I recently watched (and sobbed) to Disney’s new animated film Luca. Despite the heartbreak, I stuck it out on behalf of the fictional characters. I really enjoyed the story but, there was one main point I took away from it in the end: Luca is queer. Like really queer.
When I say this I don’t just mean the main character (though I’ll touch on him a little later), but I mean the film in general. It explores the queer experience in a few different ways: self-discovery and identity, allyship, relationships between different queer people, and the relationship between society and queer people themselves.
But to understand everything I’m about to say to prove my point, we first have to talk a little bit about the plot of Luca. Set in a seaside town on the Italian Riviera, young “sea monster” Luca has a growing curiosity about life outside his home waters, which eventually leads him to teaming up with a new friend to buy a Vespa that can take them anywhere they please.
Let’s talk about Luca and how his self-discovery can easily mimic the journey many queer people have walked. Luca starts off as a curious boy with interests or ideals that don’t match his parents. They want to keep him locked away, convinced their way of life is the only way that is safe and acceptable to live. But then he meets Alberto and decides that despite whatever risk may come, he wants to live his life in a way that will make him happy. Luca quite literally decides after knowing Alberto for a few days that he wants to run away on a singular Vespa with him. They’re not even shooting for two, just one, to ride together.
Halfway through the movie were also introduced to another character, Guilia, a human who lives in Portorosso–the human town Alberto and Luca go to figure out a way to get their Vespa. Guilia, the daughter of a fisherman, tells them about a race that Portorosso hosts every summer and that winners get prize money. Luca and Alberto see this as a way to their goal, and Giulia is determined to prove she can do it after many failed attempts to win.
Guilia can be seen as a clear comparison to the ally friends and families queer people can make throughout life. People who stand with them, believe in them, and defend them when their identities are under fire. All things Guilia has done throughout this film. At first Guilia is hesitant to team up with the strange pair. Her demeanor immediately softens when Luca tells her that his family was going to send him away. Some people might not realize just how common this situation is in real life for queer people, but it is and people like Guilia are especially important here.
Another interesting thing that happens is when Massimo Marcovaldo– Guilia’s father– and a one-arm fisherman notices Alberto looking and tells him that he was “just born that way.” Either intentionally or unintentionally the character is telling Alberto, and maybe even the audience, that it’s okay to be born different.
Now, when it comes to the relationships with other queer people, I am a firm believer that Alberto and Luca both had crushes on each other. Alberto was so obviously jealous when Guilia and Luca began getting closer. He was being a jerk. It’s like when a kid has a crush for the first time, gets jealous but doesn’t know that they are jealous or why they’re feeling this way. I saw this strongly in Alberto. And when Alberto’s identity as a “sea monster” is exposed and Luca shuns him in fear of being shunned himself, I sobbed like a child because of the heartbreak you can see on his face.
A real-life equivalent is when a queer person might hide behind homophobia because they believe if you’re homophobic no one will know they’re queer. And in cases where a close queer friend is outed and criticized, a person has the option to defend them and risk being assumed queer, or hide and stay where you know you will be accepted and safe.
Luca chose to hide and that clearly cut Alberto deep.
The big cinematic climax of this movie is Luca outing himself as a “sea monster” to save Alberto. I don’t know, but I’ve never hugged my friends while staring at the sunset. But maybe that’s just me. I think if one of these characters were a girl, their relationship would be read as a romantic one without question.
This whole movie is spent with Luca and Alberto trying to hide their identity from a society that has a history of hunting them. Portorosso’s whole thing is wanting to catch and kill a sea monster. Luca wants to do normal things like go to school but Alberto, knowing they’re not like everyone else, asks Guilia: “Does your school accept everyone?”
In the end, they are both finally outed as “sea monsters” and the main “villain” of this story, a bully who the team was determined to beat in the race, berated them. When Luca says they aren’t scared of him he says, “No, but we’re afraid of you,” referring to the town. Luca wants to do normal people things as well, except Alberto reminds him that not all spaces are safe for people who are different. Luca’s grandmother even goes as far as saying in the end that not everyone will except him, but there will be those who will and Luca seems to know how to pick the good ones. I think the symbolism here is clearest.
There will be people who disagree with all of this, and all opinions are valid. But if hundreds of people are saying they saw a certain realistic symbolism in this story it might be time to take a step back and think about why you’re so upset over the possibility. And, yes, there was no clear romance in this film, but queer stories are not only always told through a romantic lens. It can be shown in struggles, self-discovery and so on.
Luca does that, whether the creators meant to or not.
Luca is now streaming on Disney+.
By Kendal Amos, Incoming Junior, Little Black Pearl