S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership. How are you doing right now? I see. Charlotte Brady, Haifaa.
S2: I am. What’s in the box? Yo, yo, yo.
S1: Hello and welcome to another Slate spoiler special podcast and Dana Stevens Slate’s movie critic. And here to talk with me today about Pixar new movie, Loukia is Karen Huhn, Slate, staff writer and culture writer. How are you doing here?
S3: Good. How are you? So nice to see you. I guess to peek behind the curtain. We taped Culture Gabfest this morning and now about two hours after I finished doing that, we are chatting again.
S1: Yeah, I don’t know if we were podcasting twice in a day and we certainly had never podcast it together twice in a day on the same movie, which is actually something we try to avoid doing having these kind of pileups in podcasting. But I’m glad we get to cover this one twice, because since we talked about it, I started thinking about it and then I went back and watched as much as I could fit in between sessions. And I have new thoughts about it that I wouldn’t have brought in before, plus some things that I didn’t get a chance to say in that segment, because, of course, it’s only ten minutes and we don’t spoil, whereas here you have all the time and ability to spoil that we need.
S3: I’m so curious what your new thoughts are that’s so exciting.
S1: OK, well, first of all, I think that I liked it more the second time I went in without the expectations that it be one of the kind of grand philosophical Pixar epics which we’ll talk about, I’m sure, in the course of this conversation, which it isn’t and doesn’t try to be and shouldn’t try to be, and which I thought the first time as well. But since I went in, sort of knowing that its pleasures are on a smaller scale, you could say a more human scale, although this whole movie is about shifting between being human and not. So I think I enjoyed it more. But I also saw more of, I think, my problems and maybe world building, especially in the second half. And and so I have more details about that that we can get into in a bit. First, let’s do our go round. And just let me just quickly ask you if you liked it and if you would send people to see it, since this is not about reviewing, but about getting into the nitty gritty.
S3: I really liked Lucka. I thought it was so, so cute and sweet. And I actually did. The last time that I called my mom to talk to her, I was like, get on my Disney plus account and watch Loukia. It’s so cute and just so easy to watch. It’s just ninety five minutes. It’s not a long movie at all. It’s very easy to watch, easy to get in and out of and it’s just very cute. I like it a lot. Highly recommend, especially because it is just on Disney plus. So if you’re already subscribed it’s not like you’re paying that extra like premiere fee to watch it.
S1: Yeah actually that was an interesting marketing choice because this was meant to be a theatrical release it first. Right. And I guess because of the combination of the pandemic and piles of pile ups of movies and it being a kids movie, they just figured that they were going to go this way. But you’re right, it’s not even a premiere and what you would call it. But it’s not one of those new releases that you briefly have to pay a lot for. So you’ve got Disney plus. I would certainly watch it. And it made me wish that I had little enough kids to watch it with them, because I think this is I mean, actually, if you were a teenager who didn’t think you were too cool for everything, you would probably love Lucka. The problem is getting those kids to see these kind of movies in the first place. But I think for any kid who’s sort of 12 or under this movie is just perfect.
S3: Summertime viewing. Yeah. To circle back a little bit. If we weren’t a pandemic and if things weren’t the way that they were, I would have loved to see this in the theater because I’m sure we’ll get into this. But one of the things that I really love about this is all of the detail that they put into the visuals. It’s a really gorgeous film to look at. And it’s so fluid and kinetic that the fact that you might only be able to see it on a small screen is kind of a bummer. That said, like many of Pixar movie is not like a kid’s movie. It’s not like you’re only going to enjoy it if you’re a child or young teenager. I never once felt like I was being, like, pandered to or talked down to while I was watching this. And I think it hits a good balance. And that sense there isn’t too much peril or anything. But they’re not trying to can defy the story in order for kids to feel more at home with it. That’s at least what I thought.
S1: Yeah, that’s definitely true. And by saying that, I wish I had little kids to watch it with a littler I guess I don’t mean that it’s only a kids movie, but just that, especially on the second watching, it really struck me that it understands the psychology of childhood, in particular in relationship to the friendship of the two boys, which we’ll get into. I think that’s the strongest element in the movie and that there are some other relationships and characters that aren’t as clearly drawn. But maybe we should just quickly set up what the movie is and and where we begin. So we actually begin a little bit outside the story, right, with two characters. We don’t see that much with some fishermen in a boat off what appears to be the sort of beautiful mountainous coast it turns out to be the Italian Riviera. And our title character, Luca, kind of sneaks into the first sequence. You want to describe his appearance?
