Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Il piccolo monstro marino

Director: Enrico Casarosa
Voice Talent: Jacob Trembly, Jack Dylan Grazer, Maya Rudolph, Jim Gaffigan, Sacha Baron Cohen
Released: June 18, 2021

Oscar nominations:
Best Animated Film (lost to Encanto)

Buongiorno! Mi chiamo Sara! I took a year of Italian in college and that's pretty much all I retained besides a few random words. Although, I can do a pretty good Italian accent where-a I talk-a like-a I'm-a Roberto Benigni! I want-a the spaghetti and-a meat-a-balls with parmigiano! Okay, I'll stop! 

When I first started watching Luca, the first thing I thought of was that Luca was the boy version of Ariel. You see, while Luca is not a merman (merboy?), he is a sea monster (but a sea monster with human features such as he has a human face) who can speak English (and a little bit of Italian as he lives off the coast of Italy) who is very interested in the human world and likes to collect things that come from the shores above. While not an avid collector as Ariel was, he still finds some human things he has to keep hidden as his parents, Daniela and Lorenzo (Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan), do not approve. They call humans "land monsters" (I guess that's fair since the humans refer to them as "sea monsters") and tell their son that they are dangerous. They emphasize he must never go to the surface or the shore. 

Luca is a twelve-year-old sea monster and very early in the movie he meets a fourteen-year-old sea monster named Alberto. Now, I had no idea how old they were supposed to be, but that's what Wikipedia told me and that sounds about right. These species of sea monsters seem very advanced. If they step out of the water and onto land, they turn into humans. I mean, Ariel had to give up her voice to get her legs on dry land! 

But before Luca meets his new adventurous friend, he asks his grandmother where boats come from (heh) and his parents are dismayed. His grandma tells him they comes from "the land monster town just above the surface". Luca is amazed that she's actually been up there (and apparently beat a guy at cards once). 

He finds a whole treasure trove full of human things such as a wrench, a glass, a gramophone, an alarm clock, and playing cards. ("I've got gadgets and gizmos aplenty; I've got whozits and whatzits galore. You want thingamabobs? I've got twenty!") When he sees someone in a dive suit holding a spear slowing lurching towards him, he gets scared and swims into a cave where he becomes trapped. (Smart move there, Luca). Luckily, it's just Alberto, and this is when Luca meets him for the first time. Luca is amazed that Alberto often goes to the surface and "does the change". He follows Alberto to the surface, but stays under the water as he watches his new friend transform from a sea monster to a human (and the way it happens, it's just so effortless). It's Alberto who grabs Luca with a staff and lifts him out of the water. Luca, only being told bad things about the world above the surface, starts freaking out when he's turned into a human. Alberto tells him to relax and just breathe. Luca does just that and takes in the beauty of the nature around him: the grass, the trees, the sand, the crashing waves, the clouds, and the bird all around him. Then he tells Alberto he's not supposed to be here and quickly jumps back into the water and swims back home. 

The next day, he follows his new friend to the surface. He's a little reluctant at first, but then he gets the courage to skim the surface. After he changes into a human, he says it feels like his tail is still there and Alberto replies that it's "phantom tail" and that he'll get used to it. When Luca tries to walk, he immediately flops down and Alberto gives him the oh-so-great advice, "Walking is just like swimming. But without fins. Or a tail. And there's no water. Otherwise it's the exact same thing." Heh. Uh, walking is NOT just like swimming! After a few struggles, Alberto tells him to point his feet towards where he wants to go, then catch himself before he can fall and this seems to work. You know, I take walking for granted, that I'm not really sure how I would tell someone who was walking for the first time how to do it. 

Alberto shows Luca a stone (non working) lighthouse nearby where he lives with his dad, but his dad isn't around often (in fact, we never meet him, but we'll find out why later) so he does what he wants. He tells Luca, "Everything good is above the surface. (I mean, he's not wrong). This includes air, gravity, the sky, clouds and the sun. He demonstrates gravity by falling from the top of the lighthouse which is pretty far up and if he was anything other than an animated character, he would break his neck and die. Alberto loves "human stuff" and has a huge collection in his lighthouse. Luca is taken with a poster of a man riding a red Vespa, which Alberto tells him is the greatest thing in the world: "You just sit on it and it takes you anywhere you want to go in the world." The poster reads "Vespa √® libert√† which means "Vespa is freedom".

