'Luca' Is a Sweet Pixar Movie That Doesn't Measure up to Its Influences

The latest from the animation studio skips theaters in favor of Disney+.


When the first images for Luca, the new sea monster buddy comedy that marks the 24th feature film by Pixar Animation Studios, came out there was immediate speculation: Is this Pixar’s version of Call Me by Your Name? The parallels were uncanny. Like the Oscar-winning film, Luca takes place in a beautiful seaside town in Southern Italy where the two protagonists develop an intensely close friendship as they eat ice cream and ride bicycles. Also, the director of CMBYN is named Luca (Guadagnino).

Watching Luca, however, you’ll find yourself comparing it to not to that very adult film but more to the work of animator Hayao Miyazaki. This movie, more than any of its others, is Pixar’s answer to Ponyo. While that results in Luca being often quite lovely, it falls short of reaching the heights associated with Studio Ghibli. Luca ultimately gets bogged down by a literalism that takes away some of its magic.

Directed by Enrico Casarosa, best known for the Pixar short La Luna, the movie, exclusive to Disney+, begins underwater, where the titular sea monster voiced by Jacob Tremblay is responsible for caring for a flock of fish. His mom and dad (Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan) caution him about the dangers of going toward the surface, but his fears fly out the window when he meets Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), a fellow sea monster. Soon, Luca learns that not only does Alberto live above water, but that creatures like them have the ability to transform into humans when they step onto land.


The charismatic Alberto introduces Luca to the wonders of human stuff, specifically the much coveted Vespa, and they start having adventures. When Luca’s parents find out he’s been hanging out above water, they threaten to banish him to the deep ocean, prompting him to run away.  That’s when Alberto and Luca head to the seaside town, where they meet Giulia (Emma Berman), a spunky human girl with aims of winning a local triathlon where the skills involved are swimming, biking, and pasta-eating. Giulia wants to beat local bully Ercole Visconti (Saverio Raimondo), so she teams up with Luca and Alberto. The sea monster boys learn about the wonders of pesto, but friction arises when Giulia starts to dispel some of the myths Luca has absorbed about the universe.

After the form-breaking Soul, Luca can’t help but feel a little small in scope. Though it’s a tale that posits that sea creatures walk among us, and one that occasionally stops for dream sequences, Luca never finds anything transcendent in the story it’s telling. Maybe it’s asking a lot for an animated film to stir existential curiosity, but Pixar has set a high bar for itself, and the references to the Studio Ghibli oeuvre only raise expectations further. Artistically, the computer generated house style is no match for the hand drawn animation that makes something like Ponyo so extraordinary, while screenwriters Jesse Andrews and Mike Jones seem to have reached a a dead end by the time Luca reaches its conclusion. Luca and Alberto’s relationship is shortchanged for easy resolution. 

None of this is to say that there aren’t pleasures to be found in Luca. It’s an easygoing romp with great voice performances. (A cameo from Sacha Baron Cohen is a particular delight, and gets a reprisal in a post-credits scene worth fast-forwarding to. That’s the benefit of streaming, at least.) But through its influences, Luca also invites comparisons that don’t do it any favors. If the Call Me by Your Name imagery has you thinking maybe Disney has actually produced a queer love story, well, then you’ll be disappointed. And if the Miyazaki vibes just don’t go quite far enough, you’ll just be inclined to hop over to HBO Max and go straight to the source.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.


Where to Celebrate Lunar New Year 2023 in Australia

And what it means to be in the year of the Rabbit.

where to celebrate lunar new year australia

Starting with the new moon on Sunday, January 22, this Lunar New Year ushers in the year of the Rabbit. We’ve put together a guide on celebrating the Lunar New Year in Australia.

What is special about the year of the Rabbit?

As you might know, each year has an animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac, which is based on the moon and has a 12-year cycle. This year, we celebrate the year of the rabbit, known to be the luckiest out of all twelve animals. It symbolises mercy, elegance, and beauty.

What celebrations are taking place and how can I get involved?

There are plenty of festivals happening all around the country which you can get involved with. Here they are per state.

New South Wales

Darling Harbour Fireworks
When: Every year, Sydney puts on a fireworks show, and this year, you can catch it on January 28 and February 4 at 9 pm in Darling Harbour.

Dragon Boat Races
When: Witness three days of dragon boat races and entertainment on Cockle Bay to usher in the Lunar New Year. The races will commence on January 27 and finish on January 29.

Lion Dances
When: Catch a traditional Lion Dance moving to the beat of a vigorous drum bringing good luck and fortune for the Lunar New Year. The dance performances will happen across Darling Harbour on Saturday, January 21, Sunday, January 22, and Sunday, February 4 and 5, around 6 pm and 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at Cirrus Dining
When: Barangaroo’s waterfront seafood restaurant, Cirrus, is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with a special feast menu. Cirrus’ LNY menu is $128pp with optional wine pairing and is available from Saturday, January 21, to Sunday, February 5.

Auntie Philter
When: Hello Auntie’s owner and executive chef, Cuong Nguyen will be dishing out some of the most classic Vietnamese street foods with his mum, Linda. All of Philter’s favourites will be on offer, as well as Raspberry Pash Beer Slushies and other cocktails being served at the Philter Brewing rooftop bar on Sunday, January 22 and Sunday, January 29.


Lunar New Year Festival
When: Ring in the Lunar New Year with food, music, arts, and more on Sunday, January 22, from 10 am to 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at the National Gallery of Victoria
When: Celebrate the year of the rabbit at the National Gallery of Victoria’s festival of art, food, and art-making activities for everyone from 10 am-5 pm.


BriAsia Festival
When: From February 1-19, Brisbane will come alive with performances, including lion dances and martial arts displays. There will be street food, workshops, comedy and more.

South Australia

Chinatown Adelaide Street Party
When: Adelaide is set to hose a fun-filled day celebrating the Chinese New Year on Saturday, January 28, from 12 pm to 9 pm.

Western Australia

Crown Perth
When: Across January and February, Crown Perth hosts free live entertainment, including colourful lion dances, roving mascots, and drumming performances. The restaurants will also throw banquets and menus dedicated to the Lunar New Year.

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