S3: Yeah. So what the first scene really does is that it sets up the fact that there are the sea monster community exists and the fishermen and the Italian people who live just on the coast have a very superstitious sort of relationship with them, where they regard them as monsters, monsters like something to be feared. And as they’re fishing, they start panicking. When they see the shark was like, oh, no, there’s like a sea monster here. What are we going to do? Like try to and try to kill it? But it turns out when you go under the water, it’s just Luca. He’s a little like green, blue little fish boy, he’s so cute. And all he’s doing is sort of emulate like everything that the sea monsters do has a parallel above water where Luca’s family seems to make. Our main living hurting a bunch of goldfish, so Luke is hurting this flock of very absent minded fish, just like if he was like a shepherd in the mountains or whatever and lives a very normal life by all means, like with his mother and father and his grandmother, who are habitate in one little cave.
S1: And we should mention that the main character, Luca, is voiced by Jacob Tremblay. Really? Well, I thought he he gets a lot into into his vocal characterization. And his parents are played by Jim Gaffigan and Maya Rudolph, both great. Also in roles that I think are a little underwritten. I wish we had even more of those two fish parents and his grandmother, who I think has a really great gravelly voice and who becomes sort of a stealth important character in the movie is voiced by Sandy Martin. Mm hmm.
S3: Yeah, I agree about the parents, although I will say I feel like just because of the scale of it, maybe there wasn’t as much space for them to be further developed. But what they do get to do is extremely funny and definitely made me laugh out loud more than a couple of times. But yeah, Jacob Tremblay is so, so good to the point that I’m also now sort of surprised that he’s as young as he is. And I went back to Wikipedia to check how old he is. And he’s been working since he was like six, seven, eight, which is mind blowing to me because now he’s only 14 and like, you can give this accomplished performance.
S1: Well, you’ve seen room, right? I mean, he’s really astonishing in room. And I think he was probably a little bit older than he supposed to be, but I’m sure he’s only about eight or so when he did that, that role. But, yeah, he captures something so great in this role. And he I feel like he truly is still acting because he’s not just being a kid, because not only because he has to make himself into this, you know, inhuman half human shapeshifting fish, but because I feel like he’s playing someone younger and more innocent than he is. And yet he doesn’t, as you said earlier, can defy it. Right. I mean, there’s not a cuteness to that character. There’s something very sweet about his naiveté.
S3: Yeah. And I guess to continue on, we see this boat dropping various human artifacts into the water in its panic to get away. And as Luca, who is clearly curious about the human world, starts to investigate these objects, he ends up meeting Albertus Carfagno, who is a slightly older sea monster voiced by Jacqueline Graser, who seems to be a lot more world wise and has a lot more confidence that Luca just doesn’t have. But the sea monsters, in turn, are scared of the humans in the same way that the humans are scared of them. And Lucas parents in particular make it very, very clear that he’s never supposed to go onto land. But Elberta, of course, immediately is like, what are you afraid of? It’s great up here. Come on up here with me.
S1: Right. And then this begins my favorite part of the movie, which is about the first twenty minutes or so. I think this is a kind of a Pixar thing. Sometimes the Pixar movies will peak early, right? I mean, the famous case being up that has that extraordinary montage that makes everyone in the world cry in the first 15 minutes or so. And this movie, too, I feel like never gets better than it is. And the part where we’re exploring the friendship of these two kids, just all of those montages, the sort of happiness montages that you see inside the brain of Luca are so extraordinary in the way they kind of evoke the feeling just with music and movement and color, the feeling of excitement that you get when you’re discovering a new world with a new friend. There’s also some kind of action montages with them that show them building that vesper together and, yeah, crashing it into the sea. And those are usually accompanied with some kind of Italian pop music from the time that is set in, which is a vague kind of nineteen fifties, sixties period. But my favorite montages are the ones that use this Dan Rohmer score. I have the melody in my head right now. It’s a wonderful theme melody. Maybe we can put it a little bit of in the podcast. But I think we hear that theme in all of the dream sequences, all the moments that you have Loukia fantasizing in my favorite one of those and the one the one that made me cry, the one moment that I got a little bit misty in this movie was the one where they’re writing the best imagination together. Do you remember they’re sort of riding through this yellow field of flowers and they write up a big ramp and it’s almost just like a fantasy transposition of the stuff they’re already doing. And it sort of shows how great it feels to be a kid doing that so that anyway, those montages really, really got me. Maybe it’s because I’m so attached to their friendship that the second half of the movie is not as interesting to me because it’s more focused on other stuff which we’ll get to.
