Senior Correspondent

Luca Might Be Pixar’s Most Ghibli-Inspired Movie

Luca Opinion Piece Review

Luca had its unusual straight-to-streaming release on Disney+ on June 18th. It’s been sad to miss out on the experience of seeing it in the theatre, but nevertheless, Luca has completely stolen my heart. It’s a triumph – a simple story, beautifully told, with the most charming cast of characters. While some seem to feel the story’s simplicity is a step back from Pixar’s typically complex plotlines, I see this change of pace as a breath of fresh air. I can see people in years to come returning to Luca over and over as a source of comfort – something I’ve already done in the space of a week.

This is the first of many similarities Luca has to Studio Ghibli’s movies. Japan’s Ghibli movies have always struck differently compared to American animation. They focus more on moments than on plot, often dwelling on the beauty of nature or interactions between characters, instead of story-driven sequences or action scenes.

It’s clear that many filmmakers at Pixar have been inspired by the works of Ghibli, but have found it difficult to fit these influences into the world of western animation. It’s wonderful that Luca is the first to have really mastered this, all while having a style of its own.

Luca might be the most Ghibli-esque Pixar movie to date, and I hope this means we can expect more diversion from the ‘norm’ as we move towards the releases of their upcoming movies Turning Red and Lightyear.

First up: Porco Rosso is a clear influence here. The town is called Portorosso, an Italian coastal town. Also, Ghibli is the name of an Italian aircraft (Hayao Miyazaki is a big fan of aircrafts). The innocent childhood friendship by the sea story is also very Ponyo. But here are some other parallels I picked up on.

Luxuriating on moments

Kemp Powers, co-director of Soul, hit upon a great phrase during a virtual conference earlier this year – “luxuriating on moments.” It’s a difficult thing to do in animation. You really need to have the bravery to commit to a long scene that doesn’t necessarily add to the story. Ghibli movies are filled with these moments – so many of their movies have beautiful long stretches of just appreciating the scenery. Soul had some of these moments (think of the busker scene), and I’d argue that Luca has even more: Luca seeing the ‘above water’ world for the first time; Giulia and Massimo making pasta; the birdsong (listen out for the swifts – the soundtrack to the height of summer in lots of European countries); and the imagination scenes! Those might be my favourite thing about the whole movie.

The imagination scenes include Luca’s daydream where he’s riding a Vespa up to the moon/fish in the sky and the fantasy scene where he learns about space, aircrafts and cities. These things could have been captured with dialogue, but taking the time to show it through these magical sequences made it so much more impactful. My Neighbours the Yamadas and Only Yesterday had a lot of this (both directed by the late Isao Takahata).

Art style

It could just be that Pixar are trying out a new style in general, but I loved the flexibility this new style created: the slightly more stylised look gave lots of comedic opportunities. The mouth shapes were just so sweet and emotive. Again – very My Neighbours the Yamadas.

The plot isn’t the focus

The plot isn’t the focus – the characters are. This gives the film some Kiki’s Delivery Service/My Neighbour Totoro/Porco Rosso vibes. It’s not that any of these films didn’t have a plot (they did), but the simple storytelling allows for a bigger focus to be put on the relationships between the cast. This really worked in Luca.

The credits sequence alone is an absolute joy, and it’s similar to what Kiki’s Delivery Service and My Neighbour Totoro did. It’s almost like the film itself was introducing this world to us, and the illustrations during the credits helped us start to imagine the rest. This way, the characters live on in our hearts forever!

I want a whole series of books about Luca attending school with Giulia, but equally, I’m so happy imagining it. Nicolle Castro did such an amazing job at creating all these illustrations for the credits.

The food

And finally, the food. It’s a well-known fact that animated food is often more delicious looking than any real-world food. Ghibli is famous for its food scenes – the ramen in Ponyo, the cooked breakfast in Howl’s Moving Castle, everything in Spirited Away… Spending time on food scenes definitely dips into the “luxuriating on moments” theme.

With pasta playing an important role in Luca, not just because of the Portorosso Cup, but also because of its cultural significance in Italy, it must have felt very important to get the look of the pasta just right. And they definitely excelled. I’m excited for Pixar to gradually add to their delicious food scene repertoire.

Luca is now streaming on Disney+, and it’s the perfect summer movie. Here’s hoping a theatrical release will eventually follow – I’d be first in the queue if Pixar decided to go down that route!

Tags: , Last modified: June 28, 2021

Joanna Peaker is a Senior Correspondent for Upcoming Pixar. Joanna's love for Pixar blossomed after watching Up for the first time in 2009, and it has continued to grow ever since. Joanna brings an artistic eye to Upcoming Pixar, delivering a unique editorial perspective on Pixar's aesthetics.