Steeped in the Italian culture and basking in their beautiful seaside countryside, Pixar rolls out another animated feature film winner that, surprisingly, is NOT in theaters (except Disney’s El Capitan in Hollywood). You can only see this affectionate and heart-warming coming-of-age film on Disney+.
For both kids and adults, Pixar (with Disney as their backers) gives us a simple, paint-by-the-numbers story, yet this one has such a strong message of friendship, bonding, and learning to accept one another, whatever they look like or whatever they are. In the sleepy Italian fishing village of Portorosso, there are fanciful tales of sea monsters in the waters. And why not, they happen to be true! Right off the coast is a small community of them (all Italian, of course!) living under the sea and fearing the spear-carrying humans above. But pre-teen Luca Paguro (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) is more than curious about them, especially after meeting wild ‘n’ crazy tween, Alberto Scorfano (Jack Dylan Grazer) who lives alone on a small island.
These two become instant friends after Alberto shows Luca the ropes about being a human (sea monsters instantly transform into human form after a few seconds out of the water!) and the pair soon become obsessed over getting a Vespa scooter and traveling the world together. Braggart and know-it-all Alberto takes the innocent Luca into Portorosso and there they discover more people, including the town’s resident serial dick, Ercole Visconti (Saverio Raimondo), a preppie bully who rides a Vespa and boasts of winning the yearly Portorosso Cup Race. Luckily, the boys run into excitable pre-teen Giulia Marcovaldo (Emma Berman), a fiery red-haired tomboy who yearns to wins the Cup and ‘destroy’ Ercole in the process. Teaming up with Alberto & Luca, they train for the swimming, eating, and bicycling triathlon.
Meanwhile, Luca’s sea monster parents, Daniela & Lorenzo (Maya Rudolph & Jim Gaffigan) leave the safety of the sea and venture into town looking for their son, disguised as regular folk. As the Cup Race draws nearer, another green-eyed monster rears its ugly head: jealousy! Giulia and Luca become very chummy, much to the ire of Alberto, who used to be BFF’s with Luca. The third act is the ol’ tried & true, ‘characters break-up only to reconcile in the last act’ trope, only here it’s delivered with a nice one-two punch to the heart. I saw it coming a mile away and I still enjoyed it, nonetheless. That’s good writing.
Speaking of which, Jesse Andrews (Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl) and Mike Jones (Soul) wrote the beautifully simple screenplay, based on Jones’ childhood experiences and the friendships he made. This 50’s throw-back story is so likable, so free of adult themes, it could have been a Little Rascals or Our Gang adventure. The kids behave like kids, not little adults, like they do in many other animated feature films. The adults here, like Giulia’s gruff father, Massimo (Marco Barricelli), are kind and mean well. It’s about as wholesome as you can find, with the central theme being loyalty, friendship, tolerance and, instead of “Hakuna Matata” being the newest catch-phrase, we have “Silencio, Bruno!”
The bond of friendship is SO strong between Alberto & Luca (the finale at the train station will break you), that the LGBTQ+ community has jumped on the film, citing that the boy’s love for each other is akin to the two Italian boys from Call Me By Your Name. Director Enrico Casarosa (his feature debut, btw) says that’s all a coincidence. “We went for a pre-pubescent story. . . all about platonic friendships.” Still, you can’t deny the undeniable chemistry between them, matched with the drop-dead gorgeous CGI, the pastel colors, the Italian mannerisms & slang terms (something I know all too well!!), and the inescapable fun that permeates throughout this movie, makes this a must-see!
**Now streaming exclusively on Disney+ and showing at Disney’s El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood
In what has to be the motion picture that started the whole mermaid craze, Splash single-handedly launched the careers of Tom Hanks, John Candy, and Daryl Hannah. And it was written by the fantastic team of Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandell, to boot!
Do you believe in mermaids? Alan Bauer does. When he was eight-years-old, a little mermaid saved his life when he fell overboard in Cape Cod. Now 28, Alan (Hanks) is an NYC resident and sells produce along with his freeloading, womanizing brother, Freddie (Candy). Life is good for Alan, but something’s missing. . . and that something is a woman in his life. To clear his head, he returns to Cape Cod, where he encounters the eccentric, crazy scientist Dr. Walter Kornbluth (Eugene Levy), who is convinced that mermaids are real!
Well, lightning strikes twice and Alan gets bonked on the head, nearly drowns, and is saved again by the same mermaid (Hannah) that rescued him as a child. Just like in The Little Mermaid, this half-human, half-fish falls for Alan, but retreats back into the ocean when he wakes up on the beach. Alan only sees a naked woman running away, but is smitten at once. Ah, l’moure! Back in NYC, Alan is stunned when he’s told by police that a naked girl showed up at the Statue of Liberty with his wallet looking for him. Taking her home, he calls her Madison and introduces her to the Big Apple and credit cards. Madison learns to speak English by watching TV and Alan couldn’t be happier. He’s in love at last!
BUT!! That nutty Dr. Kornbluth, convinced that Madison is a mermaid, stops at nothing to prove it and eventually does by splashing her with water, thus turning her legs into a giant flipper! Alan is angered, confused, and disillusioned at his girlfriend “being a fish”, so he rejects her in act two so he can accept and go after her in act three. The ending, although ambiguous, is straight out of The Little Mermaid animated movie. Screenwriters Ganz, Mandel, and Bruce Jay Friedman (The Lonely Guy) came up with a winning script, although that wasn’t anything new. Ganz & Mandel were prolific in writing top box office movies like City Slickers, Parenthood, and A League of Their Own.
Add their writing talents with Ron Howard’s (Cocoon, Willow, Apollo 13) strong direction and a top-notch cast, and you have a hilarious movie that not only made major bank at the box office, but won many awards, got on AFI’s Top 100 List, started a whole mermaid craze AND the name “Madison” for girls (like my niece!). It also spawned a dreadful 1988 direct-to-video sequel cash-grab called Splash Too, which sucked hard. Stick with this original and watch the genius comedy of Hanks & Candy at their best. Their scenes together are pure magic.