S3: Yeah, I mean, I definitely agree about the fantasy sequences. Like, I think that’s one of the things that makes this movie stand out, because whenever Luka has these flights of fancy, they’re always visualized in this sort of brief break from reality where he’s just seeing this fantasy world player. It’s clearly even more stylized than the world itself is as an animated film. Like when they when he’s imagining them riding their Vespa or later the moon sequence, which we’ll talk about, it’s so beautiful and so fanciful in a way that doesn’t feel disingenuous at all.
S1: Like the wild Vesper’s is the wild movies that they see riding next to them. And just this idea, I mean, just the layers of fantasy that you’re in, right. Then where it’s like it’s a sea creature who can turn into a boy and he’s having a fantasy about writing a best book and he’s fantasizing that they’re living, that it’s just like this wonderful nested kind of whimsy.
S3: Yeah, it’s so, so sweet. And I do feel like maybe the reason that the second half doesn’t ring as well, at least for you, is like the beats are pretty familiar. And it’s always one of those frustrating cases where you want to, like, just talk to him or like just express your feelings. That’ll basically solve all the problems that you’re having.
S1: This movie needed more obstacles. I feel like it doesn’t really have a villain. It sort of has. Alcalay Right. Who is the bully on the best that they meet in the human town? But but really, I guess I mean, not every movie needs to have a creature that is a villain necessarily of being the villain. Right. It could be like some sort of circumstance. But this movie is so sweet that in a way it doesn’t need that much conflict. I mean, I feel like the conflict about the interpersonal relationships of the kids and their parents is really enough to carry it.
S3: Yeah, I totally agree. And speaking of which, that conflict comes in almost immediately, because as Luca and Alberto grow closer, his parents start to notice that he isn’t really hurting the goldfish. Something obviously is going on. So once they realize that Luca has been going above ground, they decide they need to take drastic action. So they call in his Uncle Hugo, who is a anglerfish, who lives in the very depths of the ocean, to come and take him away for a little bit. It’s sort of like, I guess, the sea monster equivalent of boarding school where it’s like you’re going to go somewhere really remote for a while so that you can’t cause trouble here at home. But Luca, horrified by this thought, runs away to Elberta, who decides that they are now going to move from the little remote tower that they’ve been in to the human town that’s just across the bay. So now is their time to actually try to integrate into the human world, which is terrifying for Luca and apparently not terrifying for Alberto, who has this false confidence, as we mentioned, and thinks he knows everything about human life already.
S1: Yeah, that’s a good summary that gets us to the shore into the second half of the movie or a little bit more than half where I feel like things take a different turn for me. Not as interesting a turn, but we will get there. The last thing I wanted to say about the mainly underwater segment at the beginning is that Uncle Hugo, The Sea through Uncle So is taken from Lagos. It is voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen. Hilariously, he only appears in two scenes and one of them is the post credit stinger. So if you do watch this at home on Disney, please stick around through all the credits. Don’t let it scoot you through the credits the way that streamers like to do, because the Stinger scene is excellent.
S3: Yeah, everything with Uncle Hugo is so funny. From the character design to Sacha Baron Cohen’s voice performance to the way that he’s animated and the character details everything about him is so funny. He’s definitely, I think, a standout character.
S1: It does bring up questions about the worldbuilding of the fish world that I wish could have been explored. Not that I want this to be some giant epic, this all concerned with Aquaman, but I want to know why he lives at the bottom of the ocean, what the culture of the ocean is like. I wish we knew a little bit more. We see a few neighbors at the very beginning, but basically after this movie Moves Island, it stays on land. And I wish that we’d had a little bit more of an establishment of what was going on back in the ocean while all the events of the second half take place.
S3: Yeah, I mean, that is the funny thing about Hugo, where he’s so different from Luca and his family’s design that it suggests that all the sea monsters are not as homogenous as we see them, like he’s really the only one who looks kind of creepy, whereas Luca, Alberto and the rest of the family all look like they are relatively in the same family.
S1: Right. I was even asking I was asking myself, are these like epigenetic changes where he goes because he went to the bottom of the sea? Or maybe he’s an adopted fish. He doesn’t look like a brother anyway. And not all of that has to be answered. But the undersea world was so beautiful the way it was animated and it was so imaginative. And the little bits of it that we did see, for example. The Goat Fish Shepherd situation that I sort of wished we had known well, for example, they don’t seem to be schools, right? I mean, we’ll get to the idea of school later on. But Luke is so fascinated by this idea of going to study. Yet he and Elberta both seem to know how to read and write. I don’t know. I just want to know what sort of culture I turned in the ocean.
