In many ways Luca is a very personal story for director Enrico Casarosa.
It is inspired by his childhood growing up in Genoa, Italy, where he spent his summers on beaches and immersed in the crystal clear waters of the sea.
One of the main characters, Alberto, is even based on his childhood best friend, Alberto Surace, who makes a vocal cameo in the Italian version of the film.
So it’s no wonder that Luca has an almost childlike quality, almost like an homage to old Walt Disney films The little mermaidand especially films by Studio Ghibli’s maestro Hayao Miyazaki, which Casarosa admits was a huge influence on him and the film.
(Read our review on Luca: Charm in the sun with the latest from Pixar here)
âI love stories that have a child’s point of view. What Miyazaki does with his films is wonderful – he just puts you in the children’s world, âhe said recently during a video call from San Francisco.
âI’ve always loved that. It’s so magical and unique, and the story is a little smaller. That was something that really interested me.
“Miyazaki also creates this wonderful miracle in nature, and I really wanted to capture that, where we can shine a light with the beautiful waves and the wind in the leaves and have a little moment of poetry.”
Luca tells the story of a shy little sea monster named Luca (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) who longs to come to the surface and explore the human world.
He later befriends the older and more adventurous Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer) and thanks to the practical ability to take on human forms when they dry out, the friends decide to pay a visit to Portorosso.
There they come into conflict with the city cop Ercole (Saverio Raimondo) and are saved by the spirited Giulia (Emma Berman), with whom they quickly become friends.
While Casarosa wanted to portray the culture of Italy as authentically as possible, he was also aware of the danger of falling into stereotypes and caricatures.
According to him, there was endless discussion about the way the culture was portrayed.
One of the themes was the hand gestures Italians make when they speak, including the endlessly meme-ized where the fingers are pinched together in a “pine cone gesture”.
âIt’s stereotypical, but we use it when we’re trying to say, ‘What are you saying? I don’t understand you ‘â, explained Casarosa.
âSo it was important that we use it sparingly and use many other specific gestures that we had.
âWe had an entire gesture symposium on a Zoom call with over 30 people doing all kinds of gestures.
“And we also learned what not to use because obviously there are some gestures that are not really good!”
Working on the film with so much sun, sea and nature during a pandemic where you could not go outdoors was a challenge, especially for Casarosa, who sorely missed his home.
âBefore the pandemic, we were able to send one of our teams there and I couldn’t go because we were so busy working on the story.
“They sent back all of these videos from the water and I was so desperate to dive in there!” he says with a laugh, “I missed the water. I am a little fish – every summer I spent all the summers of my youth in this water!”
Still, working on the film was a wonderful silver lining for Enrico and his team at a difficult time
âWe had a lot of challenges, but it also brought us some light. We were in Italy together every day while we were working on the film. I hope that with this film we can give a little sunshine to everyone in the world who has been in my life. “
Luca is available at Disney + Hotstar.