Pixar’s next film, Luca, will be released this June (right now it looks like Luca will follow the Soul plan and be available to Disney+ subscribers, but as we have learned over the last year everything is fluid). We got an early look at around 30 minutes of the (gorgeous looking) film, which introduces us to Luca, a young teen sea monster (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) who lives off the coast of an Italian fishing community – who is warned by his family of the dangers of ever going on land. Of course, Luca does go on land when he meets another teen sea monster named Alberto. And Luca learns from Alberto that, once on land, their sea monster looks disappear and they look like human teenage boys. So these two new pals hop around town with the idea in their head that if they can land themselves a shiny Vespa to ride around on, they will both have it made. They just have to avoid the townsfolk finding out their secret and have to avoid the wrath of Luca’s family for disobeying their wishes.
Ahead we spoke with Luca director Enrico Casarosa, who previously directed the Pixar short film La Luna, and producer Andrea Warren. They give us an early look at the influences of Luca, many of which come from Casarosa’s own childhood and a plethora of classic films, including Stand By Me. Also, they give us a peek inside how movies get made at Pixar these days. And are pretty clear that things have certainly changed about the kinds of movies Pixar makes since Pete Docter took over those decisions.
With Pixar, I’m always curious about the actual pitching of this movie, and how long you’ve wanted to make this, because you’ve been at Pixar a very long time.
Enrico Casarosa: After making La Luna, I certainly started thinking about “what if.” It was such a fun experience. It certainly made me eager to try my hand at a feature. Usually, there’s always a pitching of a few ideas. “Here’s the kind of stories I’m interested in,” is really what happens.
So you pitched this idea?
Enrico Casarosa: The idea itself has had a few transformations, but there was always something about the place. And there was always some sort of a changeling character at the heart of it. I’ve always been fascinated by stories that are like, is there more than meets the eye? Is that a man just fishing? Or is he going to jump in the water? There’s a whole other world there. Those were the heart of it, of the concept. That’s been a little bit in my head from that time. And then it kind of came together with the friendship, the personal story, as I started developing it. Because then the other thing is this important sense of what’s the heart of the relationship? What do you want to talk about? What are the themes? Friendship came as a strong, hard spine to it, right then as I pitched it. And then, of course, the journey actually happens quite a bit in the first year, you start putting it up and you start seeing what works, and what doesn’t. So the major changes have been in development in the first few screenings that we have in storyboard versions.
So I always have it in my head during the pitch you giving this impassioned speech about your vision and what it means to you. And then the next person just goes, “I don’t know, what if we made another Cars movie?” And then everyone’s like, “Yeah, that will make a lot of money.”
Enrico Casarosa: I think you can give more credit to some of the leadership at Pixar because there is more of a sense of, what is sparking…
I just mean it sounds like it would be hard to get a new idea in when there are so many proven commodities there, if that makes sense.
Enrico Casarosa: But I don’t think you’re going to get as easily excited if you were only making sequels, right?
Oh, I agree.
Enrico Casarosa: You always find the heart of it. If I get excited about a sequel, it’s about the idea. That has happened, and has happened plenty of times. I think we want new voices and I feel that’s important. I think Pete Docter is wonderfully open to fostering us new directors. That’s so cool, and that is different. Like Domee Shi, she’s directing the movie right after us [Turning Red]. It’s very different from ours. And we are very different from Soul. And that is really Pete Docter completely embracing that and fostering it. It’s been really wonderful to see them wanting new things. And the crews are really excited about making new things, so there’s a little lightening in the bottle that you have when you’re trying to do new things within making it.
You mentioned Pete Docter. Was there a noticeable shift when he started making the decisions? Did you feel it? Like, okay, we’re going to be doing some new stuff here?
Enrico Casarosa: There was a shift. In the sense of, a certain openness to solutions. We’ve always had good leadership that had good instincts, but sometimes we might have felt like I need to fix it this way. I think what’s wonderful is that Pete Docter is going to tell you: you have a problem here, you need to find a way to fix it. He’s all very open to the ways you can do it. Sometimes he’s like, “I’m not sure about this,” but maybe you have it. He’s a very open to different points of views, person. There isn’t a whole lot of edicts coming down other than, “let’s make an awesome movie.” He loves quirkiness. I think that’s a little bit of extra power there, that he loves different things. It’s enabling us to really open up a little bit, our style and our stories.
Andrea Warren: I’ve known Pete for years, and Enrico has as well. We’ve both been here a while, as you mentioned. I think Pete stepping in, he has a very clear vision of openness. He’s a very available mentor.
Because from the outside looking in, it does seem like we’re getting a lot of different kinds of stories now.
Andrea Warren: Yeah. And I think you’ll see that. Like you said, and Enrico mentioned: Soul, and there’s our film, and there’s so many behind us and, obviously, even more in development that are trying to embrace a lot of different new filmmakers and new perspectives. And I think it’s very exciting.
Are there other films that inspired Luca?
Enrico Casarosa: There are so many wonderful coming-of-age stories, that focus on friendship. We watch Stand By Me a lot.
That’s surprising. Because that movie has a darker tone to it.
Enrico Casarosa: For sure. Totally. We originally had a slightly larger cast, we had a third kid. But we then decided that we wanted to focus more on Luca and Alberto. I mean, we knew Luca was a protagonist, but we had the funny third wheeler…
I feel bad for the funny third-wheeler. We’re now never going to know.
Enrico Casarosa: Well, he’s in the movie, in a different incarnation. There are just so many amazing coming-of-age movies that I love. I think we watch so many. And then Italian movies. Seeping myself into the Italian fifties Golden Era was a big part of this. Fellini, and De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves. La Terra Trema I mentioned often because it’s very much of the small fishing town with non-actors, so we looked at it very carefully. Beautiful, beautiful, specific design and the true working-class. Those are the inspirations for a lot of what we’ve done. I’m trying to think of any other movies. Of course, I’m a huge Miyazaki fan. Visually speaking, I kind of love it: Think in those terms and this intention also for nature that I love. And I want to portray a kid who was experiencing beautiful nature and a beautiful Italian town for the first time. It gave us this opportunity, for not only imagination, but also wonder and attention.
Luca will be released on June 18th and stream via Disney+. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.