S3: Yeah. So the school storyline comes in where once they’re at the human town, they run into this girl named Julia who like them is a bit of a social outcast because she’s the only one who really stands up to the local bully or who we mentioned earlier. So when Julia realizes that she sort of has these kindred spirits around her, they all decide that they want to enter into a portero so cup triathlon, which involves, number one, swimming laps, number two, eating pasta, and number three, riding a bike through town. The complication is that neither of the boys can do the swimming bit because as we learn, if sea monsters touch the water, that part of them will go back to being sea monsters like scaly and blue. Whereas if they stay dry, they will remain in human form and they start training together to beat Ercole at the competition. Julia because she wants to beat him and upend this reign of tyranny that he holds over the local kids and Luca and Arbeter because they want to use the prize money to buy a Vosper and roam around Italy in freedom. But as they all start to get to know each other, Luca becomes really fascinated with how smart Julia is, what she knows about, like especially about space and stars and the moon and becomes very jealous of the fact that she eventually will be going back to school once the summer ends.
S1: Right. And I think the funnest new character who gets introduced in this this section of the movie that you haven’t mentioned as much as is the dad and Julia’s dad, who is this curious mixture of qualities? Is this huge, imposing, forbidding looking man. He’s a fisherman, which is naturally scary to two fish boys. But he also turns out pretty pretty quickly, actually, to have this very gentle, loving paternal side where he really wants to take in these two boys. He thinks human boys at the beginning and he doesn’t really ask any questions about what they’re doing in town. All he needs to know is they’re here for the race. He eventually gives his daughter permission to do the race after first disapproving of it, and then he starts to become this really gentle sort of figure. I love the moment in particular. I didn’t mention that he’s missing one arm. Right. And so he has his sweater kind of pinned up where his arm would be. And there’s this moment that you think he’s going to tell this sort of hardcore fisherman story about how he lost his arm. And then he laughs it off and says, no, no, I was just born that way, which I thought was a nice subversion of macho expectation.
S3: Yeah. I mean, it definitely sets it up to be like, oh, like a sea monster took his arm. And that’s what he jokes around with initially. And it seems like a good reason for him to hate sea monsters. But again, it’s not that at all. He’s just a very sweet, sweet, sweet man.
S1: Something I noticed about his cooking for them is that he always seems to make pasta with pesto, which maybe has to do with the fish factor. Right. I mean, you never see these fish boys eating anything from the sea, although you do hear Lucas grandmother talk about sea cucumbers being her favorite snack, which is sort of between a living thing and a vegetable, I guess. But that was another world building question for me was are they vegetarians? Do they only eat algae or something like that? Because otherwise they’d be in the awkward position of having to be cannibals on land?
S3: Yeah, I wonder if they did that partially because of the fish thing and also because it complicates the idea of, like, eating meat at all whatsoever. If these sea monsters are part part fish, as we’re sort of led to believe. But I also wanted to point out the other member of the Mark Osvaldo household is their cat, who is so incredibly animated and the first of the family to realize that the boys aren’t humans because the cat manages to spot them getting a little bit wet, thereby showing their scales. The cat is just so, well, animated and so suspicious of the boys for such a long time.
S1: The cat is a great creation animation wise and also love how he echoes the dad. Right? I mean, it’s sort of feline equivalent, like this very bulky cat with a mustache. Yeah. So to me, the least interesting element of this last part of the movie is the race itself. And I do feel a little bit like the race was put in there to answer this problem of the movie needing conflict and obstacles that I mentioned earlier. The triathlon that you mentioned is about to happen in the town. They divide up the tasks and decide who’s going to bike, who’s going to swim. The boys obviously can’t do the swimming part and who’s going to eat the pasta, the most fun part of the marathon. And then there’s this. This is portion of the movie that sort of training montages and trash talk with Eric, play about the race. Did you agree with me that that was a somewhat weak plot thread that could maybe have been worked on or taken out?
S3: Yeah, I agree that it’s not the strongest part of the movie. I guess as you’re saying, the problem is just like what is the driving force of this otherwise? Because I think there is a way to tell this story and in a more, I guess, sort of indie film kind of way where it really is just about their growing relationships and doesn’t have to include this bit about a race. But at least for a movie like this, which is a little bit simpler, I think it’s harder to get away with that or harder to maintain, especially a younger attention span. Because if it really is just about these kids figuring out what they want out of life, it’s also maybe harder to wrap up in an hour and a half. Right. Like, it implies a longer passage of time than like a week or so over the summer, right?
