Luca Director Enrico Casarosa Talks Embracing The Weird

A version of this story about “Luca” first appeared in the special animation section of the awards preview issue of awards magazine TheWrap.

Pixar’s “Luca” is charming and understated. It’s the story of a pair of sea monsters, Luca (Jacob Tremblay) and Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), who transform into humans when they crawl out of the water. They visit a nearby human village, make new friends and dream of owning a Vespa. That’s really it. But its simplicity, especially for a Pixar movie, coupled with a striking art style, feels downright groundbreaking.

Unsurprisingly, it took a long time to polish such a stripped-back style, according to director Enrico Casarosa. Casarosa, who directed the charming Pixar short “La Luna” in 2011 and has become a mainstay of the so-called Pixar braintrust that looms over every new production, began shaping a vague idea for “Luca” in 2016. The version initial, he said, was for a return to Italy.

“It was a bit about my daughter and me and her being half Italian, and the issue of immigration – wanting to fit in, maybe forgetting a bit where your roots are from,” said Casarosa said. “And the new generation is sometimes more interested in that part of that identity.”

As the story evolved, the emphasis shifted from a parental relationship to a friendship (and the sea monsters entered as well). “It became a whole different personal story,” Casarosa said. “Not about my daughter and me, but about my best friend and me.” (And, yes, his best friend was also called Alberto.)

An earlier version of “Luca” did not end with a bicycle race, but with a giant Kraken destroying most of the city of Portorosso. “When we tried them, the story that we all cared about was the relationship,” he said. “He wanted to be smaller.” Casarosa admitted that he always gets notes asking if he can enlarge it. His answer ? “Remember, we want an intimate film.”

The film’s shaping process became easier when, during production, former Pixar bigwig John Lasseter left the studio and was replaced by Pete Docter, the soft-spoken filmmaker behind “Inside Out” and “Soul”. “(Lasseter) had great instincts but it was a bit more dogmatic,” Casarosa said. “You would feel like I have to.” Casarosa found himself more “honest” with Docter and in turn felt more supported. “Pete embraced my vibe,” he said.

Docter was also instrumental in allowing Casarosa to experience the film’s handcrafted, almost stop-motion style, inspired by Aardman’s films and the work of Hayao Miyazaki. “It was a bit 2D inspired, but still immersive,” he said. “I didn’t want it to interfere with the story or the moment.”

Read more about the rewards preview issue here.

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Photo by Matt Sayles for TheWrap

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