We get the first of many dream/fantasy sequences there are in the film where Luca imagines himself riding a Vespa over the ocean. 

Getting inspired, he looks around and asks Alberto if he's going to make one and makes notes that it looks like he has all the parts. Yep, everything but the motor! Luca helps him even though he keeps telling Alberto he needs to go. Several hours tick by and it is very late when he returns home. Daniela is waiting for him and demands to know where he's been. Luca internally thinks, "Don't say surface, don't say surface" and outloud he says, "Surface." It reminded me of the scene in Turning Red when Mei tells herself not to draw attention to her notebook. 

I admit the movie got me because it turns out this never happened. It was all in Luca's head as he was imagining what would be the worst outcome. When his mother is demanding to know where he's been (in reality), his grandmother saves him by telling his parents it was her fault because she sent him looking for sea cucumbers and Luca plays along with the story. Nonna knows what's up! 

The next day, he returns to dry land. Alberto is ready to try out his (very) primitive Vespa. This thing looks like something Fred Flintstone would "drive" and it looks like it's about to fall apart at any second. Alberto asks Luca if he wants to ride it and Luca, very politely, replies, "Thank you, but no thank you. I just think maybe I would die." I need to pause here to compliment the young voice cast; they all do a fantastic job. Luca is voiced by Jacob Trembly who I know best as the little boy in Room. Heh, I just read on his Wikipedia page that he's voicing Flounder in the live-action Little Mermaid. How adorable. And appropriate. From one sea-dwelling creature to another! Alberto is voice by Jack Dylan Grazer. I wasn't familiar with his name, but when I was listening to a podcast review of this movie, the hosts mentioned he was the friend in Shazam and I immediately knew who he was. Also, his uncle is Brian Grazer so you know he's met Ron Howard.

So Alberto rides his rickety Vespa down a super steep cliff while Luca holds a ramp that Alberto told him to hold. Again, it is lucky that Alberto is an animated character because he rides that thing down the steep cliff and into the ocean. He would be dead, otherwise. As he's going down, the scooter falls apart until it's just the front wheel and handlebars, pretty much. Yikes. 

We get a montage of them building another Vespa and during this time, Luca's parents find out that he's been going to the shore. During the evening, as they're laying on top of the lighthouse, Luca asks Alberto what's up in the sky and Alberto tells them they're anchovies and "the big fish protects them" as he points to the moon. Luca asks him if he's even been to a human town (and it's interesting that he says "human town" instead of "land monster town"). Alberto says no, but his dad has and he's heard all about it from it, so he claims he's "pretty much an expert." 

After day dreaming of owning a Vespa (again!), Luca falls asleep and is late getting home. His mother is waiting for him (this sounds familiar!), but this time he doesn't have his grandmother to save him. His parents show him the human stuff they found, such as an alarm clock and a playing card. They make him promise not to sneak up to the shore again. Luca apologizes and tells them, "It's not that dangerous up there." 

His dad has brought his odd brother, Luca's Uncle Ugo (Sacha Baron Cohen) to talk to Luca. Ugo has a transparent body so you can see his heart and other organs (eww) and he lives in the depths of the ocean where "it's just you and your thoughts" since there's not much to see. Ugh, that sounds horrible. And boring. I suppose he lives with anglerfish, those awful, terrifying creatures that live in the deepest depths of the sea. Daniela tells her son that he's going to stay with Uncle Ugo "for the rest of the season". She tells him the world is a dangerous place and she'll do anything to protect him, including sending him to the bottom of the ocean. As long as he's under her ocean, he'll have to listen to her! (A little The Little Mermaid humor there...isn't that what King Triton says to Ariel? It's been a minute since I've seen that movie). 

The next day, Luca is at the lighthouse (I guess his parents don't watch him very closely!) and he tells Alberto how his parents want to send him away. Alberto suggests that Luca stay in the lighthouse but Luca says his parents will look for him. Alberto tells him if he goes to the nearby town, his parents won't look for him there. (Spoiler alert: he thought wrong!) He seems to think there will be a Vespa over there waiting for them. I love this conversation between them; again amazing job by the young actors: 

"We'd swim right over to Vespatown, track down Signor Vespa-"
"Wait. Do you really think there's a Signor Vespa?"
"Makes sense, right?'
"Yes. Continue."

