A European summer vacation may be out of reach for Canadians this year but Vancouver’s Jacob Tremblay leads us through an Italian Riviera getaway is Pixar’s new movie Luca, streaming on Disney+ on Friday, June 18.
“When I was even younger than what I am now, I really loved Pixar movies and I really looked up to characters like Lightning McQueen so I really hope that when this movie comes out, little kids, they’ll be able to watch it and connect with Luca, and be able to have him as their favourite character,” Tremblay told Yahoo Canada.
Luca, directed by Enrico Casarosa, tells the story of a sea monster named Luca who has a curiosity for the world above the water but his parents, played by the hilarious duo Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan, are fiercely protective and don’t want him exploring the human land.
“It might be one of the most terrifying aspects of having children,” Rudolph said at a virtual press conference in advance of the film’s release. “It’s less about your child than it is about what the dangers of the world are.”
With his more timid demeanour, Luca meets his friend Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), a bolder and more adventurous sea monster who has been collecting human artifacts, particularly interested in building a Vespa.
Tremblay thinks he’s personally similar to Luca in the film.
“I actually feel like I’m really similar to Luca,” he said. “I also have some similarities to Alberto as well, sometimes I can be a bit more timid, but that’s a big message of this movie,...just put yourself out there and don’t be afraid to try new things.”
The two sea monsters, who transform into human form when they are out of the water (why they have this seemingly magic power is never explained, so you have to go with it), run away to the town of Portorosso to compete with a local fishmonger’s daughter Giulia (Emma Berman), a strong-willed and fiercely independent girl, to win money to buy their dream Vespa. The whole time, Luca and Alberto are living in fear that the residents of this town, who hate sea monsters, will figure out their true identities.
There’s a touch of The Little Mermaid and Finding Nemo in the story of Luca, maybe with a pinch of "Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn," with a clear message to be courageous and to not judge others because they are simply different than the people (or creatures) you are accustomed to interacting with.
'My world opened up'
Casarosa based the story on his real friendship with his best friend in Genoa, Italy, showcasing the importance of the friendships we make in our youth.
“When I met my best friend at 11...my world opened up,” the director said. “He was a bit of a troublemaker, he didn’t have a whole lot of supervision, and so in those special kind of summers when you’re growing up and kind of finding yourself, I was kind of following him and getting dragged into trouble.”
“It really made me [think] about how much we find ourselves with our friendships, or how much friendships help us find a bit [of] who we want to be.”
Casarosa added that he felt it was particularly important to show “kids being kids,” similar to movies like Stand By Me.
“It’s also specifically a little bit pre-romance,” he said. “That was something that I was interested in as well because there’s just that moment that maybe we’re not thinking about boyfriends and girlfriends yet, which is really more about the friendships.”
In terms of authenticity, Luca definitely shows an authentic summer in a small Italian town. The imperfections in the architecture, the laundry on clothing lines, kids eating ice cream and giant pieces of watermelon in the street, the tablecloths and plates used when Luca and Alberto eat pasta at Giulia's home, those are the exact elements that any child who spends time in real Italian communities will see.
Unlike recent Pixar films, the characters in Luca are a bit more cartoonish and the landscape has a fluidity and expression that works exceptionally well with the narrative, something Casarosa has attributed to his love of watercolour.
One recommendation for watching this movie - try to see it on the biggest screen you can access to really be immersed in the experience.