'Luck' review: Gorgeous animation uplifts hollow family adventure
Courtesy of Apple TV+
Nobody is talking about it, but the forces at Skydance Animation, who are behind “Luck,” an earnest, but overloaded G-rated family adventure, are making moves to become the next studio that could rival Pixar, Dreamworks Animation, and Illumination regarding spending and talent. And in terms of top-tier animation, “Luck” shows the studios potential despite their inaugural films lackluster emotional core. But “Luck” was already in development and even partially animated before Skydance courted former head of Pixar, John Lasseter (ousted after allegations of sexual misconduct from his female colleagues) to overhaul their animation division. Amid the expansive digital landscape where streamers are striving for signature brands, Skydance Animation has promise based on what’s coming down the pipeline.
Take “Luck” for example which cost $140+ million and was salvaged and restructured after Lasseter was hired and decided to populate the movie with adorable critters and fluffy side characters (dancing bunnies and leprechauns anyone?). Who knows what it was before director Peggy Holmes (who prior to this had only directed straight-to-DVD “Tinkerbell” films) got the gig, but I imagine, “Luck” as it’s been screened, is probably the best version of this convoluted story. Plus Simon Pegg voices a Scottish black cat named Bob.
There’s plenty of colorful eccentricities and bubbly soundbites that’ll keep the littles engaged despite the creative team failing to crack the poignancy of its primary storyline; one that involves an unlucky 18-year-old orphan who ends up in a land of Oz-esq locale where bad and good luck are pumped into the world.
That unlucky teen is Sam Greenfield (voiced by Eva Noblezada), someone incapable of catching a break, always loses things, and is stuck in a rut. Recently turned 18, Sam has grown out of the foster care system and is now on her own and quickly discovers the struggles of adulthood. It’s a constant reminder Sam never got her “forever family” and she doesn’t wish the same fate on what is basically her younger sister, Hazel, a little girl she befriended at the orphanage.
As luck would have it (forgive me), Sam procures a coin with incredible, life-altering capabilities after the fluffy feline Bob, an agent from the Land of Luck, leaves one behind.
What is the Land of Luck? Well, it’s got big “Inside Out” energy where a population of leprechauns, in some otherworldly dimension that can only be reached via kitty portal, control the dual fates of bad and good luck being manufactured into the earth. Bob ends up being Sam’s golden ticket to the green utopia that also features bunnies dressed in full hazmat gear tasked with cleaning up after if even a sliver of
bad luck contaminates “good luck.”
It’s a lot to unpack as screenwriters Kiel Murray, Jonathan Aibel and Gleen Berger struggle to build this world as easily as the brass at Pixar do in their sleep (remember how easy it was to follow “Inside Out?”). You almost need a power-point presentation to go along with all the minor tweaks and surface level characters who may or may not contribute in some way to the success around the “Land of Luck.”
“Luck” briefly explores the intricacies of this candy coated nirvana before sending Bob and Sam on a dizzying journey to track down a lucky coin that can be given to Hazel, so she can find her “forever family.” Yet the way luck is presented (as a glowing green force designed to make life easier to those who receive it) rarely makes coherent sense. And once Jane Fonda’s Dragon or Whoopi Golderg’s Captain try re-explaining the layout of how this universe operates,
“Luck” grows even more confusing.
The movie works best when it stays committed to Bob and Sam’s budding relationship and not aimless side plots involving a German unicorn (Flula Borg) and his tedious romance problems. The screenplay had plenty of ingredients to rise above one-dimensional mechanics and why it thought ignoring several clever observations earlier in the movie was the smart move will always be strange.
The Land of Luck isn’t particularly memorable either, a bountiful though empty shell of a universe in desperate need of a makeover. The voice work stands out (especially Pegg who is fantastic as the goofy feline with an inferiority complex) and the polish animated textures are delightful showcases for what Skydance is capable of creating. So while “Luck” might seem like a step in the wrong direction, when you consider the final product was mulled in post and went through several story changes, the jury is still out for what the future of Skydance Animation looks like. I’m bullish.
LUCK debuts in select theaters on Apple TV+ Friday