new decade.

REASONS TO SEE: Best DC film since Wonder Woman. Momoa was born to play a superhero.
REASONS TO AVOID: Gets a little too artsy for its own good.
FAMILY VALUES: The special effects are on the busy side.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: According to director James Wan, the octopus playing drums during the duel between Orm and Arthur is Topo, Aquaman’s sidekick during the 50s and 60s. Wan figured that if Mad Max: Fury Road could have flame-throwing guitars, he could have an octo-drummer.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AMC On Demand, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, HBO Now, Microsoft, Movies Anywhere, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/26/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 65% positive reviews, Metacritic: 55/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Waterworld
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Capital in the 21st Century