Pixar bucks their usual style but still delivers a solid movie.
Before I saw this movie, I was greeted by the headline “Why is Pixar bad now?” I admit that this seemed like a completely ridiculous question, given that their last film, Soul, felt like one of the best films Pixar ever put out, but it definitely made me very concerned about this movie. However, having now seen it, that title seems to have been completely clickbait. While I don’t think that this will rank among their most outstanding films, I still think this was a well-done film. It doesn’t follow most of the traditional Pixar formula, in the sense that it mostly stays in the primary location and doesn’t have much of an actual “journey,” nor does it have much in the way of supporting comic relief, but it is still a solid film that has strong emotional moments and a decent number of subversions.
The story starts with a feeling of familiarity as we see a family of “sea monsters” with a young son, Luca Paguro (Jacob Tremblay), who is fascinated with the surface world. Similar to a famous redheaded mermaid, his parents, Daniela and Lorenzo (Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan), forbid him from journeying to the land and tell him to continue herding goatfish. Luca soon meets another sea monster, Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), who actually lives on an island off of the coast of Italy. It turns out that when sea monsters dry out, they become humans.
Alberto is also fascinated with humans and the surface world, particularly the image of a Vespa. The two become close friends and eventually journey to the human city of Portorosso, where they befriend a young girl named Giulia (Emma Berman) and her father Massimo (Marco Barricelli). They hope to help Giulia with her dream of winning the Portorosso triathlon and, in the process, to win themselves a Vespa. The only thing stopping them is the local bully Ercole (Saverio Raimondo) and, oh yeah, the fact that everyone in the town hunts sea monsters and water changes them from human back to sea monster.
This movie is much lighter in tone than many of Pixar’s other films, focusing mostly on childish hijinx that, while entertaining, often seem less important than say, WALL-E trying to appreciate art or the Incredibles dealing with the fact that they can’t be their true selves. The film reminds me a little of Onward in that I didn’t anticipate it having much of an emotional weight to it, but then basically blindsided me with a series of really strong moments that felt all the heavier because the film had been so light up until then. While it doesn’t have the “toys embracing the inevitable death because they’re together” kind of dark points, it manages to give the audience some strong shots to the gut.
In terms of animation, this movie is beautiful. It’s supposed to be a blend of Fellini and Miyazaki and I think they nailed that aesthetic. The film is set in the 1960s (although advertised as the 1950s for some reason), and the imagery of the seaside Italian village from that period is breathtaking. The cinematography is outstanding, particularly the many scenes involving the characters transitioning from ocean to land and the scenes of the characters traversing the city on bicycles.
Overall, solid film. Really recommend it.
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