Up Where the People Are
New York magazine|June 21 - July 4, 2021
A coming-of-age tale that takes the phrase “fish out of water” literally.
ALISON WILLMORE

Portorosso, the fictional setting of the new Pixar movie, Luca, is a bright daydream of Italy. Cobblestoned streets wind their way up hills; residents pepper their speech with ejaculations like “Santa Mozzarella!”; and each year the kids compete in a triathlon of swimming, cycling, and pasta eating. The pastoral charm doesn’t stop at the shoreline. Underwater, sea monsters live in a community that’s just as quaint, herding sheeplike fish and cultivating rows of kelp. They keep out of sight of the “land monsters,” who have an alarming habit of hoisting harpoons and decorating their plaza with images of fishermen defeating oceanic menaces. But how could anything dark happen in an animated world so mild?

When Luca (Jacob Tremblay), the movie’s young sea-monster protagonist, first gets yanked out onto the sand by his friend Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), the moment thrums only with a sense of undefinable possibility. Alberto looks on, unimpressed, while Luca sputters and gasps and transforms into a human boy as the water dries off his body. “First time?” Alberto asks. “Of course it is!” Luca retorts. “I’m a good kid!”

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