S1: Yeah, I think there’s nothing wrong with the race part. It just doesn’t feel quite up to the level of imaginative ness that the first half of the movie even, you know. But they’re still imaginative stuff going on in the second half, some of which involves the parents coming onto land. I really liked that when the parents first come onto land and realize that they don’t know what their son would look like as a human. So they face this little piazza full of kids and and have no choice but to arrange to get every single one of these kids wet in order to see if they turn into the Loukia that they know. That was truly so funny.
S3: Yeah, the mom basically just kicks her hip, checks every single child into the central fountain. And the answer to the point that later on all the kids are, like, still scared of them and try
S1: to avoid them. This is something I kind of loved about this part, as it’s almost not American and it’s lack of concern for those kids just making it into the water. There’s also the kids. The parents knock into the bank when they first think he’s Luca and there’s like literally a little child crying over his lost ice cream cone in the water. And they just leave. They just move for their son.
S3: It’s so funny. It’s so, so, so funny. And I think, like benefits from being a little more cavalier about it than trying to be, like, precious about like never like push children, which is like, again, don’t actually do that in real life. But we know that already don’t do that yet.
S1: To me, that was just the logic of an old Tom and Jerry cartoon or something completely roll with it. So to me, the most interesting conflict in the second part of the movie has to do with the sort of love triangle. I mean, it’s not romantic love. And we can we can talk later about the idea of gay subtext, yes or no, which has been much discussed with this movie. But let’s just say a friendship love triangle forms itself among the three main kids, Luca, Alberto and Julia. When Luca starts to, in a way, sort of move his transference from from Elberta to Julia. Right. I mean, that really intense, intimate friendship that we saw grew up between the two boys at the beginning doesn’t come to an end, but it changes in the way friendships change as you grow up. And Julia is a different friend who offers different things. She’s a human being, obviously, so she knows a different kind of world. She also seems to be really into her studies. She only spends her summers in Puerto or and goes to Geneva to school for the rest of the year with her mom. This is all stablish just really quickly in a conversation with her and Luca, but she seems to be kind of bookish. She has a book about the stars that Luca gets fascinated with. Alberto, meanwhile, has told him that the stars are sardines. I love this moment. Actually, this actually seems like it could be part of some old folklore or myth or something. But, yeah, Alberto’s idea about the sky, which of course he only knows since emerging from the water, is that it’s another surface of water and that the stars are also sardines who are swimming against that surface.
S3: Yeah, and we briefly touched on this earlier, but that scene is just so beautiful where there’s that giant glowing moon fish and all these smaller fish flocking around it. It’s really, really beautiful. And briefly, we should mention the director of Luca Manrico, Casa Rosa. If you guys remember the short film Luna, which played before Brave several years ago. At this point, I think you’ll recognize some of the stylistic signatures there like that one is also about kind of a bunch of smaller objects making up the moon. And the dad designs are honestly also pretty similar, but not in a way that makes me think like it’s the same thing. Like I love that design. I’ll I’ll watch that in any movie.
S1: Yeah. And Cousin Rosa is he’s been at Pixar for twenty years or something like that. He’s worked on, you know, he worked on the cars movies. I think he’s been more of like a background design artist, but this in La Luna have been his only directorial outings. And you’re right that they have something in common and they both have a lyrical feeling in a more handmade feeling vis a vis the animation. And I’m not going to get into it because I’m going to get the technical terms wrong and not understand what is what is clearly is digital animation. But I think it’s based on a lot of different styles that are not necessarily that Pixar associated in general, like, yeah, stop motion animation. You can sort of see that in the plasticity of the figures and watercolor. Apparently, Casassa made a storyboard of watercolors for all of the big shots in this movie. So I think it’s been deliberately created to be a little more handmade feeling and a little softer edged than your average. You very crisp, hyper real and primary saturated Pixar movie.
S3: And it honestly really benefits from that, at least in my view.
S1: Oh, it looks gorgeous, especially the town. I mean, the plot wise, my my favorite part might not be on land, but the way the town is designed is just so beautiful. It reminds me in many ways of a Miyazaki movie who loves to set his movies on a hillside, steep hillsides by the ocean, and also it’s invoking Italian cinema all the time. Did you notice, by the way, there’s like there’s I think there’s a reference to Fellini. Marcelo Mastroianni makes it in there that
S3: Marcelo Hedger is so funny.
S1: I can’t remember when the Marcelo head shot comes up, I. I think
S3: it’s like they look to him as sort of like an idol, like they have a little cutout of basically like his head shot, that they look
S1: like a collection of human beings. You’re right. But there’s also the the very first boat we see, the fisherman’s boat is called the GELSOMINA, which is the Julia Tomasina character in La Strada. There’s all these little shout outs to Italy in there, which I particularly love because there’s an Italian making them. You know, I feel like it’s coming from somebody who really knows not
S3: like culturally fetishistic or anything.
