[Interview] How Personal Detailing Informs Disney-Pixar’s ‘LUCA’

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Courtney Howard // Film Critic

Disney-Pixar’s LUCA captures a fantastical, beautiful Italian coastal seascape whereabouts its colorful characters can play. The inspired feature is centered on the titular shy teen sea monster Luca (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) who befriends gregarious, brave teen sea monster Alberto (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer) one magical, life-altering summer. The pair venture out of the ocean and into the seaside village where they face quite a few obstacles while learning to conquer their fears.

At the film’s recent virtual press day, director Enrico Casarosa shared that the biggest creative challenge they faced was imagining the pushed qualities behind the artistic designs.

“We really wanted to look for something that was more controllable and designable. The tools of the trade are getting better and better at capturing realism. We wanted to work on stylization and beautiful shades and lyricism. That’s the bit where we pushed the tools to do something a that they don’t necessarily want to do.”

Casarosa also wanted to make sure they didn’t go too broad, reigning in some of the textural elements.

“For me, it was a lot about just trying to make a beautiful shape and a little…when is less more? Sometimes a lot gets thrown at us in detail, and I was really just trying to make it rich, but also trying to make it designed and beautiful. So much of this movie is about a kid experiencing things for the first time and I wanted a sense of the light and wonder to really be part of this movie, in all its details, because it’s really someone who’s in love with discovering the world.”

In order to do this, the filmmakers focused on how the oceanic setting informs the characters, their conflicts and internal motivations. He continued,

“We looked at the water and the other side of its emotion. We always think about emotion. ‘How does this support an emotional moment?’ We have wonderful, wonderful stuff in moments of the movie where the emotion comes out, where the water supports it. Where the waves support it. Where the weather supports it. We have more control, and we were able to really try something a little bit different, that looks a little different. To feel the most emotion and have it a little less realistic and more stylized.”

Casarosa pulled inspiration from his friendship with his childhood best friend, who’s also named Alberto. He said he was worried that, through their conversations spent reminiscing, he would reveal too much about his plans for the character.

“Having a lot of conversations about our friendship have helped the movie immensely. It actually influenced what the movie was talking about. He had a family that wasn’t there for him, and I had a family that was a little bit too much there for me. I was timid and kinda shy and he was following a passion every week. It felt like it was really about being willing to scrape a knee and being out there and taking some chances was his thing. He was very much about embracing his fears.”

In Disney and Pixar’s “Luca,” a sea monster and his newfound best friend venture beyond the water where they look like regular boys, experiencing an unforgettable summer filled with gelato, pasta and endless scooter rides. © 2021 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

LUCA was heavily influenced by many 2D animation films from Miyazaki and others. However, Casarosa never thought about using that stylistic format. He always imagined it being in 3D.

“At Pixar, we have amazing tools, and we have amazing technology with art. I always felt there was a way to make something even more special by the meeting of the two things – and that is also more immersive. I did not want to lose immersiveness. There’s something about the 3D world that I find a little bit more transportive. That is the plus of Pixar’s amazing tools takes me there. I love 2D, but it’s because of Pixar, but it’s also because I think we can make something even more special.”

Metaphors and allusions to our real world also hold water here. Producer Andrea Warren explained,

“We liked the idea always that the metaphor of being a sea monster can apply to so many different things. There is a theme of openness and showing oneself and self-acceptance as well as community-acceptance – confronting, the idea that there’s more to sea monsters than they realize. You know that they’ve only seen it through one perspective, one lens, and so I think that that’s a wonderful theme in the film, which is that those ideas weren’t right and that there’s more to learn. I do find that a really useful and hopefully helpful metaphor for all the things that are going on.”

Casarosa agreed.

“We hope that sea monster could be a metaphor for all sorts of feeling different – like being a teen or pre-teen. That moment where you feel odd. There are all sorts of ways of feeling different. It felt like a wonderful way to talk about that and having to accept ourselves first, whatever way we feel different.”

Vespas play an integral narrative function with Alberto and Luca not only attempting to build one themselves, but win a real shiny one in a yearly race.

“There is something [about] an old Vespa [that’s] just so beautiful. I just always loved them—the designs were just stunning. There was something so beautiful about what they made here. There was something that felt kid-like, a little bit, preposterous – a sense of freedom that felt right their escape and freedom and sharing it all. It’s perfectly made for two people, so it represented their friendship as well.”

He went on to explain further,

“They’re trying to make their own and they’re just trying to make these, we called them janky Vespas. Even the one that they love, it’s a little bit dodgy and beat up. I love the fact that they still love it even though it’s all rusty. But yeah, freedom, friendship. They feel like they could run away forever on a Vespa.”

Warren said she too also embraced the thematic connection with them.

“It really shows that childlike thinking, that they are kids and their notion of seeing the world is something you could do that on Vespa. I feel like it captures that spirit of imagination, and not really understanding things.”

LUCA 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.