Hee. So Alberto finishes by saying they would have Signor Vespa build them a Vespa. It's a fool-proof plan! They swim to the shore of the town, then hide under a wooden boat they find on the ocean floor so no one sees them in their sea monster form. As they're walking through the town (which is called Portorosso, not Vespatown), Alberto tells him not to get wet and they'll be fine. The first people Luca sees walk by him are two fishermen with a sharp fishing hook and a bucketful of dead fish. Luca notices the town fountain has a statue of a man sending a spear through a sea monster.

Portorosso is a beautiful, quaint seaside village and it appears to be modeled after the Italian towns that make up Cinque Terre (which means five lands). It is a beautiful area, but you know that place is overrun with tourists. However, the only out-of-towners in Portorosso appear to be Luca and Alberto. 

Because of all the anti-sea monster propaganda, Luca wants to leave, but he is quickly distracted when he notices somebody riding a red Vespa. Alberto is convinced it's Signor Vespa. Nearby, i bambini are playing with a kickball and when it rolls over to Luca, he tries to kick it back to them, but it ends up ricocheting on the fountain and hits the Vespa, which starts to falls to the ground, but one of the minions of the arrogant young man who owns it rushes over so the vehicle falls on him instead of  the pavement. 

Ercole is the name of the young man who owns the Vespa. Heh. It almost sounds like Urkel. "Did I do that?" Ha, so I typed that into an Italian translator and it came out as "Ho fatto questo?" However, when I went to see what that translated into English, it was "I did this", so not exactly the same thing. Urkel saying, "I did this" is not as funny as "Did I do that?" 

Ercole sees the two newcomers and introduces himself to them, telling them they are lucky that nothing happened to his Vespa. The boys learn he is a "five-time winner of the Portorosso Cup" and that's how he was able to afford his Vespa. 

We meet Giulia (such a better spelling than "Julia"!) who is around Luca's and Alberto's age and is nemesis with Ercole. I should point out that Ercole is a bit older than the others; he's probably 17 or 18, so it's extra pathetic that he gets a rise out of tormenting "the Underdogs", which is what Giulia, Luca, and Alberto call themselves. 
Giulia asks the boys if they're in town for the race, but they don't answer her since they have no idea what it is. Luca asks her about it and she explains the race as "an epic, grueling, traditional Italian triathlon: swimming, cycling, and eating pasta." When asked what the winner receives, she tells them prize money, but they don't understand the concept of money. When they figure out that money can turn into a Vespa (a run-down Vespa with the amount they would win, but a Vespa, nonetheless), Luca thinks that he, Aberto, and Guilia should all run the race together. Giulia tells them no, that she races alone. This was something that confused me about this race: apparently you could be in teams of three where each person did one of the events, or one person could do all three events by themselves. Um, wouldn't it be much easier to split it up three ways so you don't tire yourself out? :::shrug::: Oh, well, I suppose if you're a lone competitor you win more money. But then she decides to see how they would do at the different obstacles of the race. When asked if they can swim, Alberto tells her they're terrible at it (ironically they can't do the portion of the race they would be best at!) Luca attempts to ride a bike, but he's not very skilled at it. Giulia wants to know where they're from and Alberto just replies that they're runaways. Luca adds that his family was going to send him somewhere horrible, but if he can win this race, he can be free. This is the point when Giulia decides to let them join her in the race. She decides that she'll swim, Luca will bike and Alberto will eat (not necessarily in the order!)

Giulia invites them over for dinner where her one-armed fisherman dad, Massimo, is chopping off fish heads. Gulp! This makes Luca and Alberto extremely nervous. Luca sees spears all around the house and a bulletin board with newspaper clipping of suspected spotted sea monsters. In shock, he spits water all over Alberto's face which makes his head change into his purple sea monster face and he has to quickly cover up his face so nobody sees him. Both Giulia and Massimo are facing away from them, getting everyone's plates ready when this happens. I feel like this whole transformation needs a little tweaking. I think they should only change into sea monsters if they are only completely submerged in water; not just certain parts of their body when those parts get water on them. But I get it; it's all for the drama of the storyline. BTW, the pesto pasta Massimo makes for dinner looks super delicious and now I'm super hungry! I need to order a spaghetti meal next time I put in my Hello Fresh order. (Check! I will be getting the Tuscan pork sausage and pepper spaghetti in my box next week. Delizioso!)

