Disney/Pixar’s animated “Luca” is “The Little Mermaid” without the heart, “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” without the laughs.
It’s a dull if gorgeous-looking time-killer aimed at a very young and undemanding audience, perhaps not too young to ask “Mom, can we go to ITALY?” afterwards.
Because that’s where this is set and that setting is the film’s chief virtue. The sea nymphs who long to taste life on the land are pining for the Italia of cinematic lore, of Fellini and “Cinema Paradiso” and Hollywood stereotypes of Italians — pasta and bambinos, Ray Bans and transistor radios, and Vespas for everyone!
It’s all cute enough. But mamma mia, is this the most empty-headed Pixar script ever? Rhetorical question.
Luca, voiced by Jacob Tremblay of “Wonder” and “Room,” is an undersea tween who stares up and wonders what’s beyond his world. And then he makes the mistake of asking his scaled, finned family (Maya Rudolph, Jim Gaffigan).
“Where do boats come from?”
Granny (Sandy Martin) would totally blather on about going “to the surface” and having “done the change.” His parents shut that down in a flash. Which of course, piques his curiosity.
That’s how he goes above the surface, how he experiences “the change.” And that’s where he meets Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer). Alberto also has “done the change.” But he’s an old hand on life-on-land.
“Everything GOOD is above the surface,” he crows. “Air. Gravity. The SUN!”
Best of all is what they see puttering about the seaport village Alberto shows Luca, that shiny icon of Italian style, minimalism and “freedom” — the Vespa motor scooter, “the greatest thing humans ever made.”
If every “Cars” and “Planes” and “Toy Story” movie Disney and Pixar ever made was designed to sell toys, “Luca” represents the next Disney Great Leap Forward. It has the best product placement of any animated film since “Steamboat Willy.”
“Mom? Can we get a VESPA?”
The boys listen to fishermen and adopt human slang. “Ey, what’s wrong with you, Stupido?”
They try to master walking. “Try to lead with your head,” is Alberto’s advice.
And they try to DIY their own Vespa,”ma certo.”
The “big” theme here is overcoming the fears that keep you from experiencing the world, that “Bruno in your head,” Alberto explains of the little voice that keeps one from taking chances. “Don’t listen to stupid Bruno!”
That applies to the humans, too. They have a notion there are creatures beneath the Mediterranean. They have fears and prejudices about them. And they have harpoons.
Luckily, the nymphs-turned-boys are befriended by Giulia (Emma Berman). Her one-armed fisherman dad (Marco Barricelli) probably wouldn’t approve if he knew.
But hey, they like his pasta.
There’s a bully who has the coolest Vespa, and a big contest the boys could compete in and win. It involves running and swimming and eating pasta.
All they have to do to fit in is “don’t get wet.” Because that’s how they “change” back.
The cute-enough bits are Alberto’s delusional “explanations” of things and life on dry land, the night sky is filled with “anchovies and the Big Fish (the moon),” pining over a world where wild Vespas roam free — in their dreams.
But those bits are few and far between. The sight-gags are tiny-tyke simple, the jokes rare. And lacking musical numbers — What, no romantic ballad longing for a Vespa? — there just isn’t much to “Luca,” something Disney wisely decided was better as a streaming offering than anything they’d put in theaters.
MPA Rating: PG for rude humor, language, some thematic elements and brief violence
Cast: The voices of Jacob Tremplay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Maya Rudolph, Emma Berman, Marco Barricelli, Sacha Baron Cohen and Jim Gaffigan
Credits: Directed by Enrico Casarosa, script by Jesse Andrews and Mike Jones. A Disney/Pixar release on Disney+.
Running time: 1:35