By curious coincidence, two of the lovelier movies I've seen so far this summer—the family-friendly animated fable Luca and the German art-house fairy tale Undine—tell stories about mythic sea creatures making contact with the human world. That's hardly a new concept, as we've seen in films as different as The Shape of Water, Aquaman and countless versions of The Little Mermaid. But as Luca and Undine demonstrate, there are still fresh stories to be dredged up from these watery depths.
Arriving on Disney+ several months after the Oscar-winning afterlife comedy Soul, Luca is a lighter, mellower brand of Pixar confection. It also happens to be a better, more smartly realized movie. It takes place in and around a small Italian Riviera town whose residents live in fear of the sea monsters rumored to dwell in the surrounding waters.
One of these fantastical creatures is Luca, a sweet young boy with blue fins, green scales and a long tail, who lives in an underwater grotto with his overprotective parents. (He's voiced by Jacob Tremblay, the lead in a strong cast that also includes Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan.)
Like the Little Mermaid herself, Luca becomes fascinated by the world above the ocean's surface. One day, he ventures ashore and finds that, after drying himself off, he takes on human form. But he has to be careful never to get wet or he'll be exposed as a sea creature—a supernatural conceit that sets up a lot of the gags in this literal fish-out-of-water farce.