Ah, it’s fine.
It’s fitting that Luca is partially set in the sea, seeing as Pixar is currently in the doldrums. Onward (2020) was a bit meh, and Soul (2020) was okay on first taste but not something I’ve ever felt a pressing need to revisit (YMMV as always — don’t @ me). Those two — three including Luca — were all affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, of course, and found a home on Disney+, but the received wisdom is that they would have gotten — and deserved — theatrical exhibition under normal circumstances.
Luca, however, feels like a good fit for what used to be direct-to-video. Historically, Pixar has gone the other way; back in the late ‘90s, Toy Story 2 was gonna be a “Return of Jafar” style priced-to-own affair until Pixar realized what they had on their hands. Luca, by comparison, puts me in mind of 2015’s The Good Dinosaur (and, looking at the release slate, almost everything after): the rare (but not as much as they used to be) underwhelming Pixar offering.
So, Luca Paguro (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) is a curious 13-year-old kid with doting but distracted parents (Jim Gaffigan and Maya Rudolph) who gets an itch to find out what exists outside his cozy little community and goes off on an adventure with more rebellious kid Alberto Scorfano (Jack Dylan Grazer). Plot twist: what’s outside is the surface world because Luca and company are sea monsters living off the coast of Italy circa the late ‘50s — early ‘60s.
When they’re on dry land, sea monsters transform into humans, so Luca and Alberto inveigle themselves into the seaside village of Portorosso (“Red Port” but also a clear nod to Hayao Miyazaki’s Porco Rosso (1992), the Japanese animation legend being a clear influence here). Fun culture clashes and adventures ensue, culminating in the two teaming up with local girl Giulia Marcovaldo (Emma Berman) to win a resident triathlon against town bully Ercole Visconti (Saverio Raimondo).