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‘Luca’ preaches the value of being yourself

Pixar is a victim of its own success. After a string of truly transcendent films like the Toy Story series, “Inside Out,” “Coco,” and most recently “Soul,” it’s something of a let-down to see rather more earthbound fare like Pixar’s latest. “Luca” is a perfectly fine animated film, full of Pixar-worthy computer animation of a wondrous Italian coastal village. It’s just that it lacks the profundity of Pixar’s best.

No matter, though. Let’s not let perfection, as they say, be the enemy of the good. And “Luca” is a good film.

Luca is a typical adolescent sea monster. You know, chafing under the watchful eyes of his parents and yearning to be free to explore the outside world above water. Shades of “The Little Mermaid” and “Finding Nemo.” His parents are constantly warning him about the dangers of going to the surface, that land monsters will “murder” him. “Curious fish get caught,” they intone.

But as with most kids, curiosity gets the better of Luca and he soon runs into another young sea monster, Alberto, who’s already mastered the tricks of life on land. Alberto insists “Everything good is above the surface – air, gravity, the sky, the sun, and human stuff.” Little known fact: whenever a sea monster goes on land he takes on human form. Only when he gets wet does his sea monster form return.

Once on land, Luca has to learn the simplest of human tasks, like how to walk, for instance, not easy for a life-long underwater creature. He eventually even learns how to ride a bicycle.

But what he mostly learns is how to hide his true identity among humankind. Much of the movie consists of Luca and Alberto dodging dangerous situations in which their true selves are threatened with exposure. Along the way, they join forces with a spunky human girl, Giulia, to defeat the insufferable bully of the town. As luck would have it, Giulia’s dad is a fisherman who hunts sea monsters. So, peril is constant.

Much of the story moves along predictable paths and develops predictable themes – the value of friendship, hard work, and a little risk-taking. On that last point, Alberto teaches Luca to face up to his inner critic and say, “Silencio, Bruno!” whenever doubt creeps in. Why “Bruno”? Who knows but who cares, it seems to work. And most of all, the movie preaches the value of being yourself, whether that’s being a sea monster, a human, or both. Not exactly groundbreaking stuff, but relatable to adolescents everywhere.

The movie is also chockful of clever and classic Pixar touches – like Giulia’s cat who can sniff out a fish no matter its human form, or Luca’s grandma who secretly roots for him to seek landfall, and maybe best of all, weird Uncle Ugo (Sacha Baron Cohen) who lives in the deepest and slowest moving waters of the sea. He puts in a surprise appearance that’s worth sticking around for after the credits.

I’m always disappointed when I run into adults who avoid Pixar films because they think they’re movies for kids. They don’t know what they’re missing. Pixar projects often operate on so many different levels that they usually have as much to say to adults as children. “Luca,” however, is not one of those Pixar films. By all means, take your kids. But if you don’t have kids, this is one you can afford to miss.

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