Review: Luca Is All About Self Acceptance, Using Sea Monsters As An Allegory For Something More
Luca is the latest Disney and Pixar movie, currently out now on Disney Plus, and it’s really great. While I wasn’t that huge of a fan of the last collaboration between the two animation studios, Soul, Luca is breathtaking. In many ways. The simple story of a young sea monster boy, yearning for the unknown, and trying to find his place in a totally different world, is sweet and endearing. But even beyond that, it’s an incredible allegory for a lot more that’s going on under the surface. So check out my spoiler-free Luca movie review, and find out why it’s a movie worth watching.
How Luca Creates A New Underwater World
Disney’s gone underwater a few times before Luca. Most notably in the classic, The Little Mermaid, and then decades later in the critical hit, Finding Nemo. And again, to a lesser extent, in Finding Dory. But this time around, as I’ll discuss in this Luca movie review, the underwater world is from a different perspective. Luca opens with an introduction to this world, one of the everyday sea monsters, going about their daily lives. Specifically, a young boy named Luca, and his life under the sea.
The opening sees Luca, a fish farmer with a bland but content lifestyle. He spends his days herding the fish-sheep for his family farm, all the while making sure to stay out of sight from the ‘land monsters’. As in, humans on boats above them. On the surface of the water, however, we see how humans regard Luca and his kind, like sea monsters to be afraid of. A chance encounter with another young monster-boy introduces Luca to a whole new world.
The Transformative Premise Is What Drives Luca’s Story
Everything is different now. | Image via Disney Plus.
Where Luca separates from Disney and Pixar’s other undersea adventures, is that it’s about these sea creatures coming onto the surface world. After finding an elusive friend in Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), Luca (Jacob Tremblay) comes out of the water onto land. Apparently, when these sea monsters leave the water, they go through a change to look human. Only getting wet or going into the water will revert them back into their true selves. So the story actually follows Luca as he explores this new human world even making human friends. And actually finding out that he may feel like he belongs in the human world, more so than in his own.
In many ways, that I’ll expand more on later on in this Luca movie review, the transformative elements go beyond just the literal. While Luca literally transforms into a human boy, throughout the story, there’s an internal transformation that also comes about. And in those ways, Luca is more than just a kiddy movie with a fantasy theme and hilarious situations as the two boys try to hide their true selves from the townspeople. And it definitely feels very much like like an allegory to something a lot grander than just a light-hearted sea monster movie set in Italy.
How Luca Very Much Is An Allegory For The LGBTQIA+ Experience
Just out and about on the town. | Image via Disney Plus.
Luca’s story, about a young boy experiencing a new world, while having to his hide his origins from others, can very much act as a metaphor for something else. While not obvious, in many ways Luca is an allegory for the LGBTQIA+ experience. Luca pretends to be someone else, in the beginning, to fit into this human world that he wants to be a part of. A world was introduced to him by another boy, his friend. But to do so, Luca needs to hide his true self, fearing what others around him might think. The reaction of the townspeople to sea monsters also feels very much like the demonization of queer people by the mainstream decades ago. And maybe to an extent, even today. Further necessitating Luca to hide his true self from everyone around him.
His story is not just about choosing a new world and a new path, but also accepting himself while he’s at it. To be unapologetically who he is, as he embarks on a new life adventure is very much the moral of the story. And in so many ways it mirrors the LGBTQIA+ experience. But Disney and Pixar, being the giant studios that they are, might never actually admit or acknowledge that aspect of Luca.
Sadly, representation for a community seems reduced to these winks and nod subtext, instead of an all-out acceptance and an overt story that explicitly states its intent. It’s almost hypocritical, that while preaching the message of acceptance, the studios are are unable to make that stand themselves. It’s the same problem we had with Beauty And The Beasts’ LeFou (Josh Gad) and the supposedly openly gay characters in Star Wars. And Luca, in a similar breath, feels like it’s too little.
The Movie Has Issues, But We Still Enjoyed It
When things go to the birds. | Image via Disney Plus.
Even if you don’t see Luca from the perspective of being a coming of age self realization story in so many ways, it’s still a hugely enjoyable movie. Luca himself is such a bright-eyed and eager character, voiced wonderfully by Tremblay. Alberto’s backstory is tragic and something I wish we got more on. Giulia (Emma Berman) is such a bubbly and refreshing character and the perfect counterbalance to Luca and Alberto. And Maya Rudolph as Luca’s mom is very quickly becoming my favorite animated mom. She played similar roles in my other favorite animated movie this year in The Mitchells vs. The Machines, and the adopted mom in The Willoughbys.
Luca’s self-discovery happens against the backdrop of this local competition that Luca has to win, against the current obnoxious champion. It’s through this competition, and training for it that Giulia and Luca become close. Through her, he sees more of the human world. All the while his Luca’s sea-creature parents, now turned human, are look for him in the human town. And they do so by dunking random towns’ kids in the water. Since they can’t recognize the human form of their son.
Luca Is An Uplifting Movie And Representative In Many Ways
| Image via Disney Plus.
Another way that Luca provides Disney audiences with something new is with the setting. Seeing a story set in a small Italian town is something different. The scenes and settings don’t shy away from inherent Italian aspects. And the representation of the culture and country is very fun to see in a Disney movie. It’s the same way that France was in Ratatouille and a great new way to tell a new story with new characters in a place we’ve never seen depicted in a Disney movie.
Luca is a great story that deserves to be seen by audiences of all ages. There are enough heartwarming stories for everyone to connect with. It’s a movie that, while c op out I many ways, is still fun to watch with the family. The subtext just adds layers to it that further enhance that experience.
Luca is now streaming on Disney Plus.
What did you think about Luca and its story? Let me know in the comments below.
Featured image via Disney Plus.
Shah Shahid is an entertainment writer, movie critic (so he thinks), host of the Split Screen Podcast (on Apple Podcasts & everywhere else) and filmy father on a mission to educate his girls on decades of film history. Armed with uncontrollable sarcasm and cautious optimism, Shah loves discussing film, television and comic book content until his wife’s eyes glaze over. So save her by engaging him on his own blog at BlankPageBeatdown.com or on Twitter @theshahshahid.