Enrico Casaosa: Luca is my love letter to Italy
Director Enrico Casarosa, along with producer Andrea Warren, talk about how they ideated and executed Pixar's latest outing, Luca
Pixar has been churning out quality animation films, almost one every year, since it began with Toy Story in 1995. This year, they have hedged their bets on Luca that is releasing this Friday on Disney+Hotstar. The film will mark the directorial debut of Enrico Casarosa, who has earlier worked as a storyboard artist in various Pixar films like Ratatouille, Up and Coco. Along with producer Andrea Warren, Casarosa, here, talks about Luca, touted to be a film on friendship, set on a picturesque seaside town on the Italian Riviera.
Pixar has been known for breaking barriers in terms of animation. With Luca’s events centred in and around a river, how hard was it to push boundaries in terms of water animation?
Enrico Casarosa: We wanted to look for something that was more controllable and designable. We wanted to work on stylisation and beautiful shades and lyricism. So much of this movie is about a kid experiencing things for the first time and I wanted a sense of that light and wonder to be part of this movie because it's about someone who's in love with discovering the world.
We looked at the water and asked, “How does this support an emotional moment?” We have wonderful moments where an emotion comes out, where the water, waves and the weather support it. There's a playfulness to it, a lyricism to it that I was after.
Andrea Warren: I think our team really worked hard to make sure that this water felt like it was from the Mediterranean versus the tropical water or other settings. We wanted to make the audience feel like they went to Italy. There's the murk of the water and some of those details that are also a part of the setting.
Is there a reason the film is set in the past?
EC: A part of it is just my love of that golden era of film and cinema in Italy. I also love the music of the 50s and 60s in Italy, so we are using a lot of that. Then, the design, the old Vespas, the old, little bicycle carts… I just love the old feel. We were inspired by so many of these little details. To me, what makes it interesting is the question of how it would be different if we were to throw in a cell phone there… There's a timelessness and nostalgia to that age.
And yet, the film seems to speak of topics that are relevant today.
AW: We liked the metaphor of the sea monster and think it can apply to so many different things. There is a theme of openness, and self-acceptance and community acceptance.
EC: Yeah, I agree. We hope that the sea monster could be a metaphor for people who feel different—like when you are a teen or a pre-teen. It is that moment when you feel odd. There are many ways of feeling different. This felt like a wonderful way to talk about that and having to accept ourselves first.
Enrico, as an Italian yourself, you surely feel a lot of pride in bringing your hometown to the world?
EC: Oh, it's such a pleasure. I was able to include the Ligurian dialect in the film. We are putting little Genoa in. I have so many little details that I'm like, “Ooh, this one is very specific and people in Liguria would probably understand.” It's a wonderful area of the world and I feel it really goes so well with our ethos of authenticity and specificity, in embracing these wonderful details. We want to present this place in an authentic way. I have a lot of pride as an immigrant. I think the further away you are from your roots, the more you appreciate them. Making cinema is how I embrace my roots.
There is always the concern that an introduction to a foreign culture could get bogged down by stereotypes…
AW: We didn't want to water the stories down; we want to tell the real, most authentic version. Enrico was a resource of a lot of that, but we did also create, what we call, a ‘Pixar culture trust’, as part of which many folks from that area came together and it was wonderful to hear a different perspective on what authenticity means. We appreciated all of that advice and input in creating the best version and the most authentic version that we could, of Portorosso (The fictional city from Luca).
EC: It's an interesting question. Our main theme is actually friendship, but a sense of self-acceptance is a huge part of this. Talking about the stereotypes, it's an interesting challenge, and that is why we need the ‘culture trust’ to double-check all our assumptions, so we could bring someone to the place in an authentic, loving way. This is a love letter.
What's your take on the film getting an OTT release?
EC: We make these movies for the large screen, and for them to be experienced together. In a few parts of the world, the film will be experienced as intended. But releasing it on OTT is wonderful too because so many people will get to see it. So many kids will get to see it. And to be honest, we put so many layers, secrets, and ideas that we are really excited that there is a chance that the film can be watched repeatedly. Quite deliberately, we have created such a rich world and I'm excited about repeated viewings because of that. The audience can learn some Italian words too through the movie (laughs).