Luca is a good-hearted animated feature about a little boy learning to accept himself and his friends over the course of a wild summer. The boy, Luca (Jacob Tremblay), happens to be a sea monster. Hijinks ensue due to his hidden heritage — he looks human on dry land unless splashed with water — and his friendship with another hooky-playing sea monster, Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer). They befriend a human girl named Giulia (Emma Berman) who, like the rest of her fellow humans, hate and fear the sea monsters. Luca hides who he is to make new friends but eventually must come to terms with himself and how the world views him. It’s a metaphor, you see. For growing up. Get it?

As with all of Pixar’s work, Luca features gorgeous animation and a lot of attention to cultural detail — in this case, the Italian Riviera circa the 1950s. Director Enrico Casarosa has a vision and, all things considered, succeeds. The setting is really well-designed. Luca is supposedly ripped from Casarosa’s childhood memories. That’s fine.

What makes reviewing Luca difficult, though is that beyond the personal touches, there’s little to differentiate it from any number of well-made animated movies about young people learning to express their own identities. I guess a lot of the marketing is hailing it for that, but whatever. Most children’s movies are about that. Almost all of them are. It’s a quintessential childhood lesson. Luca doesn’t inject anything new into the template. It could’ve used some songs to liven it up. The only moments that really break from the down-home dynamics of the fish-out-of-water thing are brief dream sequences that expand on Luca’s deep internal life, but they don’t add much.

Although slated for a theatrical release in June 2021, Luca was bumped straight to Disney+, where it premieres on Friday free for subscribers with no additional fee. Pixar was reportedly bummed by this decision because it speaks to Disney’s view of what is or is not worth that extra $30 rental. Cruella but not Luca? Raya and the Last Dragon, but not Luca? Honestly, Luca is better than the other two, but I can see it being a tougher sell to audiences wanting something new. Without anything especially original to it, a lot of parents may scroll by Luca on Disney+ and wonder when they missed this Pixar movie. They may do the same thing the day after watching it.

Addendum: 7/16/2021

In the month between viewing the screener to Luca and now, my toddler has watched the film frequently. Which means I have watched Luca frequently. Maybe this is just a case of repeat exposure, but I’ve grown to love the smallness of the film. Like Luca and his friend Alberto, it delights in regular things. Learning to be honest to yourself and your friends. Is it one of Pixar’s lesser movies? Frankly, most of Pixar’s movies are lesser…I regret writing this review about Luca without watching it with an open mind.

It’s a simple, relaxing movie. Does it bring much “new”? Not especially…but it has a good heart, it’s beautifully animated by Pixar, and the score by Dan Romer is top-notch. It isn’t a loud film, or a busy film, the latter being a quality in a lot of children’s programming that I’ve grown to dislike. It isn’t an essential film, but it’s a very sweet one. I appreciate it quite a lot now.