‘Luca’ Uses Queer-Bait Hoping to Reel in a Hit, Ends Up Snagged

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Average: 3 (4 votes)
HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 2.0/5.0
Rating: 2.0/5.0

CHICAGO – Even as an adult, I am still in awe of how effective animated features are as narrative vehicles. As a kid, it was the thing I would consume the most, gorging myself into a stupor. The cartoons didn’t even have to follow any set story structure, especially when some of my favorites included a cowardly dog, a cow and chicken as siblings, and even an underwater sponge that is friends with an aquatic squirrel. Utter nonsense, but as a kid, it easily became my main source of lessons during my formative years (for better or worse). As an adult, I can still enjoy a good animated show or film now that I am able to view it through the lens of an adult who remembers what it was like being a child. That’s how I can tell when something is reductively insulting to the viewer, and Luca was an absolute fin slap to the face.

Anytime you enter the wonderful world of animation, you have to suspend your disbelief because in these cartoon oases anything is possible. Take my favorite animated film of 2021, The Mitchells vs the Machine, which did give us some of the basic family film tropes, but it presented them in a high-stakes, adrenaline-rushed station wagon that made so many cultural and pop-cultural references that it was impossible not to love. This is an example of how the base of your story doesn’t have to be revolutionary for your outcome to be extraordinary. The pacing, internet humor, and especially the natural integration of an LGBTQIA+ main character, were all the extra spice needed to make this a well-seasoned dish everyone could enjoy. Why have I spent so much time talking around the movie this review should be about? It’s because, like most Disney films that claim to be inclusive, I’m hoping you can find it somewhere in the subtext.

Photo credit: Disney

Luca is cute, which is a term I usually use to describe something innocuous that I found bland, but painless. I also use the term to describe some babies, even the ugly ones. In this case, everything about the visual appearance was beautiful. It transports you to a small, close-knit Italian village on the Riviera that comes close to rivaling the authenticity we saw in Call Me By Your Name. The sights, sounds, and even the occasional visual cues that trigger our smell memory, are all present, creating the atmosphere for what could have been an immersive experience. All that was missing to make this a memorable Pixar production was a plot that dared to be progressive. Instead, we get predictable parables about acceptance in the face of prejudice, which is a great evergreen message to send, but not when there is something more in the subtext.

For almost a decade now, Disney has continued to falsely claim that they have included queer characters in their films. Every time they unnecessarily announce their “achievement”, we are only met with disappointment by how much Disney seems to have misunderstood the assignment. Like how the deplorable JK Rowling posthumously announced that Dumbledore was gay, even though she never made any sort of mention of it in any of the seven books. To my complete surprise, Luca feels like the closest the studio has come to queer representation, and even then that’s only relegated to the film’s subtext and an overall message about “otherness”. Director-Writer Enrico Casarosa creates the perfect atmosphere for this coming-of-age tale to also be a coming-out story about two friends who can’t live without each other, but as soon as their relationship gets too close, they are narratively separated.

This type of queer-baiting is something Disney is now notoriously known for, but it because more infuriating when you see all the pieces there. We have the Call Me By Your Name-esque setting for both location and time period, without the peach of course. Then we have the reactions of the family and townspeople to our two protagonists, which mirrors the way people in the LGBTQIA+ community are treated by the outside world, down to the point where they are called just for being themselves and existing. We also have a powerful scene at the end where the eldest family member shows acceptance for their grandson, noting that people won’t always like him for being himself, but that he is capable enough to be able to surround himself with those who will, AKA his chosen family. There’s even a scene where two older women, who we have seen together throughout the whole film, “come out” in the rain as sea creatures, but of course, Disney will probably say that they were only roommates. Have I also mentioned that this film was released during Pride month? I’m not saying this slight is homophobic, but it definitely isn’t the actions of a true ally.

Photo credit: Disney

To make matters worse, Casarosa has gone out of his way to make sure anyone who sees any comparisons to Call Me By Your Name or any queer themes, knows it is purely coincidental and not done on purpose. As a queer person, I, unfortunately, can’t live in subtext. Disney and Pixar were once known for pushing the emotional envelope, but their complacency makes them complicit in one of the worst offenses a faux-progressive company could be guilty of: Not taking the easy win. Every element was already in place to make Luca standout as a beacon of representation, especially for a younger audience who needs to be reassured that their sexuality is just a part of who they are. All the studio had to do was not hide behind another boring allegory, and prove their commitment to inclusion and representation. With how low the bar was set, alongside the story’s natural potential, somehow a deliberate choice was made to steer the ship out of queer waters. Happy Pride, I guess.

“Luca” in theaters and on Disney+ June 18th. Featuring Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Maya Rudolph, Marco Barricelli, Jim Gaffigan, Sacha Baron Cohen, Sandy Martinand, and Giacomo Gianniotti. Directed by Enrico Casarosa. Written by Enrico Casarosa, Jesse Andrews, and Mike Jones . Rated “PG

Jon Espino, film and video game critic, HollywoodChicago.com

Film & Television Show Critic

© 2021 Jon Espino, HollywoodChicago.com

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