Giulia asks her dad for money for the entrance fee to enter the race, but he tells her money is tight and he needs more fish to sell. Luca and Alberto offer to help him catch fish. I guess they don't really care about fish. Maybe fish to sea monsters are like chicken to humans. I don't know, maybe that's not a good analogy. Do sea monsters even eat fish? It seems like they eat things like kelp and sea cucumbers, so maybe sea monsters are vegetarians? But are they all vegetarians? Oh, hell, I don't know. But what I do know is that the two boys help Massimo catch a boatload (literally) of fish. They know where all the fish are at certain times of the day. They now have enough money to enter the race and have one week to train which barely seems like enough time.

Meanwhile, Daniela and Lorenza have come to town to look for him. There's so many kids in the plaza that Daniela gets the idea to play kickball with them and use the kickball to knock them into the fountain to see if they change. A harsh, but effective plan. 

We get a montage of each kid training for their segment of the race. Luca will have to bike down Mount Portorosso and it looks super steep with lots of winding paths. I remember I once biked down a mountain in Colorado and that was not fun. And this looks way more steep (with lots more obstacles!) I love when Luca and Alberto are in a boat as they're watching Giulia swim and Luca says, "I guess that's how humans swim?" and Alberto replies with, "That's embarrassing." Haha, that was hilarious. 

As Giulia is swimming, Ercole and his cronies (Ciccio and Guido) are in a speed boat and they get near Luca and Alberto, splashing their boat and water gets on Alberto, turning him into a sea monster. He ducks down for cover and Luca goes to get him a towel but ends up accidentally pushing him off the boat. Ercole gets suspicions when he only sees one of them and sees the tail of Alberto, but then he gets distracted when Giulia starts shaking his boat and Luca is able to pull Alberto back in the boat and dry him off.  

Later that evening, while looking at the stars from the tree house where Giulia is letting the two boys stay, she sets Luca straight and tells him those aren't pescare in the sky and explains about le stelle. She shows him a telescope and he takes a look at l'universo. He gets super enthused when she shows him more books and maps and he's amazed that there are other towns and cities in Italy that are even bigger than Portorosso and is awed by the solar system. Heh, if I were Giulia, I would be thinking, what rock did this kid crawl out under from? She tells him how she's going to use her school's telescope when she's in advanced astronomy. She goes to school in Genoa and when Luca suggests to Alberto that they go visit her, they get into a fight and Alberto tells him they can't go to school because sea monsters aren't allowed. 

This fight escalates the next day when the three kids are near the sea. Luca suggests to Giulia that they go to school with her and she thinks that's a great idea. Alberto asks if her school takes non-human species, "like, perhaps, sea monsters?" (Way to get to the point!) Of course, Giulia is confused so Alberto tells her he'll show her and jumps into the water to reveal his true identity. She is freaked out by what she sees, but even worse, Luca pretends to be scared and surprised to see a sea monster too. Ercole, who was nearby, sees this (he doesn't know that Alberto is the sea monster) and starts throwing spears at him. Alberto swim away, unharmed, but it is clear he is hurt by Luca. 

Back at Giulia's house, Luca tells Massimo that Alberto left and doesn't want anyone looking for him, but Massimo decides to look anyway. Luca starts worrying about the race since it will now just be him and Giulia and asks Giulia if it's allowed if she swims and eats and he rides the bike. Apparently, this race will let three people enter together or just one person - none of this pair nonsense! Giulia is trying to tell him something but Lua won't stop babbling, so she grabs a glass of water and throws it at him. He puts up his hands and they turn into green fins, exposing that he's a sea monster. Giulia seems to understand what's going on and tells him Portorosso is no place for sea monsters. (Yeah, no kidding!) She advices him to leave before her father, hunter of sea monster, finds out. They are both sad, but Giulia tells him it's not worth risking his life over a Vespa. Especially a run down Vespa. (Giulia didn't say that last part, that was my own thought). 

Luca swims to the island with the stone lighthouse where he finds Alberto at the top. He apologies, but Alberto is having none of it. On the wall, Lua notices a bunch of marks scratched into the wall, counting off days that Alberto has been living on his own. It turns out his dad told him he was old enough to be on his own and just left him there to fend for himself. He says his dad is better off without him and so is Luca, to which Luca replies he's going to win the race and get that Vespa. 

