Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

dir Enrico Casarosa
prd Andrea Warren
scr Jesse Andrews, Mike Jones
voices Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Maya Rudolph, Jim Gaffigan, Saverio Raimondo, Marco Barricelli, Sacha Baron Cohen, Giuseppe Russo, Lorenzo Crisci, Marina Massironi, Sandy Martin
release US/UK 18.Jun.21
21/US Pixar 1h35

tremblay grazer rudolph

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Alberto and Luca
A colourful story about friendship, this animated feature revels in Pixar's ability to combine comically engaging storytelling with deeper thematic resonance. With an Italian coast setting, director Enrico Casarosa infuses each scene with local culture. And while the story plays as a wacky adventure, there are superb textures of warm emotion that bring everything to life. So in the end it's both a lot of fun and remarkably powerful.
Under the sea, young fish-herder Luca (Tremblay) becomes curious about the land-monsters above. Then cocky fellow sea-monster Alberto (Grazer) teaches him about "the change", transforming into a human when dry, and the greatest invention of all time: the Vespa. But Luca's parents (Rudolph and Gaffigan) are terrified that he's going above the surface, and they threaten to send him to live with deep-dwelling Uncle Ugo (Baron Cohen). So Luca and Alberto run away to the nearby town, where they help the feisty Giulia (Berman) take on the bully Ercole (Raimondo) in a local triathlon.
The richly hued animation vividly depicts gloriously sun-drenched settings. And characters are skilfully layered with personality quirks, which makes the interaction wonderfully jagged. The villagers are irrationally terrified by folk stories about sea monsters, so amid the slapstick of Luca and Alberto concealing their true identities, things like rain-showers, water balloons and spit-take) are real dangers. Their knowledge about fish is a boon to Giulia's one-armed fisherman father (Barricelli), although it makes his cat suspicious. And of course some heart-stoppingly dark moments are far more interesting than the rambunctious plotting.

Tremblay captures Luca's spirit as an inquisitive, imaginative child, picturing a range of fanciful situations as he learns about the enormous world out there. His interaction with Grazer's riotously overconfident Alberto is endearing and sharply well-played, especially as Luca begins to realise that Alberto doesn't know everything. Their connection with Berman's bright Giulia creates a thankfully generous dynamic. And witty-pointed side roles offer scene-stealing moments for Rudolph, Gaffigan and Baron Cohen (stick around for a post-credit gag).

This is a beautiful celebration of the importance of both dreaming big and connecting strongly with people who are different. Packed with cool references to classic Italian cinema, the central story may feel familiar, but it's hugely enlivened by settings and characters that continually add deeper senses of meaning. In its energetic climax, there's a blast of powerful subtext in the way the film embraces diversity and the key role of allies for marginalised communities. And the final sequence is a glorious blast of heart-warming affirmation.

cert pg themes, violence 17.Jun.21

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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall