LUCK (APPLE TV+) (2022)
SYNOPSIS: From Apple Original Films and Skydance Animation, Luck is a story about Sam Greenfield: the unluckiest person in the world. Suddenly finding herself in the never-before-seen Land of Luck, she must unite with the magical creatures there to turn her luck around.
Expectations would no doubt be high for ‘Luck’, the first film from Skydance Animation that boasts the stewardship of John Lasseter, the former Pixar Animation chief who was ousted in 2017 from the company he co-founded due to allegations of inappropriate workplace behaviour. As Head of Animation at Skydance and a producer of ‘Luck’, Lasseter’s influence on the project is clear not only in its visual style that mixes cutesy stylized animation with near-photorealistic environments but also in how it tries to reflect on the human condition.
And yet it is precisely for this reason that ‘Luck’ ultimately comes off disappointing. Whilst the three-dimensional animation is bright and full of impeccably rendered detail, ‘Luck’ never quite finds sufficient raison d’etre to justify the time spent in the fantastical Land of Luck that much of the plotting takes place in, or for that matter offer the kind of clever observations about how the world works behind the scenes that made ‘Inside Out’ and ‘Monsters, Inc’ so entertaining and insightful at the same time. Indeed, the similarities to these Pixar classics are unmistakable, but the method here feels deliberate and laboured, than inspired and spontaneous.
To its credit though, the protagonist here is somewhat unexpected, an 18-year-old teenager named Sam (voiced by Eva Noblezada) who has spent her whole life in foster home after foster home without ever finding her ‘forever family’. In every other area of life, Sam has also proven to be extremely unlucky: for some inexplicable reason, she cannot make a sandwich without dropping a slice of bread on the floor jelly-side down, or take a shower without knocking over a broom that locks her in the bathroom, or shoot a lip sync video with her “little sister” Hazel without the set crashing down on top of her. And yet if it isn’t obvious, she has taken such misfortune in her stride, without letting it become debilitating.
Sam’s luck changes one day when she meets a black cat named Bob (Simon Pegg) that drops her a lucky penny. Hoping to pass the penny to Hazel before she meets her prospective ‘forever family’ that weekend, Sam unfortunately loses it during an ill-fated visit to the restroom. But instead of getting another penny from Bob, Sam discovers not only that Bob can speak but also that he comes from another world through a glowing green portal, to which she finds herself in the aforementioned Land of Luck resembling the Emerald Isle.
There are undeniably impressive bits here – like how everyday moments such as finding good parking to falling in love are really made from nuggets of good luck by green leprechauns, or how the inverse of that is made by roots and goblins in the form of purple stones – but director Peggy Holmes or screenwriter Kiel Murray (of Pixar’s ‘Cars’) cannot quite sustain the sense of wonder for long. The strain is particularly apparent in how we constantly have to have the in-universe rules explained to us, as well as how Sam and Bob are confronted one after another by a number of tedious tasks whose only purpose appear to be keeping them within that make-believe world.
As the magic fades, ‘Luck’ also fails to substitute it with poignancy. It isn’t hard to guess that the lesson here is about how life is balanced by doses of both good and bad luck, and how we are all shaped by what happens to us, but there is no emotional payoff at the end of it. All that is left for us to partake in is the whimsical creatures and colourful palette of the Good Luck and Bad Luck worlds, including an irresistibly cute gaggle of bunnies in hazmat suits, a dragon with pink scales voiced by Jane Fonda, and a unicorn engineer (Flula Borg) who maintains the luck distribution machine. It is adorable all right, so young kids would at least be visually entertained.
So even though it boasts Lasseter as producer, ‘Luck’ doesn’t quite match up to the greatness of the Pixar classics. That said, Lasseter did only board the project when it was already into production, so whilst his influence is palpable, it is also constrained to a certain extent by an earlier template. ‘Luck’ isn’t bad by any measure, and certainly has its heart in the right place, but its clunky writing eventually dooms it to mediocrity. If this was meant to be the fresh start for Lasseter after his ouster from Pixar, we’d say both Lasseter and Pixar (going by the quality of their works since) have been worse off for it..
Review by Gabriel Chong