More so than any other studio, Pixar has been consistent in its output of family friendly films that don’t shy away from the complex narratives that shape the shared experience of movie goers. From the studio’s first feature Toy Story (1995) to its most recent Luca (2021), the Pixar canon is a growing mosaic of childhood memories, family trauma, cultural dialogue and ultimately the importance of love.
From the adults watching with young children, or young children watching as they grow older, the studio has always respected audiences’ ability to embrace the nuances of their stories. Pixar films have never been what many would expect from an animated movie. The films are not “kid movies,” but family friendly in that they provide a safe place to share time together while thinking about what makes life so joyous, heartbreaking and ultimately blessed.
So, whether you plan to watch or even rewatch Luca, there’s a unique opportunity to dive into the narrative with an understanding that popular film has the ability to both influence and reflect culture. In many ways, Luca attempts to do both in it’s telling of two young sea creatures who in human form look to fit in, have their dreams fulfilled but who also yearn to be fully seen in a world they fear will not accept them.
Before you begin to watch with young children, take the time to set the tone of the movie. Directed by Italian filmmaker Enrico Casarosa, Luca raises out of Italian cinema’s social consciousness and visual sensibilities that merge fantasy with the real world. Like Casarosa’s short film La Luna, Luca is a movie about family, finding one’s path and the imagination that inspires the dreams that shape a childhood.
Watch La Luna below:
After watching La Luna, ask your child about their dreams and aspirations. Ask them about what makes them unique and special. Share time, where your child feels fully seen.
An interesting way to shape this time of sharing is to have your child make a vision board before watching the movie. A vision board is how your child sees themselves and also gives them an opportunity to share their goals and aspirations.
This vision board allows your child an opportunity to create and share. For some insight into vision boarding, read this article from Oprah Daily.
Have your child present their vision board. Take the time to discuss what your child shares.
Luca deserves to be fully experienced. Make popcorn, get your snacks ready and fully engulf yourself into the movie experience. Watch the movie more than once – first to enjoy as entertainment and then the second to “read” critically.
As your child watches for the first time, keep in mind some big ideas that director Enrico Casarosa presents and the time in which he presents them. Developed at a time when Italy was on the front line of migration from Libya, growing populous mandates and the era of Trump, his film truly raises from the political and speaks directly to concerns about “otherness,” and belonging.
Equally, leaning into Italy’s connection to early horror cinema and anxieties around otherness, Luca could easily be a horror movie of the Universal Monster Era as two sea creatures in the human world try to find their way. Misunderstood, they become the target of townspeople’s ignorance, prejudice, hate, privilege and bias.
Ultimately, in their encounters the audience is reminded that the sea creatures are not monstrous but rather the marginalization and hate that others create. The “otherness” is the monster and reflective of those people unwilling to give and understand. In fact, the scene in which Luca and Alberto are exposed during the race is very reminiscent of the classic horror film Frankenstein.
As they race away from Erocle and help Guilia to her feet after a bad fall, the town has an intense movement of reaction. As Luca and Alberto are swarmed as their sea creature selves come to be known, they can be anyone or any group who have been threatened, marginalized, maltreated and harmed for who they are. Not being fully seen, the immediate reaction is to disregard Luca and Alberto. Like Frankenstein’s monster, they are innocent but made to be monsters.
However, love and acceptance comes forward in the shape of Guilia’s father who fully sees Alberto and Luca. He knows who they are. He, a man without an arm, sees the two boys fully and understands the way in which people are looking at them. Like him, the boys regardless of their creature form, deserve dignity and to be fully seen.
Nonetheless, as you watch, think about the sea creatures and what they represent culturally. Ultimately, they represent all who do not fit within a prescribed sense of social normality; those made to be outsiders. Luca and Alberto represent the need for equity and inclusivity in all of our lives.
Every family has their own sensibilities when it comes to cultural narratives that shape our shared experience.
For example, in my household my wife and I are quite open when it comes to issues of equity and inclusivity. As such, it was not new for my children to engage in a conversation about culture and history after watching Luca.
With my own 10 and 8 year old children, Luca provided an opportunity to talk about truth and reconciliation as it pertains to Canada’s past and present in relation to Indigenous peoples.
As Canada looks to its true history with the recent discoveries of unmarked graves of children who died in and because of Residential Schools, Luca provided an opportunity to speak about realities where people may not want to identify who they really are out of fear. This connects to data pertaining to students in Canadian schools who may not openly identify as Indigenous in fear of reprisal. Thus, the key is to understand why the “otherness” exists and how to change a culture of hate.
Navigating the conversation based on where our children are, Luca provided a window in which to open dialogue about “otherness” and the need for our children to be allies who fully see their peers and empower them to be who they really are.
If this is not the conversation you’re ready to have with your children, then leverage Luca as an opportunity to speak about the importance of kindness and to respect all that make our communities diverse and unique.
Have this conversation while your child creates. See below for a collection of Luca activities.