[Interview] How Classic Italian Cinema Informed Disney-Pixar’s ‘LUCA’


Courtney Howard // Film Critic

Disney-Pixar’s LUCA is a bright, beautiful animated feature about shy teen seamonster Luca (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) who befriends gregarious, brave teen seamonster Alberto (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer) one magical, life-altering summer. The two newfound best friends defy the rules of their water-logged world and explore their local hamlet transformed into humans. But their secret is constantly under threat from the small-minded villagers who don’t care for their kind.

Inspired by director Enrico Casarosa’s own life and friendship with his childhood best friend, the story is set on the Italian Riveria in the mid 1950’s and 1960’s when the country was bursting with artistic design and imaginative ingenuity. These influences impacted Casarosa and his creative team on a fundamental level, helping to inform the aesthetics without feeling beholden to a specific year.

“I feel that, in this idiosyncratic way, when you make something very specific and timely it can be timeless. It was, first of all, a period that I love. Part of it is just my love of that golden era of film and cinema in Italy. And then the design, the old Vespas, the old, little carts-bicycle, I just love the sense that this has an old feel.”

Music will also play a role during Luca and Alberto’s adventures together.

“I love the music in all these coming-of-age stories of summer. Music is a huge, huge part of a movie. I love the music of the 50’s and 60’s in Italy, so we’re using a lot of that.”

Through the use of these well-regarded pop culture happenings in music, art and movies, Casarosa knew how to make this era inform his story without assigning it an exact year.

“We were inspired by so many of these little details. To me, what makes it interesting…if we put a cell phone there, how is it different? I just think that there’s a little bit of a timelessness and a nostalgia to it. Those were the things that we really chased as far as the period. And I’m making it feel a little less specific, but also specific, which is an idiosyncratic thing there.”

LA STRADA (1954) and ROMAN HOLIDAY (1953) posters hang on the seaside village’s walls. At first glance, one would think there’s a thematic through-line traced from both of those films to LUCA whilst hinting at their narrative similarities. However, that’s only part of the connection. Casarosa continues,

“There’s Visconti’s LA TERRA TREMA. It’s about a fisherman going out at sea and it’s wonderful. Visconti used non-actors, so we looked at the clothing, it’s post-war so some of it was beautiful reference for us to just figure out what is a working-class fishing town like. It’s in black and white, so you have to extrapolate a little bit. We just wanted to share with the crew the love of Italian cinema and we wanted to make homages – one is to DIVORCE, ITALIAN STYLE – we even hid little signs around town. The beautiful opportunity we had, designing the signs with their beautiful homages to all our favorite filmmakers, writers, and things like that.

While those films may not bear an exact resemblance to LUCA’s plot, they did provide as much creative innovation as those films did in those time periods. Casarosa clarifies futher,

“It’s a little less specific plot wise, but more like reference for the period, and just an amazing era of Italian cinema that ended up actually inspiring a lot of American and American-Italian filmmakers, for so many years.”

 will stream exclusively on Disney+ (at no extra charge) starting June 18th.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.