Pixar’s Luca Went Through Many Big Changes on Its Way to Disney+

Pixar’s Luca Went Through Many Big Changes on Its Way to Disney+
Alberto and Luca spy on humanity in Disney Pixar's Luca. (Image: Pixar)

Here’s how Pixar’s latest film, Luca, does not end: a huge kraken does not show up and face off against the heroes. At one point in production, it did happen, though. During Pixar’s film development, director Enrico Casarosa and producer Andrea Warren were working on a movie that got that way bigger and busier than what eventually ended up on screen, and they told us all about it.

Speaking with Gizmodo over video last week, Casarosa told us some of the big moments he had in the film earlier on, but later decided to take out before locking in the final cut. “We had much more of a quest and we had a huge kraken transformation at the end. A big monster finish,” Casarosa said. “And we [did an internal screening] and we realised… that wasn’t the story we wanted to tell. I come from this sensibility of more of a lyrical take on things and we wanted to stay with the friendship, be a little smaller. We didn’t want this huge monster movie ending.”

Luca always had monsters in some form, though. From the first time Casarosa pitched the film, following the release of his Oscar-winning 2011 short La Luna, he knew he wanted to make something set in Italy and use sea monsters that turned into humans on land. “The pitch was a bit of a Stand By Me in Italy,” he said, referring to the Stephen King story turned Rob Reiner movie about four boys bonding over the summer. “[Our main characters] had still this changeling thing, but they were on a quest to become human. It was just too complicated. So the process is very kind of sculptural. It is really like taking the rough out of this big block of marble.”

Luca and Alberto as human boys. (Image: Pixar) Luca and Alberto as human boys. (Image: Pixar)

From all of their big, grand original ideas, Luca got boiled down to be fairly simple, all things considered. Set in late 1950s-early 1960s Italy, the story follows a young sea monster named Luca (Jacob Tremblay) who meets another named Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer). Together they get out of the water and go onto land where these particular sea monsters take human form, and the pair began to explore what it means to be human, including training to win a local triathlon-type race. Independent of that story, Casarosa realised early on that when the sea monsters are on land as humans, this was actually the first time Pixar was doing a movie about actual kids just being kids. The studio had animated kids before, of course, but they’re usually in some unique, weird circumstance; we follow the character in a kid’s brain, kids going to the Land of the Dead, kids who have superhero parents, etc.

Talking to Casarosa and Warren, it almost seemed as if once they realised the heart of Luca was as simple as kids bonding and growing up, other elements such as a third sea-monster-turned-human that tagged along with Luca and Alberto got cut as well. Even without that third pal, Luca and Alberto aren’t alone on this quest — they run into another kid, a young human girl named Giulia (Emma Berman) who befriends the pair and, eventually has to deal with the reality of her new friends not being human. But again, that reveal was something the filmmakers struggled with. “We tried different moments [to reveal] when Julia found out that they were sea monsters,” Warren told Gizmodo. “We realised that prolonging that just added more tension and drama to the film. So that was fun, too.”

Pasta dinner. (Image: Pixar) Pasta dinner. (Image: Pixar)

To give an idea of just how long Luca has been in the world before viewers got to see it: Warren came on the project four years ago. At that time, Casarosa and his team screened the first rough version of the film, so he’d been working on it for a good chunk even before that. “It is such a huge, long evolution to find the right story,” Warren said. “And I think it’s great, especially for kids with aspirations and everybody out there who wants to do a creative project to understand that it takes a lot of work and a lot of iterations and a lot of tossing things out and deciding what to keep along the way to get to the place that you want to be.”

The place the whole Luca team wanted to be was the big screen. But earlier this year, Disney announced that Luca had been pulled from its theatrical release and relegated to Disney+. “It’s… a little bit of a disappointment,” Casarosa said. “I’m not going to lie.” However, he, Warren, and the crew quickly realised they didn’t have much say in the matter and that, ultimately, releasing on Disney+ kind of spoke to the overall journey of the film. “The pandemic is such a part of our history,” the director said. “We couldn’t control it while we were trying to finish it, which was hard through the pandemic when we were making it. And we can’t control it now. So once we saw the situation, I got pretty excited about the fact that we have an opportunity to still show it to people, still show it while they probably could use a splash into the water of the Mediterranean. I think it’s a joyful movie.”

Luca is available on Disney+ starting June 18.