Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"This sweet animation - firmly aimed towards the younger end of the market - is warm and nostalgic as its Fifties Italian setting implies." | Photo: Disney/Pixar

This sweet animation - firmly aimed towards the younger end of the market - is warm and nostalgic as its Fifties Italian setting implies. Many recent Pixar features have gone for emotional complexity - personifying everything from emotions (Inside Out) to the Soul. Enrico Caserosa's adventure takes a much more traditional approach, which is winning in its own way. The script from Jesse Andrews and Mike Jones draws on mermaid fables to introduce us to sea monster kid Luca (Jason Tremblay) who - not that he's tried it when we meet him - transforms into a human boy as soon as he steps from the waves and dries out.

Life as a sea monster is, like life for most youngsters, a bit of a crushing bore. Luca spends his time herding fish - worse than cats, it appears, and a chance for some nice comedy early on. His mum (Maya Rudolph) and dad (Jim Gaffigan) offer dire warnings about the land monsters who will kill him on the surface but his gran (Sandy Martin) talks about having had fun up there and, when he has a chance encounter with older boy Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), he can't resist following his lead up onto the beach.

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Alberto has an independent streak a mile wide, living in a tower on his own and offering the sense of daredevil adventure that Luca craves. Together they hatch a plot to own a Vespa moped - something the writers have surely chosen to appeal to parental (or possibly even grandparental) nostalgia, although Alberto and Luca's crazy attempts to make one themselves should keep kids on board. These shenanigans lead the lads to the local town, where they cross paths with feisty youngster Giulia (Emma Berman) and Vespa-owning bully Ercole (Saverio Raimondo), arch-enemies whose rivalry comes to a head once a year in a cup triathlon.

From this point on, the film gathers welcome pace as Alberto, Giulia and Luca decide to team up for the race - which involves swimming, cycling and eating pasta. They get some practice of the latter thanks to Giulia's dad (Marco Baricelli) but the lads also face trying to dodge Luca's mum and dad, who have come onshore to find them, and the constant threat of being discovered if they get wet. This is a natural conduit for comedy as even getting splashed means bits of them spring back to the neon blues of their monster selves - a particular problem when "the sky is leaking".

Luca may not be going for deeper themes but it captures the freewheeling energy and imagination of childhood - complete with some lovely flights of fantasy animated sequences that take the children to the stars and back. The race itself offers a good balance of humour and tension and the sentimental stuff isn't overly laboured. One could note that it's a bit odd for a film whose message is all about avoiding prejudice to lean so heavily into Italian stereotypes, but it's all so good natured overall, you'd be a monster not to forgive it.

Reviewed on: 09 Jan 2022
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A young sea monster finds new friends on dry land - but can he keep his secret?

Director: Enrico Casarosa

Writer: Enrico Casarosa, Jesse Andrews, Simon Stephenson

Starring: Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Saverio Raimondo, Maya Rudolph, Marco Barricelli, Jim Gaffigan, Peter Sohn, Lorenzo Crisci, Marina Massironi, Gino La Monica, Sandy Martin, Giacomo Gianniotti, Elisa Gabrielli, Mimi Maynard

Year: 2021

Runtime: 95 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: US


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