It's now the day of the race and Luca and Giulia are entering separately. They will have to swim first, then eat (good thinking about not having the eating portion after the swimming segment!), then ride their bikes up, then down the steep terrain. For the swimming relay, Lua is wearing an old scuba diving suit so nobody will see him turn into a sea monster. The suit is so heavy that he has to walk (slowly!) on the ocean floor and can't even swim. Meanwhile, on Ercole's team, he has oiled up one of his cronies so he's nice and slick (Ercole is doing the riding portion) and when they get to the eating portion, he stuff his other teammate's face with pasta (even though that's against the rules!) Giulia is the first to finish the swimming eating legs, but the others, including Luca, are not far behind her. 

Luca has already thought he's seen his parents in town and when he starts riding his bike up the steep hill, he sees them. They know it's him and try to block him, but he just swerves around them and continues. He apologizes and tells them he has to do this. Thunder clouds are starting to appear and by the time he's made it to the top, there's a downpour. (You think they would pause and/or cancel the race because it can't be safe riding a bike down a steep hill during a rainstorm!) Luca has managed to hide under a shelter and sees Alberto running up the hill with an umbrella. This is around the time Ercole starts his ride down the hill and shoves Alberto out of the way so he trips and drops the umbrella, transforming into a sea monster in front of everyone. This causes Ercole to brake on his bike in shock. He charges at Alberto, telling his friends to fetch his harpoon. Luca wants to help, but Alberto has told him to stay where is. However, Luca doesn't listen to him when Ercole and his minions throw a net over Alberto. He rides his bike toward Alberto, and reaches a hand to to him (or a fin in this case since he's now changed into a sea monster) and they both cruise down the hill together. Ercole quickly follows them on his bike with his spear. At one point, he's standing on top of his bike (and they're still going down hill), ready to throw the spear at the sea monsters; but Giulia, who has also been following them, also sees this and runs into him which knocks him off his bike and she also falls off as well. This happens near the bottom, near the fountain, where the finish line is. Luca's and Alberto's plan had been to jump in the water and swim away, but when they see Guilia might be hurt, they both run over to her to make sure she's okay. By this point, a bunch of the townspeople have crowded around, blocking any path for them to escape. Many of them are holding harpoons or nets. Massimo is in the crowd and grabs a harpoon before he starts to walk towards them. Ercole has now joined the crowd, wanting to be the one to kill the two sea monster boys. Giulia (who's okay, by the way) tells him and the other that Luca and Alberto are not monsters and Ercole asks what they are. It is Massimo who tells everyone, "I know who they are. They are Luca and Alberto, and they are the winners" as he drops his spear. Now I thought he was going to say something like, "and they are good friends of my daughter" or something more along those lines, then add that they won the race.

So everyone (except Ercole) is happy. Even Ercole's two cronies give him the old heave-ho. Now all sea-dwelling creatures are accepted and we get a fun reveal of two old ladies who we saw earlier in the movie eating coni gelato are actually seas monsters. (I bet they know Luca's grandma!) All posters promising rewards for capturing sea monsters are torn up. 

When everyone is at the train station to say goodbye to Guilia who is heading to Genoa to go to school, Alberto sees that Luca is sad that he's not attending school with her. After she boards the train, he tells Luca that he sold their Vespa and hand hims a ticket. Luca's parents inform him they've arranged for him to go to school and he'll be staying with Giulia and her mom. Now, when Guilia talked about going to school in Genoa, I just assumed she went to boarding school. It didn't cross my mind that her parents were divorced and she stayed with her dad in the summer. His mom makes him promise to be safe and write every day. We find out it was Alberto that talked everyone into this arrangement. I wonder if Giulia knew about it or if she was surprised when Luca got on the train. Luca asks Alberto if he's going with them, but he's going to stay in Portorosso and help Massimo with his fishing. 

This movie didn't make me turn on the waterworks like most of Pixar's other work (come to think of it, nether did Turning Red), but it did make me shed a few light tears (so did Turning Red). It is one of their most aesthetically pleasing movies. I would totally visit Portorosso if it were a real place (but mostly because there seems to be no tourists!) And now I need to find some pasta to eat. Arrivederci!

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