Synopsis: Sea creature boy transforms into a human boy and explores the nearby town. (Pixar film streaming on Disney +)
Luca takes us back fifty plus years ago to an Earth less populated with humans and to seas more populated with fish and other wildlife. And apparently there were sea creatures; human-sized, with faces, limbs, tails and lots of scales. No word on their favored foods, but they do have to stay hidden from land monsters, aka humans who would be only too happy to harpoon them.
Luca is a sea creature boy who lives off the northwestern coast of Italy, just offshore from the charming village of Portorosso, long before real estate prices went through the roof. His parents tell him never to venture towards land, but he spends his days shepherding goat fish and dreaming of life on land.
The movie starts out like a boy version of The Little Mermaid. Luca finds human treasures (playing cards and a record player) that have bobbled off of a fisherman’s boat. He can’t resist surfacing close enough to shore to admire the little village and gawk at the humans. Like Ariel, he’s not satisfied with life under the sea.
He soon meets another sea creature boy, Alberto who is a few years older than him and claims to live part time on land. He eggs Luca on until he swims to shore with him. Lo and behold, when they reach a deserted beach and move onto land they become human.
Luca begins spending his days at the shoreside ruined tower where his new friend shows off his human-created artifacts and regales him with stories of his own independence, saying his dad isn’t around much. He’s the ocean’s version of a street urchin.
All of this could go very badly with the naïf looking up to a juvenile delinquent, but Alberto’s schemes only extend to procuring a Vespa so that he and Luca can explore lands together. But Luca’s parents learn about his land-venturing friend and tell him in no uncertain terms that he will be sent to live with his deep sea dwelling Uncle Ugo (a very strange Sacha Baron Cohen) for the summer if he doesn’t stay put at their coral-y home.
Of course Luca does what he wants and sneaks back to shore with Alberto where they finally determine to go to town. Brave or foolish? Well, it looks pretty foolish at first when they amble into town and see all manner of architectural details and posters with depictions of humans battling sea creatures. Every few feet they see harpoon carrying fishermen headed to their boats. Yikes…
But two things keep them in town: gelato and the sight of a Vespa scooter. The Vespa skids to a stop at a cafe where the molto arrogante rider Ercole begins bossing about and mocking everyone in sight, including Luca and Alberto. So maybe it was foolish to venture into town…
Giulia to the rescue. She’s a redheaded little girl who is spending the summer visiting her fisherman dad (she goes to school in Genoa where she lives with her mom) and delivering small orders of fish. She puts Ercole in his place and invites the boys to tag along with her, sensing that they are outsiders like her. The boys bravely accept an invitation to dinner at her home. Her dad is a hulking one-armed fisherman of few words. Luca and Alberto soon offer this man who aspires to kill sea creatures assistance in finding good fishing spots! Way to contribute to depleting the sea’s fish population, boys.
Oh! and Giulia has a cat, Machiavelli. Kitty doesn’t like the boys; he senses that there is something “fishy” about them. (Ha Ha). Or maybe il gatto is just exercising his cat’s right to dislike humans for any or no reason.
Giulia tells her new friends that she will be competing in the town’s race that consists of a swim, a pasta-eating contest and a bike race with a money award for the winner. The boys figure that if they compete and win, they’ll be able to buy a Vespa. Well, I guess the swim portion will be a breeze for them. But, uh-oh, Luca’s parents figure out he has been ashore and hide and seek games ensue.
Luca made me think of stories of water-based humanoids who see a superior way of life on land. The bias of human filmmakers is clear as they paint a picture of sea life as less interesting than life on land. Just as in The Little Mermaid, the water-dwelling humanoid youngsters are lured by humans’ possessions. Princess Ariel trades being a spoiled sea princess for being a spoiled land princess. Maybe it’s because of the combs and carriage rides. In another example of human bias, she prefers boy band member-looking human Prince Eric rather than any merman. Hrmph! The fish in Finding Nemo have it right: Beware the humans, for they bring doom.
Maybe Luca will have his fill of gelato and human consumerism after his summer adventure and head back to the sea and his aqua people. Then again, it’s hard to resist gelato.
P.S. In 1960 the world’s human population numbered 3 billion. In 2021 the population stood at 7.9 billion people. Dear God…
Meanwhile, the global demand for seafood has doubled in the past fifty years. According to a 2015 report by the World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London, “populations of fish, marine mammals, birds and reptiles had fallen 49% between 1970 and 2012.” Marine fish catches typically exceed 75 million tonnes annually.