From the very first image of the concept art for Pixar’s newest addition Luca, I’ve been intrigued and thrilled to see how it will turn out. As more stills and teasers came to light, the film’s beautiful animated scenery seemed to be the highlight and its brief description was starting to form a skeptical fanbase and talk within the queer community. Being described as a story about two boy’s coming of age and friendship over the course of a summer in a small Italian village, along with the imagery already, this was already feeling heavily influenced by Call Me By Your Name’s impact, in the most G rated way possible.
It’s no secret that Disney lacks LGBTQ+ representation and instead it’s been queer coded in their films through out the decades (very lightly I might add). The obvious reasons for this being that they could lose lots of money from countries where they’ve heavily profited from as well as the big conversation surrounding the ignorance of parents not wanting to expose their children to any image surrounding two men or two women in love. Although this is slowly but surely changing, take last year’s short film Out for example that is very openly gay and on Disney plus, we’re still left grasping at straws and decoding decades of subtext.
Now I’m not mentioning all of this because Luca is the openly gay Disney Pixar film we’ve been waiting forever for, because it’s not. Director Enrico Casarosa has stated that this takes place before boyfriends and girlfriends enter the picture and has instead crafted a love story through friendship; so while it is not a queer film, it’s undoubtedly queer friendly when it comes to its relatability and themes.
To dive deeper into what Luca is really about without spoiling it, the film follows its titular character, a sea monster living with his overprotective mother and kept away from the surface. Luca’s lonely life is disrupted when he meets Alberto, a fellow sea monster who changes into human form whenever he is dry and introduces the fact that Luca himself changes into human form out of water as well. The two quickly form a bond with each other as they explore the village where a small community resides and discover new passions to experience and share together, as well as a new friendship with a young girl and outsider whom they must keep their sea monster side a secret from.
This film is just straight up gorgeous. It’s littered with sequences displaying Luca’s imagination and dreams for him and Alberto’s future that are so beautiful to look at, as well as having smart and well-timed comedic moments. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a laugh out loud film from start to finish but when the comedy hits, it hits hard. There are scenes in this film that I truly believe are top tier funniest moments out of all Pixar features, and when you see this film you’ll know exactly what scenes I’m talking about. But where the film lacks in comedy, it picks up and thrives by having one of the biggest hearts a film can have. It’s so pure with its intentions from start to finish and never ceased to make me smile throughout its runtime.
As for the voice acting, while all of the cast absolutely nails it, the stand outs were easily Jacob Tremblay (Luca) and Jack Dylan Grazer (Alberto). These two have become household names in the industry and have continuously proved they’re two of Hollywood’s most talented young actors. While the central characters are already incredibly written and fleshed out by screenwriters Jesse Andrews and Mike Jones, the voice acting performances elevated both characters’ chemistry and presence to another level.
As much as I loved all elements of this film, it’s the themes presented throughout that intrigued me the most. During the film, Luca and Alberto struggle with hiding who they really are, which in this case, are sea monsters. They’re presented as outsiders to this village of humans even though they look and act exactly like the rest. Upon finding each other and building a friendship, both of them are ridded of the isolation they once felt within their community of sea monsters and begin to form a chosen family of their own. Like I said earlier, this is not a queer film but instead is presented in a way that many young gay kids as well as adults can relate and understand, especially with Alberto’s storyline.
Disguising your harmless identity to “fit in”, aspiring for a life outside of your small town where you’re free to be whoever you want to be, becoming jealous of a new girl that is unintentionally coming between you and your “friend” (none of the characters are defined as any type of sexuality and there’s no love interests but it’s still relatable), and there’s even a situation where someone is outed. Even if no one intended to set out and make a film for gay people to relate to this is genuinely the closest we’ve gotten with Pixar and Disney to having queer coming of age themes coded into a film. This doesn’t mean that any characters are necessarily queer in any sense, they’re just not labeled which means we are left to interpret however we want to.
At the end of the day, this is presented as a beautiful tale of healthy male bonding and friendship. There’s no toxic masculinity with the boys and instead is a showcase that it’s okay for boys and men to show love and affection to their male friends. This will be an important film for young boys to witness and hopefully stick with them as they navigate friendships and adolescence.
I’m not sure where Luca will fall in everyone’s lists and comparisons between the rest of Pixar’s features but I can confidently say it will sit high up on mine. The ending may feel rushed and almost too easily resolved, but it didn’t take away from the experience I had watching it. It made me think back to my own coming of age during that time in my life and how important those unspoken bonds are; and I’m sure many others from all different paths will find something to relate to as much as I did.
Luca premieres June 18th on Disney+.