Luca ★★★½

The shortest Pixar movie since “Toy Story,” and one of the few that manages to keep its high-concept premise anchored to a simple human scale, Enrico Casarosa’s “Luca” is effectively the Disney+ equivalent (read: non-alcoholic version) of an aperol spritz on a late summer afternoon: sweet, effervescent, and all the more satisfying for its simplicity. At times, “Luca” is so modest, so restrained, so not about sentient action figures or a family of superheroes or the nature of the human soul that it almost doesn’t feel like a Pixar film at all.

This is a Pixar thing to the very last gill, of course, and easily recognized as such; the rounded character design is a dead giveaway even before you get to the paranoid (yet lovingly aloof!) parents and the unbridled joy of discovery. And yet, Casarosa’s feature debut — a modest and personal coming-of-age story about two pre-adolescent fish boys eating pasta and obsessing over a Vespa together during that last perfect moment of childhood — seems to have less in common with the studio’s previous movies than it does the whimsical shorts that often play before them (including Casarosa’s own “La Luna”).

This is the kind of project that Pixar would have been able to produce at any time in its history if not for the pressure of grossing several billion dollars, winning a handful of Oscars, and waging a bloody civil war against the Minions for control of our kids’ imagination. It’s no coincidence, then, that “Luca” is also the closest that Pixar has ever come to capturing the ineffable spirit of a Studio Ghibli film (and not just because Casarosa’s semi-autobiographical tale is set in the seaside Italian town of “Portorosso”). It’s a sorbetto-light homage that reflects Pixar’s own self-confidence, and hopefully anticipates how the monolithic animation house will continue to create more intimate fare now that it can use Disney+ as a safety net.

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