The True Story Behind Disney’s ‘Luca’ Is as Cute as the Movie Itself

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Disney and Pixar fans, gather round! The movie giants once again came together to bring fans a cute animated movie, and the result is Luca, which premieres this week. In classic Disney/Pixar form, the story follows two adorable sea monsters (voiced by Jacob Tremblay and Jack Dylan Grazer) as they come out of the water and explore the idyllic wonder that is the 1950s Italian coast. In between hijinks and tons of gelato eating (because you just have to eat some when in Italy, of course), our sea monster protagonists meet a young girl who teaches them exactly ~what life is like~ beyond the sea.

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While the movie’s synopsis may feel somewhat familiar to film buffs (anyone sensing those Call Me by Your Name vibes?), it turns out the movie’s inspiration comes from a very personal connection by Luca director Enrico Casarosa, most famous for his 2012 animated short La Luna.

Photo credit: Kevin Winter - Getty Images
Photo credit: Kevin Winter - Getty Images

And yeah, the guy is also casually an Academy Award nominee. Talk about impressive! Before you run off to watch Luca yourself, let’s dive into exactly where this movie’s basis comes from. Or as they say in Italy, andiamo!

Luca is based on Casarosa’s Italian childhood.

Actually, if we want to be more specific, the titular character is based on the director himself. As Casarosa told Collider in February 2021, Luca’s friendship with Alberto actually mirrors his relationship with a childhood BFF, who was *also* named Alberto.

“We found each other around 11 or 12,” Casarosa told the outlet about his inspiring friendship. “Right when you step [toward], ‘I need to kind of try and separate from the family a little bit,’ try to look for yourself. And he had complete freedom and he was passionate and he had a new thing every day, so it really helped me kind of get out of my comfort zone.”

The director told D23 that even the boys’ personalities are in line with how Casarosa and Alberto behaved growing up. “I was a little sheltered, a little timid, a little shy—and he was a troublemaker,” the director explained about his relationship. “His family wasn’t very present; he could do whatever he wanted. It was the perfect friendship to get me out of my comfort zone and help me grow up.”

Casarosa spent his summers on the Italian Riviera just like the characters in Luca do.

Sure, Luca is set in the mid-20th century in Portorosso, Italy, but the idea of Luca and Alberto spending their summers on the Italian coast? That’s a direct page out of Casarosa’s book. The director grew up spending his summers in the coastal town of Genoa, Italy. As he told Collider, the ’50s are as timeless as the days he spent just hanging out on the shore.

“There’s something wonderfully nostalgic about the summer of our youth and how much happens in the summer and the period,” he said. “We even really rooted it in the ’50s and ’60s even though it’s not entirely when I grew up, but there was something about the golden age that feels timeless.”

Casarosa even traveled to Italy with Pixar to bring a version of the country to life.

Yes, the director was born and raised in Italy and still has family living there, but as he told D23, he’s been living in the U.S. since his early 20s, meaning it was time for some field research for Team Pixar. The result? Many trips to Italy in order to capture the country’s vibrancy.

“One time we were so busy with reels that I couldn’t go, but we sent our art team with all the recommendations: ‘Try this food. Go for a swim here,’” he said. “It’s so important to get the feeling of the place—the light and the details. It has so much history.”

You can catch Luca exclusively on Disney+ starting June 18.

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