- Director: Peggy Holmes
- Writer: Kiel Murray
- Starring: Eva Noblezada, Simon Pegg, Whoopi Goldberg, Jane Fonda, Flula Borg
The animation world has long been searching for someone to challenge Disney and Pixar – and, to a lesser extent, Dreamworks – as the de facto animation studio that kids and adults rely on. Sony Animation has been successful occasionally with Into the Spider-Verse and Mitchells vs. the Machines, and Netflix has been known to put together some interesting titles like I Lost My Body and The Sea Beast. Now entering the ring with its first animated feature film is Skydance, a subsidiary of the studio that co-produced mostly action films like World War Z, The Tomorrow War, and Top Gun: Maverick. Skydance’s animation division had already gotten off to a rocky start thanks to its hiring of John Lasseter as Head of Animation after his forced exit from Pixar, and Luck, which lists Lasseter as a producer, won’t do the studio many favors.
The film comes from director Peggy Holmes, who’s making the jump from direct-to-video sequels to major streaming titles, and is written by Kiel Murray. It concerns Sam Greenfield (voiced by Eva Noblezada), an orphan who believes she’s the unluckiest person in the world, as evidenced by the elaborate pratfalls and misfortunes that beset her at every opportunity. Also, nearly everyone she comes into contact with tells her so. At the onset of the film, she’s just recently turned 18 and can therefore no longer stay at the orphanage, so she sets out on her own and begins a job at a plant shop.
It’s not long before she crosses paths with a black cat and finds a peculiar penny, which noticeably turns her luck around. Where once she would fling a piece of toast and jam across a room, it now falls gracefully onto her plate. And so forth. But this doesn’t stop her from losing the penny and, when she finds the same black cat again, following it into a strange clover-shaped portal. This transports Sam into the Land of Luck, a visually inventive floating island populated by leprechauns and cats and other magical creatures associated with luck. Turns out the black cat’s name is Bob (Simon Pegg), and Sam’s lucky penny was the one he needed to get back into the Land of Luck, or his grumpy leprechaun boss The Captain (Whoopi Goldberg) will send him away.
The bulk of the second act – or, more accurately, the rest of the film – concerns itself with explaining the rules and the lore associated with the Land of Luck as Sam and Bob try to retrieve the penny, and it gets to be so much that the film never really slows down to give its characters time to breathe. Holmes seems to be too concerned with creating spectacle that she doesn’t get us to emotionally invest in the characters. Sam’s primary motivation for getting the penny is to give it to Hazel, a plucky, adorable fellow orphan who shares her fears about never being adopted. But the film zips along from set piece to set piece that I found myself half remembering this aspect when it comes back up. At 105 minutes, Luck is hardly the longest children’s film, but the film’s bland characters and obsession with rules makes it feel much longer than it is (my kids narrowly made it to the end). A fatal drinking game could be made out of the number of times a character says “luck” throughout the film.
At least the Land of Luck is fun to look at, with some Seussian production design, and the action sequences keep the film moving along. But the visual praise stops there, especially when any human-adjacent character opens their mouth. I’m no technical expert when it comes to animation, but something about the way the characters move their mouths just feels off. And aside from Pegg and Flula Borg – who voices a lovelorn unicorn named Jeff, natch – the voice cast just doesn’t gel together or feel particularly invested in the material. Goldberg especially comes across as if she recorded her lines between tapings of The View. Noblezada is trying her darndest, but ultimately just feels like she was miscast. Emma Thompson left Luck after Lasseter’s hiring, and Jane Fonda stepped in to replace her as the bizarre Dragon, the head of the Good Luck side of the Land of Luck.
Though he doesn’t receive any credits outside of the aforementioned producer role, it’s hard not to separate the film from the stink of John Lasseter, perhaps because it’s his first credit since leaving Pixar (Toy Story 4 was already in development when he left). This hasn’t stopped Apple from promoting the film as coming “from the creative visionary who brought you Toy Story and Cars” in its trailer though. Perhaps they’re betting on kids’ general unwillingness to read the news and parents’ general willingness to turn on anything that looks bright and colorful.
Luck will live on forever at AppleTV+, where it will ironically share the same real estate with Wolfwakers, another animated film that shares Irish sensibilities. The former was designed to appeal to the widest possible audience, to an almost cynical degree, with some shoehorned-in message about looking on the bright side of life. I’ll always champion a kids film that’s not based on pre-existing IP (creatively speaking, this is miles ahead of this summer’s newest Minions film or DC League of Super-Pets, which is what saves this film from a complete failing grade in my books), but you should watch Wolfwakers instead. Or virtually anything else.
Luck will be available exclusively on AppleTV+ on August 5.
- The list of contenders in the Best Animated Feature category this year is stacked, and if Apple hopes to grab a coveted slot at next year’s Oscars, they’ll have to campaign harder than it did for CODA and hope the critical consensus is greater than that of yours truly.
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