When Pixar first revealed the plot synopsis of its upcoming movie Luca — a tale of two sea-monster boys named Luca and Alberto, and an “unforgettable” summer on the Italian Rivera — many people quickly compared it to Call Me By Your Name, the 2017 gay romance that also took place during an unforgettable summer in Italy. The first trailer, where the two boys run around an idyllic seaside town, cemented that general vibe — though it also revealed a female character, one potentially there to make the boys jealous.
Still, online commenters hoped Luca would possibly be Pixar’s first queer love story for the theater. The studio has notoriously inserting blink-and-you’ll-miss-them LGBT characters who are easily edited out. But in 2020, Pixar released “Out” through its SparkShorts program, which centered around a gay couple. Eager for representation, many fans have clung to the possibility that Luca might give them openly gay main characters, and not just one-note side characters.
But those fans will have to wait, because Luca isn’t a queer love story. In fact, according to director Enrico Casarosa (who also helmed the Pixar short La Luna), Luca won’t be a love story at all — not a straight one, not a queer one, not one with love triangles or schoolyard crushes. Casarosa specifically wanted to focus on the intimate bonds of childhood friendship.
“I was really keen to talk about a friendship before girlfriends and boyfriends come in to complicate things,” he told Polygon during a press day in April.
According to Casarosa, the team considered what would happen once Giulia, the girl the boys meet on land, came into the picture, and how traditionally the story would veer toward romance. But they actively decided to set the story in a nebulous time of the characters’ lives, before they’re aware of romance, hormones, and other complicated entanglements.
“This was about their friendship in that pre-puberty world,” he laughs.
Luca follows young Luca and Alberto, two young sea monsters who turn into humans when out of the water, as they venture into the surface world for the first time after being cautioned how dangerous it is for their kind. Footage provided on the press day revealed a lushly animated Italian coastal town, one where the animators worked to break photorealism in order to capture a specific storybook-like feeling. After encountering a cocky Vespa owner, the boys want to buy a scooter of their own, and they team up with plucky Giulia to enter the town’s annual race. One hiccup? Giulia also happens to be the local fishmonger’s daughter.
The movie was specifically inspired by Casarosa’s own summers growing up, particularly the close friendship he had with his friend Alberto, whom he named the character after. Both the real Alberto and the character he inspired are big, bright, larger-than-life personalities who pushed their shy friends out of their shells.
“The type of friendship that is gonna push you into trouble,” says Casarosa. “Push you into change, push you into finding yourself.”
But at the same time, Casarosa says, while Alberto inspires Luca, Alberto also gets much-needed validation from Luca. Their bond isn’t romantic, but it’s still deeply emotional and transformative, and just as important as a first romance. All three of the kids at the core of Luca find something in one another at this pivotal moment of their lives, when they step out from the comfort of their family bubble for the first time.
“We wanted to make sure they see each other, they bring something to each other,” explains Casarosa. “They’re both lonely, there’s a loneliness at the heart of it that is filling a void in all these kids because they feel a little bit odd and lonely. Giulia is the same thing. We wanted to make sure there’s a little loneliness so there’s the space that gets filled with an important friendship.”
Luca will premiere on Disney Plus on June 18.