Discovering Pixar's Portorosso: Unraveling the Italian Setting of Luca

Exploring Luca's Setting: A Dive into the Fictional Portorosso, Inspired by Real Italian Charm"

Luca, the Pixar masterpiece directed by Enrico Casarosa, unfolds its enchanting tale in the fictional town of Portorosso, Italy. Although a creation of imagination, this charming setting draws inspiration from the quaint charm of real small towns scattered across Italy. Casarosa's directorial debut presents a heartwarming coming-of-age story bathed in the sun-soaked ambiance of the Italian coast.
The narrative follows Luca Paguro (Jacob Tremblay) and Alberto Scorfano (Jack Dylan Grazer), two young sea monsters who venture to Portorosso disguised as humans. Their journey intertwines with the spirited Giulia Marcovaldo (Emma Berman), a determined girl aiming to clinch victory in the Portorosso Cup. Together, the trio embarks on a journey of training and competition, striving to secure the grand prize—a Vespa for Luca and Alberto.
Enrico Casarosa, with a background as a Pixar storyboard artist and the director of the Academy Award-nominated short La Luna (2011), brings to life the sea monster elements inspired by Italian regional folklore. The picturesque fishing town, reminiscent of the Italian Riviera, serves as the backdrop for Portorosso.
Amidst the allure of this fictional world, the question arises: where does Luca find its inspiration? Casarosa's profound connection to the film is evident as he discusses the intimate link between his childhood memories and the movie's narrative, setting, and themes. Luca not only captivates audiences with its magical storyline but also offers a glimpse into the director's personal reflections, making it a truly special cinematic experience.
Luca: A Sentimental Ode to the Director's Italian Roots"
Rooted in the picturesque city of Genoa, Italy, Luca is a heartfelt journey into the director's own Italian upbringing. Enrico Casarosa, who spent his summers along the coastal regions, weaves a narrative that draws deeply from his youth. The character Alberto is a real-life embodiment of Casarosa's childhood best friend, sharing the same name and the countless summer escapades they enjoyed together in the 1980s.
Casarosa's personal reflections reveal a nuanced portrayal of his younger self, describing how he was introverted and shy, in contrast to the carefree and mischievous nature of his friend Alberto. Recalling those days, Casarosa shared, "I was timid and kinda shy, and he was following a passion every week. I would just run around the old town in Genoa, which is kinda dicey" (via Entertainment Weekly). The cobblestone streets, vibrant buildings, local fishermen, and culinary delights depicted in the movie's Portorosso, Italy, may be fictional, but they vividly capture the essence of the actual Italian Riviera that inspired Luca's setting.
Beyond the nostalgic portrayal of the 1950s and 1960s Italy, predating the director's own childhood, Luca delves into mythical elements. Casarosa's childhood fascination with sea monsters illustrated on old maps finds its way into the storyline. The coastal region of Cinque Terre, where Casarosa spent his summers, was steeped in local legends of sea dragons and mythical creatures. Casarosa explained, "You find out later it'd be tall tales to protect their favorite fishing spot." This blending of fantastical elements with serene locations serves as an engaging means of sharing cultural insights with audiences.
To ensure authenticity, Casarosa sent an art team to the Italian Riviera for research, reflecting the filmmakers' commitment to capturing the rich culture and people of the region. Despite the film's homage to the golden age classics like Roman Holiday, set in the 1950s and 1960s, Luca stands out as a labor of love for Casarosa. The director's personal attachment and incorporation of local legends elevate Luca beyond a mere period piece, transforming it into an imaginative adventure uniquely its own.
The Origins of Portorosso: Luca's Homage to Real and Imagined Influences"
The name Portorosso in Luca is a clever amalgamation of real historical components, reflecting the film's intricate craftsmanship. It appears to be a fusion of Portovenere and Monterosso, actual villages situated along the Italian Riviera. Considering that Genoa, where director Enrico Casarosa spent his childhood summers, is in the same region, it's plausible that Giulia's hometown of Genova drew inspiration from this connection. Consequently, Luca's cinematic location likely finds its roots in northern Italy.
The aesthetic appeal of Luca's Portorosso extends beyond its name, drawing inspiration from Studio Ghibli, a renowned animation studio. There's a possibility that the name Portorosso pays homage to Studio Ghibli's film Porco Rosso, a 1992 animated feature centered around a pilot-turned-pig set in Italy and Croatia during the 1930s. Given Casarosa's admiration for Hayao Miyazaki's work, the parallel in names could be an intentional nod by Luca.
The influence of Studio Ghibli on Luca transcends nomenclature. The vibrant colors and meticulously crafted small village setting directly reflect the inspiration drawn from Ghibli, especially from the works of director Hayao Miyazaki. In an interview with TechRadar, Casarosa remarked, "A lot of Studio Ghibli's dreamlike sequences certainly influenced us, so we tried to bring that warmth and imperfection to the computer animation." Thus, while Portorosso is rooted in real Italian culture, Luca's setting also embraces a global touch with inspiration from across the globe.
Valentina Manning

Valentina Manning


A film and TV production professional currently working as an Associate Producer creating short, doc.