S1: Right. It doesn’t it doesn’t feel like he’s just sort of name checking to prove his his cred. You know, if he really cares about making this town kind of deeply structured. And, of course, those movie posters would be around that town in that time in the 1960s.
S3: Yeah. And I also want to say the the food looks really, really good. I think this is the first time that, like a CGI film has, like, nailed food looking good. Like whenever the dad brings out the plates of pesto pasta, like that looks really, really good.
S1: That doesn’t look like food. And Ratatouille looked good.
S3: Oh, OK. That’s fair. Yeah. OK, this and ratatouille.
S1: But you don’t want your food to be too hyperreal. It has to have some soft edges for sure. Yeah.
S3: I mean that’s why people are so obsessed with all the food shots and movies because it looks so like savory, like you can basically smell it coming off the screen. Like that’s the ideal right punch.
S1: That’s kind of the obvious head.
S3: I love Fonio. OK, so as the three kids start to wrestle with basically like feeling like they’re losing a best friend, at least on the Alberto side, Alberto starts to be a little more possessive of Luca, a little more rude to Julia. So as this conflict keeps growing, Alberto, in a very kind of impetuous move, reveals that he’s a sea monster to Julia, basically to try to prove to Luca that they’re never going to be accepted by humans and they, too, need to stick together. But Luca, instead of also admitting to Julia that he’s a sea monster, at least straight away, instead acts afraid of Alberto, says, oh, no, there’s a sea monster and essentially chases Alberto off, especially as other kids arrive on the scene and start to scream and yell like, oh, we have to kill him or whatever. And Alberto leaves. And that’s kind of the big emotional break in the film.
S1: Yeah, it’s actually a really surprising betrayal because Luca has been so enamoured and Luca is just in general such a conflict averse and very sweet character, you know? So I think it’s I almost feel like there wasn’t enough of a of a scene between the two of them to win their their friendship back. It’s another moment where I would have liked one more emotional beat because, you know, between sort of leaving him for Julia in a way or not leaving him, but, you know, shifting his friendship focus from from him to another person and then pretending not to know him. I know it’s a pretty harsh moment for Alberto. Yeah.
S3: I mean, it’s really dark, especially because the movie sets up the fact that the fishermen basically will hunt the sea monsters if they find them. The stakes aren’t just they’re going to chase him out of town. The stakes are they’re going to kill Alberto if they find him. So the moment like feels really bad, which is the ultimate goal of that scene, is to trigger that emotion within you as you’re watching it. But it also feels like one of the deeper moments in this movie, which otherwise can sometimes feel a little bit light. So once Alberto’s gone, Luca, of course, immediately starts feeling really guilty because he’s a good boy. And as he talks to Julia about what’s going on, he also tells her that he’s a sea monster. She, of course, isn’t like horrified by him and instead tells him that he needs to leave because she’s afraid that he’s going to get hurt if he stays in the human town. And Luca, now leaving the human town, tries to find Alberto to apologize for what happened and to try to talk things through, and which is where we find out that Alberto has been on land because years. Well, I don’t know, years, months, days ago, a while ago, at least, his father abandoned him and he’s just been waiting for him to come back. And now he’s afraid that Luca is also going to leave him. And Luca, as he hears this, finally plucks up the courage that he’s really been trying to muster up this whole time and decides that he’s going to do the triathlon himself. Obviously, both Julia and Alberto are kind of horrified by this idea because they know that there’s no way that he can swim without turning back into a sea monster. But in order to try to circumvent anyone from finding out that he’s a sea monster, he puts on this giant diving bell and slowly walks as the triathlon begins on the ocean floor there and back as his part of the swimming race.
S1: Right. And for the race having been built up to for so much of the movie, we get through it really quickly. It’s not the end of the movie by any means. In fact, most of the conflict resolution happens after the race. But all I remember about the race basically is that is that Alberto eats his plate of pasta. Right. There’s not really any sense of what that competition is, whether it’s how much you eat or, you know, how fast you eat.
S3: It seems to be just finishing a bowl of pasta.
S1: It’s time to start the next race and time to start the next leg. And then we go to the bicycle part of the race.
