There were few movies released last year that were easier to fall in love with than Pixar’s “Luca,” the gentle coming-of-age story that was released on Disney+. It’s the story of young Luca (Jacob Tremblay), a sea monster who discovers that when he goes on land he undergoes “the change,” and turns into a human. He befriends fellow sea monster Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer) and together they spend an unforgettable summer in a nearby seaside town eating gelato, endearing themselves to a human family, and learning to love who they are – every monster-y bit.
It’s a story that was based in part on director Enrico Casarosa’s experience growing up on the Italian coast and his relationship with his more freewheeling best friend (also named Alberto). Upon its release, however, that specific basis for the story had far-reaching implications. “Luca” resonated with many marginalized groups, including the LGBTQ+ community, who saw the relationship between Luca and Alberto as being more than just friendly. (Almost from the time of the first official plot synopsis, it was being compared to another Italian-set coming-of-age story, “Call Me By Your Name.”)
When TheWrap recently sat down with Casarosa (we were chatting next to a pool, naturally), we brought up the response from the LGBTQ+ community and what he thought of a potential Luca/Alberto romance.
“We talked about it and I mean, I think the reason probably we didn’t talk about it as much and, to a certain degree, we’re slightly surprised by the amount of people talking about romance is that we were really focusing on friendship and so pre-romance,” Casarosa said. “But it is a kind of love, right? There’s a lot of hugging and it’s physical and my experience as a straight man certainly wasn’t that. The things we did talk a lot about is what is the metaphor here for being a sea monster, for being different? And some people seem to get mad that I’m not saying yes or no, but I feel like, well, this is a movie about being open to any difference.”
In fact, Casarosa said that when they were making the movie they were thinking more about race than sexuality. “Because like, hey, how many different ways as kids we can feel like outsiders. It’s so various. And my version was certainly we were two geeks, losery, and so it’s not where I was coming from but it’s so wonderful and even more powerful for the LGBTQ+ community who has felt so much of as an outsider, right, where this is so real and stronger than my experience, I’m sure to have to grow up with that kind of a difference,” Casarosa said. “I felt really honored and I don’t like to say yes or no. I can say, well, that’s not how we wrote it. It wasn’t my experience, but I love that that metaphor is reading in all these different ways.”
Of course, there is an undercurrent to “Luca” of exploration and of embracing who you are and being unafraid of what you find. “With a movie that’s about just let’s be open, let’s be curious about each other, let’s embrace each other, I think we need to embrace all the different ways that that can really manifest, but I think the reason probably we didn’t foresee it as much is that we were quite focused on pre-puberty and a little bit that moment of, oh, those real friends that don’t have anything,” Casarosa said. “There’s no crush yet. And we kept on saying, well, the next summer probably, right? And you don’t know which way but we were very aware of let’s not even go there with [Luca and Alberto’s human friend] Julia. We wanted that to be about friendship for all the trio.”
“Luca” clearly must have been important to Pixar, in particular. After all, it’s an animation studio located in Emeryville, California, across the bridge from San Francisco, full of diverse young artists, technicians, and specialists, with members of the LGBTQ community in every strata of the company (including leadership). “Yeah, I think people [at Pixar] really loved that. I think, again, we didn’t immediately see it as only that reading. Maybe that’s the difference, but what is clear is that there’s this owning of your identity and, Here I am. Let the world deal with me,” Casarosa said. “And that is such an owning of your own true self that we thought it would resonate with everybody in whichever way they feel different, which I think it does but you’re absolutely right. That is a coming out moment.”
You can watch “Luca” on Disney+ now or buy the 4K Blu-ray.