TUCSON, Ariz. — Mediocrity just doesn't float with the Pixar name.
"Luca" struggles to dog-paddle to avoid sinking amid the ocean of expectations that come along with the Pixar brand. It's one of the studio's weakest efforts, and maybe a sign of how tough it is to maintain the standard of excellence with annual releases.
Unlike nearly all Pixar movies, "Luca" isn't particularly moving, inventive or even visually dazzling. Its story meanders along like a lazy summer day, with little urgency or momentum.
Set on the Italian Riviera in the mid-20th century, "Luca" spins a long, lazy story about acceptance and teen insecurity.
The plot is something like "Brave" mixed with "The Little Mermaid." A 13-year-old sea monster, Luca (Jacob Tremblay), learns that he becomes human whenever he surfaces. He meets Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), who's in the same spot, and they form a mischievous trio with Giulia (Emma Berman), a social outcast. They have frequent run-ins with Ercole (Saverio Raimondo), the town bully.
The coming-of-age comedy has trouble making its jokes hit the mark or helping its story get its hooks into you.
In his directorial debut, Italy native Enrico Casarosa captures the flavor of his homeland, but has trouble connecting the emotional nodes.
Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan round out the voice cast, delivering uninspired performances for their bargain-bin cliche characters.
"Luca" has some jarring moments, including some odd moments of violence and harsh language, and those end up being its most interesting points. The film is still clean enough for families with little kids, but does as little to appeal to tykes as it does to adults.
"Luca" seems like a passionless movie made by committee, lost at sea and adrift in a sea of better options on Disney+.