Every new Pixar property brings something fresh to the animation giant’s celebrated canon. With the studio’s 24th release, Luca (watch the new trailer above), director Enrico Casarosa tells Yahoo Entertainment it’s the studio’s first summer coming-of-age tale.
“It’s a story with kids where we stay in the world of kids,” says Casarosa, who directed the studio’s Oscar-nominated short La Luna (2011) and served in the art department on Pixar’s Ratatouille (2007), Up (2009) and Coco (2017). “At the heart of this story is young friendship, and having three leading kids feels relatively new.”
Luna, which arrives this June, follows the adventures of the titular preteen (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) and his friend Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer of Shazam!) — who are secretly young sea monsters hiding in plain sight as humans in a seaside town on the Italian Riviera — along with the precocious (actual) human girl Giulia (Emma Berman). The voice cast also includes comedic actors Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan as Luca’s parents and Italian theater actor Marco Barricelli as Giulia’s father.
“He’s a very timid kid, but he just wants to go out and see Italy,” Tremblay, the prolific 14-year-old Canadian actor who has appeared in films like Room, Wonder, Good Boys and Doctor Sleep, says of his character. “But he can’t because he’s a sea monster. He’s very adventurous, but he’s scared at the same time.”
The film, which marks Casarosa’s feature-film directing debut, was conceived from the Italy native’s own childhood and written by Jesse Andrews and Mike Jones,. “The inspiration is my best friend and I, and our friendship. We met when we were around 11 or 12. I was shy, timid, a little sheltered. He was free to get in trouble, to run around, and it really kind of opened my world. … And those endless summers really can just encapsulate a friendship.”
The fantastical elements, meanwhile, were drawn from “looking at old maps and listening to old legends of the area. That’s where the sea monster side came from.”
Like in countless other stories set overseas, Tremblay’s titular Italian hero will have an American English accent, but that wasn’t always the plan. “I was originally going to have to do an Italian accent but they changed it because I don’t think I’m very good at it,” the young performer admits.
For his cinematic reference points, Casarosa cites an eclectic, globe-spanning group of influences. The filmmaker has been a huge fan of Hayao Miyazaki (My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away) since getting hooked as a boy on the famed Japanese director’s early television series Future Boy Conan. “Through the years there’s been so much passion that I’ve found looking at his work,” Casarosa says. He idolizes his late countryman Federico Fellini (8½, La Strada); Casarosa says he also went back and re-watched several other Italian classics like 1948’s La Terra Trema and 1950’s Stromboli in prepping for Luca.
And the filmmaker also drew inspiration from a certain American classic: Rob Reiner’s 1986 drama Stand by Me. “It’s one of those iconic movies that talks about friendship,” he says. “It was fun to get a little bit from all around the world.”
One film that did not inspire Luca, however, was the Oscar-nominated 2017 sensation Call Me by Your Name.
Following the announcement of Luca’s release last July, which was accompanied only by a photo and brief synopsis (“the film will introduce a boy named Luca as he experiences an unforgettable summer in a seaside town on the Italian Riviera”), many a social media user pointed out the parallels to Luca Guadagnino’s coming-of-age/coming-out drama, which centered around a 17-year-old American (Timothée Chalamet) finding romance with an older man (Armie Hammer) in the picturesque Italian countryside.
Turns out, it was pure coincidence.
“I love Luca’s movies and he’s such a talent but it truly goes without saying that we really willfully went for a pre-pubescent story,” Casarosa laughs. “This is all about platonic friendships.”
Therefore, it is not, to clear the record, Call Me by Your Name: the prequel.
Luca opens in theaters June 18.
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