With Luca, Pixar dips into the ocean once too often with “Luca,” a colorful but thin fish-out-of-water tale. Although the film is based on familiar themes about friendship, overcoming differences, and letting children go. There is enough story for something between the film that lands and an animated short via Disney+ instead of theaters.
The title character is owned by the title character to another curious ocean-dweller, The Little Mermaid, which helped launch Disney animation’s modern resurgence. Dissatisfied with his life under the sea, Luca logging for an existence he can scarcely fathom above the waves, to a young sea monster that seems magical.
Luca’s mother is irritated by his inquisitive nature, who warns him, “The curious fish gets caught.” He exactly does that, coming too close to the fishing nets of a land monster from the quaint village nearby in the Italian Riviera. On the shore, the sea monsters assume human form for some reason, where Luca meets Alberto. Alberto is a slightly older sea monster with a wandering spirit and has this whole land thing down or insists that he does. Their joint discovery carries the story for a while before they meet a human girl, Giulia. The girl gives them the half-baked idea of entering a local race and share with Luca tales of her world.
It’s around then that the film begins to feel like it’s treading water. The boy experiences a split thanks to Luca’s friendship with Giulia, and every time one of them gets wet, weather a series of near misses, at risk of disclosing their secrete identity.
Pixar films have a habit of finding simple tuggings and truth at the heartstrings. When ashore, it is a bit of a bore and another store of a kid who runs away from home because he feels misunderstood, forcing his parents to think about whether they’ve been too strict in demanding that he follows family tradition.