When the first trailer for director Enrico Casarosa’s Luca dropped earlier this year, there was a small but rather vocal contingent of Pixar fans speculating whether the movie might be Disney’s first foray into feature-length storytelling focused on queer characters. io9 recently spoke to Casarosa about just that.
There were a few reasons for the theorizing, one of them being that the studio seemed to be testing the waters for such a story last year with Steven Clay Hunter’s Out short. While there was nothing in Luca’s early trailer (or the latest) explicitly stating it was a love story, much of the speculation actually stemmed from a number of surface-level parallels between it and director Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name, a movie based on André Aciman’s 2007 novel. Luca, like Call Me By Your Name, tells the story of two friends who embark on journeys of self-discovery while spending a summer together in Italy.
Unlike Luca, both the novel and cinematic version of Call Me By Your Name were stories intended for mature audiences capable of understanding that even though it featured elements of a love story, they were also about an adult having an inappropriate relationship with a teenager—a reality that caused some to bristle (quite understandably) at the comparisons being made to Luca.
When io9 spoke with Casarosa over video recently, he explained that it was always his intention for Luca to revolve around the life-changing friendship that develops between Luca (Jacob Tremblay) and Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), Luca’s new friend who has a fondness for breaking their peoples’ rules. Much as Luca’s story delves into the emotional complexities of the pair’s bond, Casarosa wanted to steer clear of romance—something that did come up in the production process—in order to keep the movie focused.
“I was really keen to talk about friendships before girlfriends or boyfriends and that, because that comes into complicated things, narratively,” Casarosa said. “Once [the character of] Giulia comes into the picture, and we looked at the structure of it, sometimes the story would pull you toward some puppy love or romance, and to be completely honest, I really wanted to really talk about friendship-friendship. This is that moment before those things come in to complicate the picture.”
Quite early into the film, Luca and Alberto befriend a human girl named Giulia (Emma Berman) who becomes a crucial part of their adventure. In addition to the trio all becoming friends, Luca also spotlights how the kids play off one another as pairs, and Casarosa elaborated that, for Luca, who’s new to land, Alberto embodies the kind of friend who pushes you out of your comfort zone. “We had a metaphor for it, that Alberto was Luca’s shove off the cliff—that it’s that kind of friendship that’s going to push you into trouble and push you into change, and push you into finding yourself,” Casarosa said. “I think it has a lot to do with seeing each other.”
One of the larger, less concrete reasons that people were inclined to question whether Luca might be a queer story is that, after decades of being quite comfortable only telling stories about white, straight characters, Disney has (in fits and starts) made incremental progress in terms of on-screen diversity and representation. As one of the largest and most powerful multimedia organizations in human history, these are just the sorts of questions that people are wont to ask of Disney. The Call Me By Your Name comparisons are obviously something Disney would want to avoid for multiple reasons, but it’s important to bear in mind that one of the major reasons for the comparisons is the simple fact that there aren’t many queer movies that become cultural phenomenons like it that have stuck in people’s minds.
It’s doubtful that anyone was genuinely looking for Luca to be Call Me By Your Name for whatever generational name we’ve given today’s children, and people certainly shouldn’t hold anything against the movie for being what it is and not what it was speculated to be. The important takeaway here is that regardless of whether the studios like it or not, people do wonder about these sorts of things, and that’s perfectly fine. What’s going to be interesting to see now is how Luca stands up in Pixar’s pantheon of films designed to make us long for the simple days when the biggest thing on your mind was how long summer vacation would last.
Luca hits Disney+ on June 18.
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