The impression of an idyllic summer spent with friends on a beach brings together the notion of closeness and discovery, but it was the opposite for the cast of Disney’s latest animated feature Luca. Instead of coming together in the recording studios to capture their voice performance, and interact as a group, the recordings were done separately and at home last year, due to the pandemic.
And that brought about a different set of production and personal challenges, recalled producer Andrea Warren.
“When the pandemic hit, and we were all sort of realising that we had to work from home, one of my biggest concerns was, how are we going to record? So I really have to thank this group, and everybody at Pixar who sorted it out, because it involves sending iPads and microphones and everybody testing out spaces in their houses where the sound would be muffled,” explained the Pixar veteran in a recent virtual press conference with the cast and crew for the film that Geek Culture attended.
“And, you know, I’ll never forget you, Jack, especially in your, I think your mom’s closet, you know, your arms hitting the hangers.”
Recalls child actor Jack Dylan Grazer (Shazam!), who voices Alberto Scorfano, “Well, being in my mom’s closet for a year. It was definitely a stretch for me and a challenge for me as an actor. And as just a human being, it got hot in there. And I bet my neighbours were really freaked out about the amount of screaming that was going on.”
And some of those screams were probably internal, as the pandemic made Disney change the theatrical release plans for Luca, to debut it on its Disney+ streaming service instead. Thankfully, it has managed to maintain Pixar’s track record, as Luca has debuted to positive reviews. At its core, Luca is a beautiful coming of age movie that centers around exploration of your own identity and more importantly, loving and supportive friendships.
The buddy to protagonist Luca (Jacob Tremblay), Alberto serves as well, the friend that parents might call the bad influence, but as heartwarming movies about young friendships and adventures go, the kind of friend one might need to have as they are growing up.
So what’s the secret that brings the two of them together? Well, how about the fact that Luca and Alberto are sea creatures but while Luca is a well-behaved sea monster with a curiosity of what happens above the surface, Alberto has been living on the surface among humans and eager to show off his knowledge to one of his own kind.
But it’s the friendship that is the focus of the movie, not the magic or the monsters, says Italian storyboard artist turned director Enrico Casarosa.
For starters, Luca is inspired by his friendship with his childhood friend, and the 49-year old wanted to make a movie that had a lot of heart, and felt that pulling personal experiences was the right way to do so.
“I was born in Genova, which is this port town right on the Riviera and I was just a shy kid, a little bit sheltered by my family and when I met my best friend at 11, my world opened up! He was a bit of a troublemaker, he didn’t have a whole lot of supervision and so in those special summers, when you’re growing up and finding yourself, I was kind of following him and getting dragged into troubles. It really made me really think about how much we find ourselves with our friendships, how much friendships help us find who we want to be,” said Casarosa.
And for 14-year-old Tremblay, this desire for discovery and adventure was what drew him to the project, especially during the pandemic and the stay at home that many around the world are encouraged to do.
“I definitely relate to Luka in a lot of things. I relate to his eagerness to go out and explore especially right now because of COVID. I feel like you can all really relate to Luca in wanting to go out,” said Tremblay. “And then also, the whole ‘Silencio Bruno’ part I definitely relate to, because in acting, you have to really go 100% on all your performances or else you know, it’s gonna fall flat.”
Playing his mother is well-known American comedian Maya Rudolph, who as a mother herself, stepped into her character and reached into her own personal experiences. In fact, it gave the intended outcome of an anxious, loving and protective parent.
“She’s a very serious mom. She’s not messing around and that to me instantly in this movie’s case, just equals love that protection, that strong discipline is love and wanting to raise her family right and there’s a certain way that Lucas’ family is meant to do things and she wants to raise her son the correct way,” said Rudolph of her character.
“Just like any parent, she’s a fierce protector. Which is, which some might say is tough love. But I mean, I think she gets all the passes, because she loves her son, there’s no question. It’s already in the formula, it’s just a matter of you listening to your mama, and you do what you’re supposed to do. And I think deep down, she knows her son is probably going to explore but she’s just trying to protect them, because it’s the scariest thing in the world to let your babies run out in the world and explore even though you know they need to.”
As an animated film, Luca is often presumed to be a children’s film. Afterall, the studios that made the film – Disney and Pixar – are children-entertainment royalty. However, the team behind Luca pressed that the film is a romantic movie about summer. Having spent most of their own summers up to no good as children and teenagers, Luca deserves more attention than what meets the eye and if anything, is nostalgic for older audiences.
“I think that what’s so interesting about this movie and the notion of summer, it made me realise we have such an expectation or a pressure surrounding summer, like enjoying summer, and I think some of that’s established as kids really. You know, having this idealised summer and I feel like in this movie, it captures that truly romantic notion of summer being about freedom and, and you know, as adults, we kind of chase it, we’re kind of like ‘Alright, we chase it in these two week windows of a vacation or a long weekend’ and so I thought that was really moving,” said Jim Gaffigan, who voices Luca’s dad, Lorenzo.
Adding to how Luca struck nostalgia for her, Rudolph recollects on one of her best summer memories, “I have nothing but good memories. I did a lot of summer camp and like those are the most heavenly sweet memories. Warm nights might be my favourite part but also the friendships that you make. That’s the familiarity of this movie that feels so sweet and so instantly connected.”
Childhood nostalgia, summer and friendships too good to be true, Luca is on its way to be yet another beloved movie like Soul, Inside Out and Up that is due to make audiences of all ages warm up. With the amount of love and heart that has gone into this movie, Luca is simply a movie that the cast are incredibly proud of.
“I don’t know how Pixar does it because their batting average is like 1000, so I don’t know if it’s illegal for Pixar to make bad movies. I know this is gonna be good,” said Gaffigan.
Stream Luca on Disney+.