S3: Yeah. And as we’ve seen like in the film. Luca, at the beginning of the movie, like a lot of the movie, was about Luca learning how to walk, learning how to move his human body, and as a result, riding a bike was like a huge challenge for him and not something that he was innately good at. So the fact that he’s actually biking well now is a big deal. But then it begins to rain, unfortunately, which means that if he stays out of shelter and continues to bike the race, people are going to find out that he’s a sea monster. So as he tries to figure out what to do, he’s waiting under this awning when he suddenly sees Alberto running up the course towards him, carrying an umbrella for him to use Burkle, who obviously doesn’t understand what’s going on and just knows innately that he doesn’t like these two kids trips. Alberto forcing him to fall and drop the umbrella, which makes him revert to Sea Monster State for everyone to see.
S1: Yes. And this is quite a scene. I mean, if you were going to read this movie as a kind of gay allegory. Right. Which some people have or have suggested that it should be this would be the outing scene basically right there, sort of outed by Eric and by the rain. But that also means that it’s a chance for Julia to align herself with them, which she immediately does.
S3: Yeah. So once Alberto is revealed, obviously everyone, especially Archila is going to is saying, like, I’m going to be the one to kill the sea monster. But as you mentioned, Julia is like now is her time to shine. She crashes her bike into Ercole to prevent him from hitting Alberto and also Luca at this point, who has faced his fear and gone out to save Alberto and pulled him up onto the bike. And they go onto this very, very, very steep fall, which we’ve seen repeatedly throughout the movie as a part of the course that’s difficult to navigate and not crash on. But they managed to get to the very end of the course and their bike crosses the finish line, but right before Hercules does and they win the race. And so the big pause then is that all the townspeople have seen these two sea monsters. The race almost doesn’t matter at this point where it’s like there’s two sea monsters among us. What are we going to do? And as we mentioned, Julia’s dad is such a sweet figure and he’s kind of the first one to step forward. And at first, do you think he’s going to be the first one to try to kill these monsters? But he immediately accepts them in front of everyone. And that leads to the rest of the townspeople also sort of realizing that these sea monsters have been among us all along.
S1: And that’s also the moment there’s this sort of like I am Spartacus, coming out of other fish, spontaneously fish people in the town who we did not know were of that species, I think, including the old ladies. Right. The pair of ladies that we’ve seen throughout. We see them walking around, licking ice cream cones and being sort of cranky crones in the town. And there’s this great moment that they come out as two fish women. Yeah, it’s very rare. We should talk a little bit about the gay allegory. And this is that, do you think, a compelling reading of this movie, is it an important or necessary one?
S3: I think it’s a compelling one. I think there’s certainly an argument to be made for it or I don’t know necessarily that it’s a necessary one. That’s to necessaries in a row. But you get what I mean. I don’t think like if I was going to describe this to someone in a sentence, I wouldn’t say it’s a gay love story, for instance. But the director has actually talked about this a little bit where he’s like, this is not an explicitly gay story. Like what this what the relationships are is ultimately what you bring to it and what you’re reading from it. And that’s more important than, I guess, what the actual story is.
S1: Yeah, and I think it accomplishes that really well. I mean, I could certainly imagine if a kid was questioning their sexuality and watching this movie, they might feel affirmed by it. But also, I think it’s doing male friendship and injustice to say that the only way you can have as intimate a friendship as the two boys do establish the beginning of the movie is, is if you were in love. I mean, there’s there’s just something great about seeing two boys kind of find each other in that way. And the montage that I was talking about that got me all teary, I believe ends with the two of them, with their arms around each other, looking out at the ocean, you know, but but I don’t think it necessarily needs to be a romantic interpretation.
S3: Yeah. And like, again, like they’re just kids, like, and figuring out who they are. So, I mean, maybe the most exquisite reading of this is just figuring out like what you want out of relationships, period. Because what Luca gets from Julia and Alberto are very different, as we’ve talked about, like Alberto has more confidence, has more street smarts, whereas Julia is a little more book smart and he’s equally fascinated with both parts of the world.
S1: And as it turns out, at the end, he kind of gets to have his cake and eat it, too. Yeah, yeah. I mean, Julia is headed back to her school in Genova, and we’ve already sort of had it set up that that Luca would like to go, but it costs money to go plussed. He’s sort of still afraid that it’s a human thing. Elberta obviously marks the mere idea of school and things. It sounds really boring, but in the end, Alberto uses the prize money that they won in the triathlon to finance. Loukia going off to the school.
