Enrico Casarosa says his film is about friendship, not romantic relationships.

By Nick Romano
April 28, 2021 at 10:00 AM EDT
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Maybe it was all the imagery of the Italian countryside, or the story about two boys frolicking one summer by the waters of Genoa, but when Pixar unveiled its new film as Luca, from La Luna director Enrico Casarosa, people got some serious Call Me by Your Name vibes. Whatever the reasoning behind this comparison, Casarosa insists the movie is not about that.

During a virtual press conference with Casarosa and producer Andrea Warren, a reporter asked the filmmakers about this early response to previews of Luca.

"I was really keen to talk about a friendship before girlfriends and boyfriends come in to complicate things," Casarosa says. "Even narratively, once Julia [a female character voiced by Emma Berman] comes into the picture and we looked at the structure of it, sometimes the story would pull you toward some puppy love or romance. To be completely honest, I really wanted to talk about friendship."

Luca
Jacob Tremblay's Luca and Jack Dylan Grazer's Alberto in Pixar's 'Luca'
| Credit: Pixar

Luca tells the story of a young sea creature of the same name (Jacob Tremblay), who becomes friends with a fellow ocean-dweller named Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer). Alberto breaks the shy Luca out of his shell by taking him to the surface. Once on dry land, they transform into human forms and decide to enjoy their summer by infiltrating a local seaport town to find their own moped.

Critics and Pixar enthusiasts alike began making comparisons between Luca and Call Me by Your Name. Maybe the Luca character reminded everyone of Call Me by Your Name director Luca Guadagnino. Maybe it was projection. There was something about the concept and the mood of the film from those early images and then the trailer that connected with people in this way.

Word of Luca also came after the animation studio received praise and attention for spotlighting an LGBTQ story in the short film Out, stirring up anticipation for when such visibility might be coming to the big screen in a feature-length movie.

"That was really never in our plans," Casarosa reiterates of the direction for Luca. "This was really about their friendship in that kind of pre-puberty world."

The story of Luca comes from Casarosa's own story about his relationship with a childhood best friend named Alberto and their adventures palling around Genoa in the summer in the 1980s. He described Alberto as being "this bit of a troublemaker," while he was "always very timid" at the time.

"He had a family who was a little bit not there for him, and I had a family who was a little bit too much there for me," he says. "I was timid and kinda shy, and he was following a passion every week. I would just run around the old town in Genoa, which is kinda dicey. We would just take some chances."

Casarosa remembers a time when Alberto brought a pet python to school to show his classmates. It was only years later when they reminisced about that moment that the filmmaker realized Alberto was actually terrified of the snake. "His little sister was feeding it. He didn't want to," he recalls. "That was his way of trying to fight one of his fears."

The director's conversations with Alberto, who is now a fighter pilot and colonel in the Italian Air Force, "helped immensely" to shape the film and what the story would ultimately be about, Casarosa says. "How was our friendship? What was it? Why was it so helpful for us?"

Luca
Jack Dylan Grazer's Alberto and Jacob Tremblay's Luca in Pixar's 'Luca'
| Credit: Pixar

The sea creature element arose from Casarosa's childhood interest in the illustrated monsters populating old maps of the sea. The Carta Marina, one of earliest cartographic renditions of the Scandinavian peninsula, was one of them.

"All of these towns [in Italy's Cinque Terre] live so close to the sea, and there are so many fun tales of 'Don't go to that stop! It's infested with a sea dragon,'" he says. "You find out later it'd be tall tales to protect their favorite fishing spot."

So, no, this film doesn't sound like it's going to be Pixar's first film centered on LGBTQ characters. But the studio is reportedly searching for an actor to voice a 14-year-old trans girl for an upcoming animated project, so maybe it's not as far off as we might think.

Luca will premiere June 18 exclusively on Disney+.

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