If you can’t get to Italy this month, you can do a lot worse than watching the new Pixar movie “Luca,” which takes place in a picture-perfect seaside town on the Riviera. Everything in this movie, directed by Enrico Casarosa, looks dreamy: the cool, soft blue of the sea and sky; the lived-in yellows and oranges of the village; the bountiful plates of pasta delicately flecked with green pesto; the gorgeous final shot of a cliffside train, as sunshine breaks through rain like a warm smile.
We’ve gotten accustomed, with Pixar, to animated films with stunning visual beauty; pity that “Luca,” sweet as it is, doesn’t quite deliver that other Pixar trademark: smart, witty stories both funny and at times achingly poignant. (The best, in my humble opinion? “Inside Out,” “Up,” “Finding Nemo,” “Ratatouille.” But everyone has their own list.) “Luca” never quite rises beyond being adorable — and hey, these days, adorable is fine. Adorable can take me out to lunch anytime. Adorable is a gift that’s always welcome. But … there’s something that just isn’t there.
Like many family-friendly movies, “Luca” has at its center a kid who isn’t sure how he fits in. The twist here is that he’s a sea monster, with a glorious shock of blue-purple fins on his head. Early in the film, Luca (voiced by Jacob Tremblay, of “Room”) learns to his surprise that when he goes on land and dries off, he looks just like a regular boy. Making friends with fellow sea monster/boy Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), Luca sets off on an adventure involving dreams of a Vespa scooter, plates of pasta and some picturesque chases through winding stone-paved streets. Along the way, he learns some things about friendship and the value of societal acceptance.
It’s a nice message, told with charm aplenty. And as always, the Pixar magicians create a wonderfully populated world: I particularly enjoyed the cat character, who stares fixedly as only cats can, and a garrulous, bottom-dwelling sea creature referred to by Luca as “my weird see-through uncle.” Maybe “Luca” might resonate a bit more on the big screen: Unlike previous Pixar releases, this one’s gone straight to streaming, on Disney+. Maybe its screenplay, credited to Jesse Andrews (“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”) and Mike Jones (“Soul”), needed another draft or two. And maybe not every Pixar movie can be “Up.” For now, we’ll just let adorable be enough.