From Pixar comes Luca, a delightful fish-out-of-water story about friendship between two boy sea-monsters who discover they can pass as human once they leave their watery homes.

Transporting viewers to a beautiful seaside town on the Italian Riviera, Luca is also a timely coming-of-age story about courage, curiosity, and being different – as the New York Times review’s “Calamari by Your Name” certainly nods at.

The title character, voiced by Wonder’s Jacob Tremblay, lives with his underwater family off the Italian coast when he enjoys a boy-meets-boy with Alberto (It’s Jack Dylan Grazer). The two immediately forge a bond reminiscent of many early childhood memories, including riding a bike, jumping off cliffs and tussling with a bully.

If the villagers are scared of sea monsters when they reveal their scales and try to attack them, then Luca offers a gentle message about the importance of judging others for who they are, not because of their background or heritage.

One person who doesn’t judge them is Giulia (Emma Berman), a fellow misfit who brings the boys home to her fisherman father (Marco Barricelli), recruiting them to become her teammates in the town’s annual triathlon.

Director Enrico Casarosa – whose 2011 Pixar short film, La Luna, was Oscar-nominated – immediately responded to the story, many elements of which could have been ripped from his own youth, growing up in Genoa on the Italian Riviera.

“I was a shy kid, a little bit sheltered by my family so when I met my best friend at 11, my world kind of opened up. He was a bit of a troublemaker; he didn’t have a whole lot of supervision,” says Casarosa, who moved to the US in his teens.

“I remember those special summers when you’re growing up and finding yourself, and I was kind of following him and getting dragged into trouble. This film really made me think about how friendships help us find a little bit about who we wanna be. And those days of summer on this wonderful rocky coastline, all mountains and sea, where towns are really hanging on for dear life on the cliffs.  So, I kept thinking about the literal and also the metaphor of someone who pushes you off a cliff,” he explains.

In casting Tremblay, he found an ideal Luca.

“I definitely relate to Luca in a lot of things,” says the young actor, who featured in the award-winning 2015 movie, Room. “I guess I related to his eagerness to go out and explore, especially right now. Because of Covid, I feel like we can all really understand Luca in wanting to go out and just ride a Vespa through Italy.”

Likewise, Grazer lives up to playing the mischief maker in this duo. “I’m definitely an Alberto. I’ve always kinda been a daredevil. If a guy dared me to do something, I’d be like, ‘Okay guys, really I don’t wanna do that. And then they’d be, ‘I triple-dog dare you.’ Oh my god, okay. I have no other option. I think I need more integrity,” he laughs.

The biggest challenge of the role was doing all of his voice recordings inside his parents’ bedroom closet, unable to travel to Pixar Studios during the pandemic. “The greatest thing in doing animation is that you don’t have to memorise your lines, so it’s actually easier, and way more fun,” he tells STACK.

In true Disney/Pixar fashion, Luca bucks parental authority, leaving his loving but fearful parents (beautifully voiced by Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan) to explore the world above the water, following the destiny of all the best animated characters – only through discovery and adventure can we grow.

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