Breezy summer fun, Luca is just the remedy for wonder-starved kids and travel-starved adults.

Fish out of water films are nothing new for Disney and Pixar. But using the concept of yearning and discovery from beloved animations like Finding Nemo or The Little Mermaid, Disney takes another plunge, this time off the coast of Italy. In its purest form, Luca is a beautifully told story about friendship, sacrifice and loyalty, through the fun, frolicking and fleeting moments of youth. The magical beauty of the Italian Riviera as a backdrop will capture you from the first few seconds of this animation, and transport you right through to its bitter-sweet ending. In between, prepare to abandon all your worries and let wanderlust take over as we discover that fish out of water, and specifically a sea monster, can appear to look human.

Voiced by Jacob Tremblay, Luca is a sea ‘monster’ living in the vivid blue waters surrounding Portorosso, a small town that looks like it could be part of Cinque Terre. After befriending fellow sea monster Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), they discover that the world above is a fascinating place. Learning to walk and hide their true identity becomes fundamental to blending in with humans, but not so much as the effects of gravity and their newfound love of the almighty Vespa. After fun but failed attempts at riding a Vespa made of scrap, Luca and Alberto crave at the chance of riding the real thing. With a lot of help from Giulia (Emma Berman), a human girl their age, they might just have a chance at acquiring a real Vespa if they win the town’s annual triathlon. What follows is the preparation for the race, with stiff opposition from the local bully who can quite literally tell that there’s something fishy going on.

With an unspecified time period, the gorgeous visuals and production design would have us believe that the adventures of this trio of misfits are set in the 1950s. For the keen eye, there are also bread crumbs dotting the background with Italian pop-culture of a bygone era. And yet, the heart of this film is a coming-of-age underdog story with a message that is hard to miss. Although on the nose, the metaphorical and literal message in Luca shares the same sentiments as the controversial Academy Award winning Best Picture – The Shape of Water – that humans are capable of fear and loathing of anything or anyone different. While Pixar films have long explored complex themes of existence and belonging, this is a film about acceptance. And on a deeper level, feels like a calming whisper about inclusivity, identity and the fact that we are all the same no matter the label.

Story artist of Coco fame turned debut director, Enrico Casarosa is clearly not aiming for anything as profound as Pete Doctor’s Academy Award winning Animations Soul and Inside Out. That ambition aside, Luca is still a loveable film with warm exchange of culture and a deep rooted love for life in simpler times; like those bygone years when you could go to the beach in summer and wear what you want without worrying about what other people think. No labels.

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.