A wide-eyed dreamer, Luca is entranced by what the “surface” has to offer, and what Casarosa and his team present with such glowing affection. Everything looks gorgeously warm and bright, from the lush long grass to the dazzling clear blue sky; from the pastel houses tumbling down a hillside to the faded posters advertising La Strada and Roman Holiday. (Presumably the setting is the mid-1950s, not that it matters.) But what Luca is drawn to most of all, even more than pasta, ice cream and opera, is the prospect of exploring the planet on a Vespa. No, the film doesn’t exactly overturn any national stereotypes, but there is a host of Italian consultants listed in the end credits to make you feel better about the clichés. As for Vespa, the scooter company couldn’t ask for a more compelling advert.
Luca and Alberto figure out that the only way to obtain a Vespa of their own is to visit the town of Portorosso (named in homage to a Studio Ghibli cartoon, Porco Rosso), even if it is populated by fishermen and would-be sea-monster-hunters. To raise enough money, though, they have to win a prize in a local children’s “triathlon” consisting of swimming, cycling and pasta-eating. And that means teaming up with a determined human girl, Giulia (Emma Berman), who feels as if she is as much of a fish out of water as they are.
At this stage, you may experience a pang of disappointment that a story about a shape-shifting sub-mariner marvelling at the human world has switched to a story about a boy training for a bike race. Even an animation as personal and charming as this one, it seems, isn’t immune to Pixar-itis: the chronic compulsion to cram in at least one plot too many. But it’s definitely personal and charming.
Luca himself is an immediately loveable hero, thanks both to Tremblay’s eager and earnest voicework and to the soft, blobby, Aardman-esque character design. And despite the supernatural metamorphoses, his adventures are recognisable enough to make you nostalgic for your own youthful summer holidays or wistful that they weren’t as carefree as his. Casarosa’s film includes some piquant thoughts on education, family, bravery and fear. But, more than anything, it is an irresistible ode to a region and its culture. Watching it is like relaxing in the sunshine.
Luca is streaming on Disney+ from 18 June.
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