S3: Yeah, yeah, he sells the Vosper that they buy in order to let him go to school, which is a huge step for him in emotional growth. So Loka goes with Julia to school and Julia’s dad, Masimo, actually takes in Alberto as a sort of apprentice fisherman. So he stays in Portero So with Masimo and presumably we’ll see Luke and Julie again in the summer
S1: and shout out to the credits sequence, the closing credits, which are extremely studio. Jumbly they really reminded me of the My Neighbor Totoro closing credits, which also sort of alternate, you know, different drawings, little hand drawings of the characters future. It made me wish that the animation in this movie had been even more low tech. I think it’s trying to look less low tech than classic Pixar. But I mean, it made me wish it had been to draw on animation because those characters were so endearing in the sidelines of the credits. And so you get to see their further adventures.
S3: And also, we should mention the post credits Stinger that we spoiled with Hugo is not plot necessary. It’s just nice because Hugo is such a distinct character.
S1: Yeah, it almost felt to me like something that must have been cut, you know, an idea for a scene that must have been cut that they just they had to put in there. But yeah, the whale carcass, the way he talks about just whale carcass floating into your mouth, it’s so gross.
S3: It’s so good.
S1: But OK, since we’ve now talked about the whole story, this is something that applies to the whole movie that I was going to ask you about, which it seems like there’s a strange relationship to the Italian language, which sometimes bothered me, which feeds into a bigger question that I think there’s an inconsistency to how naive the boys are, the fish people are when they come out onto the land. I mean, it seemed at times as if Italian was being posited as the human language. I just wondered what language they were supposed to be speaking in and whether they had to master a new language when they came up on land. Because all of them, but especially the humans and especially Julia, are always throwing little tiny bits of Italian into their dialogue. And so it just made me wonder if their world is that a foreign language using it? I mean, I guess the idea was and I’m just getting I’m getting too technical, the idea is just to provide a little bit of local color and like a foothold of the sound of the language, maybe for kids who are just conceptualizing it or something. But it bothered me every time there was a bit of Italian, especially when it was associated with humanness. Like I think when Luca very first becomes a boy before they ever enter the town, Alberto says something in Italian and then he says, oh, what does that mean? And so then it made me just wonder what the language was supposed to signify.
S3: Yeah, I wonder I think my bigger question with that is how they’re going to deal with that and the Italian dub of this movie, because the boys speak in very standard English and then suddenly we’ll say things like, what’s wrong with you, Thorpedo? And it’s like, OK, like what? Why would you do that? If you are technically speaking, only Italian for this entire part, like,
S1: oh, that’s another layer. It’s like, why are you speaking sort of like faux Italian accented English? But that feeds into and I’ll just briefly visited my question about how innocent the boys are, how little they know. Obviously, Elberta thinks the stars are sardines. So like, he doesn’t know a lot about the world above the surface, but they seem to speak a language in which you could ask the question, what are you doing? They’re stupid. So why do they not know what it means to say, what are you doing? Stupid. All right. And there’s just some other things like that. He doesn’t know how to walk and he has to be taught step by step, how to walk. But he very quickly figures out, you know, sort of how to do everything else. I don’t know. I’m probably asking for a level of internal consistency that is just pointless from a 90 minute fantasy fable about fish people. But this is all part of me being not quite sure what universe we were in in relation to the two realms.
S3: Yeah, that’s fair. I mean, I think this definitely is a movie that benefits from not thinking about it too hard.
S1: And I have to say on my second almost complete watch, which I will complete after we have this conversation, I found even more pleasure than the first time. And I’ve sort of felt like my quibbles from the first time didn’t matter. I mean, spoiler special as a place to bring up quibbles just because it’s fun to discuss them. But ultimately, none of these things will get in your way of thoroughly enjoying this movie and probably even remembering it after. I mean, you specifically have said that this has stuck with you more than some of the high concept Pixar movies. I don’t think I would say it’s stuck with me, but it could not have gone down nicer.
S3: Yeah, I mean, like, I watch this with my boyfriend and we have since watching it sometimes done the uncle, like, very good or excellent just around the house. Like there’s just bits that stick out and are memorable to me in a very memorable way, I guess.
S1: All right. So we’re both we’re both putting our fins up. We’re both sending people to see it twice. I really, really do like it. And I think it feels like the right kind of movie for this summer when we needed something that was sweet and simple and refreshing and and not overly worldbuilding. So I’m sorry that I ask that of you and thanks for coming in to spar with me.
S3: You know, such a delight, such a delight.
S1: And that’s our show. You can subscribe to this latest. Special podcast feed, and if you like the show, you can read it and review it in the Apple podcast store or wherever you get your podcasts. And please, if you have suggestions for movies or TV shows, we should spoil in the future or other feedback to share with us. Send it to spoilers at Slate dot com. Our producer today is Morgan Flannery for Karahan. I’m Dana Stevens. Thanks for listening and we’ll talk to you soon.