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Oscar shorts: Pixar takes on new poetic tone with ‘La Luna’

January 3, 2012 |  2:25 pm

Pixar's 'La Luna'

This post has been updated. Please see note at the bottom for details.

The beloved characters of “Toy Story” starred in two short films that preceded features last year – “Cars 2” and “The Muppets” – but neither short was the one Pixar decided to submit to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the animated shorts category. Instead, the studio made its way onto the category’s shortlist with “La Luna,” a film full of the same heart found in any Pixar film but with a more elegant and gentle tone that’s new for the studio.

"La Luna's" Italian director, Enrico Casarosa, pitched the story to Pixar heads John Lasseter and Ed Catmull.

“They really loved ‘La Luna,’ and John embraced the film’s Italian flavor,” said Casarosa, 40, who has worked as a story artist at Pixar since 2002. “From the beginning I wanted a slightly more poetic tone, which we haven’t done in shorts a whole lot [at Pixar]. It was cool that they were behind doing something a little different.”

“La Luna” tells the mystical coming-of-age story of a young Italian boy who accompanies his father and grandfather to work for the first time. (Watch a clip of the short below.) With a running time of almost seven minutes, the film is Pixar’s longest theatrical short; it will screen in front of “Brave,” the studio’s 2012 feature. “Let it breathe” was Casarosa’s approach to the film’s pacing.

The boy in the film is torn between the expectations of his Papa and Grandpa, largely inspired by Casarosa’s own childhood growing up with his father and grandfather. So the question always asked during pitches at Pixar, “Why you? Why do you want to direct this story?” was a no-brainer for the director.

“It was so easy to direct because the experience of having my dad and my grandfather not getting along is something I went through,” Casarosa said. “And then it was interesting to set it in a completely fantastic world.”

The film has no dialogue in English, nor in Italian. Words exchanged between the characters are in gibberish, which wasn’t easy to make work. Lasseter thought the gibberish was annoying when Casarosa and his editor contributed their own voices for a temp track. After trying a few voice actors with experience recording gibberish, the filmmakers found that the key was using actors who looked like the characters — a big guy for the brawny father and an older man, Phil Sheridan, a storyteller from Marin County, for the grandfather.

“He came in and said, ‘Should I do this with my teeth or without my teeth?’ And we [recorded] everything without his teeth,” Casarosa said.

When writing the film, Casarosa also drew on a favorite short story, “The Distance of the Moon,” by Italian writer Italo Calvino. In the 1965 story, the characters row out to sea and climb up to the moon to gather milk.

“The moon fascinates all of us. I wanted to invent my own myth about it,” Casarosa said.

In the continuing tradition of Pixar, “La Luna” is a story made to be enjoyed by both young and adult audiences. With that in mind, Casarosa created a film with a dual message.

“I felt the responsibility to give kids a positive message. Hopefully it’s a message of trust your guts. Go for it. Trust your intuition,” Casarosa said. “But for us adults — if I can make an adult feel a little like a kid, that would be the best that I could hope for.”

[For the Record, 5:38 p.m., Jan. 4: A previous version of this post stated that neither Pixar short featuring “Toy Story” characters made the cut for the animated shorts shortlist; the films were not screened for academy review because they were not submitted for consideration.]


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Photo: Pixar's film on the Oscar short list for animated shorts, "La Luna." Credit: Disney / Pixar