Pixar films are often very personal for the creators. Andrew Stanton’s feelings of becoming an overprotective parent inspired Finding Nemo, Dan Scanlon’s feelings about not having memories of his father transformed into Onward, and Pete Docter observing his daughter transitioning from a goofy kid into an angsty teen started the creative juices flowing that led to Inside Out. With Pixar Animation Studios’ next film debuting on Disney+ this June, getting an early look at Luca also included hearing about why this film is so personal to director Enrico Casarosa.
Luca tells the story of two boys with drastically different personalities: The shy Luca who plays by the rules in spite of his big dreams and the fearless Alberto who doesn’t take no for an answer. Together, they’re about to have the most incredible summer in Portorosso where they will live out their fantasies of soaring to freedom on a vespa scooter. The only problem is, they’re both secretly sea monsters and if anyone finds out, their lives are in danger!
Born in the 1970’s in Genova, Italy, Enrico Casarosa’s real-life childhood in the 1980’s directly inspired the story. Enrico was a bit like Luca while his friend, the real Alberto, was a lot like the character audiences will meet in the film. “My best friend Alberto was a bit of a troublemaker,” the director explained during an early press preview of the film. “I was very timid, I had a bit of a sheltered life until I met him. I met him around age 12 and he was wild and free to do what he wanted, his family wasn’t really supervising him. We couldn’t be more different and that is really the kind of friendship where opposites attract.”
The fantasy twist that doesn’t apply to Enrico’s childhood is that he’s presumably not a secret sea monster, but that element of the story does have a source of inspiration from real life. “We’re also a little bit of losers and outsiders, so it also felt right, the idea of being sea monsters as the way that we felt a little bit different and not cool as kids,” he shared. “So Alberto got me out of my comfort zone and pushed me off many cliffs, metaphorically… In fact, I might not be standing here if I hadn’t learned to chase my dreams from him. So that is the kind of friendship I wanted to talk about, those kinds of deep friendships, important friendships that make us grow up, change us, that make us find ourselves. That is at the heart of Luca.”
Based on the teaser trailer released, some fans began projecting more of a romantic relationship between Luca and Alberto. “I was really keen to talk about a friendship before girlfriends and boyfriends come in to complicate things,” Enrico revealed when asked to clarify the friendship between the two boys. “We really said, ‘Well, this is that moment before those things come in to complicate the picture.’ So, that was really never our plan and this was about their friendship in that pre-puberty world.”
As for the real Alberto, he’s aware that Enrico Casarosa’s new film is based on their friendship, but the director has kept him in the dark on a lot of the plot while also having conversations about their past that helped inform where the story should go. One anecdote he shared was that Alberto had a pet python that he would bring to school, but only as an adult did Enrico learn that Alberto was actually afraid of it, convincing his sister to feed it for him. “He's a wonderful, passionate human being,” Enrico added. “He went into a career in the Italian air force. He's a fighter pilot and he's a colonel, so he's actually had a very successful career.” But when the real Alberto watches the movie, he won’t see this version of himself exactly the way he was. “They're not exactly the same person, but we definitely got a lot of inspiration from him.”
Nearby Enrico’s hometown of Genova was Cinque Terre along the Ligurian Riviera. The five villages that make up this area (Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore) were a favorite summer retreat along the coast where the water, music and food stand out in the director’s memory. These places served as part of the real inspiration for Portorosso, in addition to the sea monster idea in the film. “All these towns have wonderful legends and when I was a kid, I loved these old maps with sea monsters on them.” Enrico shared that most of the legends were really devised by fishermen to scare people away from their favorite spots, but as a child, Enrico’s imagination took off and he wondered if there couldn’t be sea monsters hiding along the Riviera in plain sight.
In addition to the fantastical sea monster element, another big change from Enrico’s upbringing is that Luca takes place in the mid-century rather than the 1980’s. “Part of it is just my love of that golden era of film and cinema in Italy,” the director revealed about wanting to pay homage to an era of film that inspired him to become a filmmaker. “I love the music in all these coming-of-age stories of summer, music is a huge, huge part of a movie. So I just love the music of the 50s and 60s in Italy, so we're using a lot of that. And then the design, the old Vespas, the old, little carts-bicycle, I just love the sense that this has an old feel. So, we really, were inspired by so many of these little details.”
Some of the Easter Eggs in the film will include homages to some of the classic Italian films and filmmakers that are favorites of Enrico Casarosa, including Divorce Italian Style. But ultimately, what he wanted from the film was a timeless feel and even though it’s set in a specific time period, it evokes a nostalgia that hopefully feels eternal to viewers. “It really was an aesthetic, beauty, and a musical choice, and then a timelessness… To me, when you go to an older era, it can feel a little more timeless, and a little less specific too, just because it's a little bit more removed for us.”
On June 18th, Disney+ subscribers can meet Luca, Alberto and the entire cast of characters from Portorosso and the sea. Voice actors include Jacob Tremblay as Luca Paguro, Jack Dylan Grazer as Alberto Scorfano, Emma Berman as Giulia Marcovaldo, Saverio Raimondo as Ercole Visconti, Maya Rudolph as Daniela, Marco Barricelli as Massimo, Jim Gaffigan as Lorenzo, and Sandy Martin as Luca’s grandma.
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).