Pixar dropped the teaser trailer for “Luca” (June 18 on Disney+), the directorial feature debut of Enrico Casarosa (the Oscar-nominated “La Luna” short). It’s about an unforgettable summer on the Italian Riviera between the titular 13-year-old protagonist (voiced by “Wonder” star Jacob Tremblay) and his best friend, Alberto (voiced by “Shazam’s” Jack Dylan Grazer). They are sea monsters who become human on land, where they share scooter rides, swimming, pasta, and Gelato, while hiding their secret.
Andrea Warren (“Lava,” “Cars 3”) produces and the voice cast also includes Maya Rudolph (as Luca’s mother, Daniela); Emma Berman (as Luca’s friend, Giulia); Marco Barricelli (as Giulia’s father, Massimo); and Jim Gaffigan (as Luca’s dad, Lorenzo).
“Luca” continues Casarosa’s semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age saga that began with “La Luna” (also set in his seaside town before setting off on a lunar adventure). Like the short, “Luca” contains a colorful, handmade aesthetic. “I thought back to very important relationships in my life,” Casarosa told IndieWire. “‘La Luna’ was all about growing up with my dad and my grandfather, and ‘Luca’ was about my best friend, Alberto. I was very shy and timid and sheltered by my family, and I met [Alberto], who was very free, his family wasn’t around a whole lot, and he was able to chase around and get into trouble.
“It got me out of my comfort zone,” Casarosa said, “and I love how these friendships challenge us and help find us out who we are, even to the point of changing each other. And the fun part was growing up on the Riviera and having amazing summers in this coastal town.”
“[Enrico] definitely put a lot of feeling and visual memories into this,” added Tremblay. “I’m hoping that it will bring back a lot of good memories from people’s childhood when they remember having great times with their friends.”
Similar to “La Luna,” Casarosa also added a fantastical element with Alberto literally being a fish out of water, drawn from the region’s mythology. “A lot of these old towns have interesting little legends about sea dragons, creatures that either come to help or get into trouble,” added the storyboard artist-turned director. “And I loved the drawings of these old creatures in the maps.”
Plus, Casarosa tapped into a theme of diversity and inclusion that’s becoming more prevalent at Pixar with Pete Docter (“Soul”) serving as chief creative officer. “The other side of being a kid is that you always feel like you’re the outsider,” he continued. “Me and my friend felt like such losers when would hang out. And I love how the sea monster is a wonderful metaphor for feeling different.”
Aesthetically, Casarosa expanded on the 2D look of “La Luna,” with a vibrant depiction of the coastal fishing village that resembles an illustrated book. And the characters are reminiscent of stop-motion. “We tried to bring some warmth to the computer animation,” he said, “so we really worked hard to make it more stylized and bring textures that are handmade.” The slow, extended leap into the sea, which discloses the big sea monster reveal, offers the kind of hard poses associated with 2D cartoons.
“We talked a lot about limited animation, and I showed them one of the cartoons that I grew up with: Miyazaki’s ‘Future Boy Conan,’ [the sci-fi anime series from ’78],” added Casarosa. “It has snappy poses that show the playfulness of youth.”
And the quirkiness of “Luca” was encouraged by Docter, who advised him not to soften the edges, to keep it weird. “I worked with Pete on ‘Up’ and I found that he’s the perfect kind of mentor,” Casarosa said. “He’s a little bit more of an introvert like me. As an animator and director, there’s so much to learn from him, and he’s really fostered our voices and what’s unique about choices. And I’m not the only one at Pixar who’s benefiting from him.”