ET has an exclusive interview with director Enrico Casarosa.
Something fishy is going on in Pixar's new coming-of-age story, Luca. The movie follows best friends Luca (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) and Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer) as they have the summer of their lives on the Italian Riviera: Endless gelato, nonstop scooter rides and one big, huge secret that's revealed in the first teaser trailer.
"We can go anywhere! Do anything! We just gotta stick together," Luca says. "This is gonna be the best summer ever. We'll see the whole world together. But there's just one thing no one can find out."
What no one can find out is that Luca and Alberto are actually teenage sea monsters. Unfortunately for the two curious creatures, the local land lubber community has a deep-seated hatred for sea monsters. Luca's voice cast also includes Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan as Luca's parents and newcomer Emma Berman as Luca and Alberto's adventurous new friend, Giulia.
Watch the teaser below and read on for ET's exclusive deep dive into the making of Luca with director Enrico Casarosa.
ET: What was the journey from La Luna [Pixar's Oscar-nominated 2011 short film] to making your feature debut with Luca?
Enrico Casarosa: It's a wonderful journey. You make a short. You go to the Oscars, you come back, and you have a little bit of the blues after the big night. We didn't win. [Laughs] And then you go back to work. I was in development for a few years. I was storyboarding. I'm a storyboard artist at heart. So, I went back to both developing stories and pitching them and helping a few other of the projects that were being made. After a while, you pitch and one strikes people's passions, and here we are almost five years later from when I first pitched it.
What was that initial pitch?
At the heart of it was a story of a friendship and wanting to really go back to being kids and the summers of youth and the friendships of youth that helped us find ourselves. I had a best friend who was very different from me. I was sheltered, shy, timid, and he was more of a go-getter, no family around so he had complete freedom. We were so opposite, and I think it really helped us grow up. It definitely got me out of my comfort zone to start testing the waters and being a little braver. I think so many of us have these friendships that are right smack in the middle of when we're just leaving the confines of the family, that really help define our identity. What are you? What are you not?
That was at the heart of it, mixed with this more fantastical idea of sea monsters and setting, which was always important. I had the luck of having that friendship on the Italian Riviera -- I grew up in Genoa -- so me and my best friend, his real name is Alberto, we kept the same name in the movie, we were all over the coast having our summer fun. It's a very special world there. There's only sea and mountains, so these little towns are kind of hanging on for dear life, like strange creatures coming out of the sea. And there's wonderful lore of strange creatures, the mystery of the sea, the fishing culture, that was in the concoction there from the beginning.
Are you still in touch with Alberto? Does he know he's being immortalized in a Pixar movie?
Yeah, we have had conversations -- we're on WhatsApp here and there, chatting and texting -- and, you know, we lose touch, but with great friends, you get back really quick. That's what I love about this, too. And we reminisce, he's helped me reminisce on this a little bit. I've tried to not tell him too much. He keeps on saying, "Hey, you better make me look good." I didn't keep him completely unaware, but I'm trying to hold back and not have him discover too much. But he's definitely excited.
So, the fantastical Pixar twist of having them be sea monsters was always part of the story, but how did that idea come about? And what do the sea monsters represent for you within this story?
I've always been fascinated by old maps, because there were such amazing creatures drawn on them. Weird sightings turned into some very strange drawings. It's the allure of the unknown, right? The mystery and fear mixed with allure. And all these wonderful little towns in my area have strange stories of creatures like that. There's a town close to La Spezia called Tellaro and they have a story of a helping octopus. Someone was kind to it and the next day, it rang the bell to warn them that pirates were coming. Or there's the place you don't go to, a special little gulf, because there's a sea serpent there. The only reason that happened is because it was actually a great spot and fishermen were trying to defend it to not get too much competition. [Laughs] In Genoa, you grew up with the sea right in front of you, so it was great to bring the culture of the sea and the myths of the sea to it.
On the character side, it enabled me to have a fish-out-of-water story. What's the worst possible thing for a curious kid? Being a sea monster. You're going to get in trouble. That felt juicy, and it felt really wonderful to put the audience into a gaze that comes from the outside. I really loved the idea of taking the world to Italy, to a tiny little town through the eyes of someone that is also discovering it.
The animation of this movie is a different style than anything Pixar has done before. What were your goals with the visual look of the film?
Coming from making La Luna, I wanted something a little more illustrative, a little more painterly. There's something about feeling the hand of the artists. I always love to bring some warmth and imperfection to the computer [imagery] so that it's tactile. So, that was a big part, trying to give detail and richness to the world, but also stylizing it in a way that heightens it and really immerses us in a fantastical way. That idea of wanting to have something specific and different turned me to my own heroes, and I come from a love of 2D animation. [Hayao] Miyazaki is a huge hero of mine. I was even able to show him La Luna a few years back. There was nothing I dreamed of more than to have a moment with Miyazaki. I've had the luck to love and study his movies for so many years -- one of his TV series, I was watching in Italy as a teenager -- so we looked at those 2D inspirations in movement. There's a cartooniness that we're looking for. It's a little bit more playful. We wanted to enjoy the playfulness of being kids, and it's been so much fun with the animators, showing them all the cartoons I love. "How is less more?" has also been something we think a lot about. Sometimes too much detail, I think, can be not as interesting as really having a slightly more pared-down, stylized look.
Tell me about casting Jacob. How did you know he was your Luca?
When we met Jacob, he immediately struck me as so earnest, a complete professional, but just innocent and playful. He is a true kid. I think he lives in this world that is probably asking him to grow up really fast, but he's not and I felt this playfulness and innocence was coming through. He struck me as the kid that wants to stay a kid a little more. My daughter is very similar. She's 13 and she's quite happy to stay a kid for now. So, that was important. I wanted an innocence, some earnestness, and he has a natural curiosity, I think. He was so game to play and do a little bit of improv here and there.
After we found Jacob, we found the perfect troublemaker in Jack Dylan Grazer. He's the kind of guy who's going to drag you into some kind of trouble. It's been such a pleasure with him. He's also super, super funny, super confident and super willing to try improvising. He was so game. He was so good at that. And again, I totally buy that he's going to probably lie through his teeth, but also [show] some vulnerability. Because there is a backstory to our troublemaker, to understand his family situation a bit. These two guys have been so much fun. I'm so, so sad that we couldn't quite get them together with the pandemic. We were pretty much recording Jack Dylan Grazer from his mom's closet for the last year. We keep on laughing, because sometimes we would have to tell him, "Can you not hang on there, because I can hear your mom's skirts dangling."
You've been on the Pixar team for so many of these iconic movies -- Coco, Up, the list goes on and on -- were there any specific lessons you learned from those films that you thought about while directing this?
I've had an amazing time working with Pete Docter, and I feel like there's a lot of lessons I've taken from him. He's a real mentor. First of all, he's a little bit of an introvert -- a little bit like me -- but so creative, and I just love the quirkiness of his movies, the specificity of his movies, being willing to go to strange places and, of course, being willing to really share something personal. He is so good at really just wanting to ask deep questions. And so those are some of the questions that we wanted to make sure to ask, too. What are we saying here? What is it you can share of your life that's worth sharing with the world? That is something that I've really taken to heart.
Luca opens in theaters on June 18.