Despite a $140 million price-tag, Luck feels cheap from the plot down to its rubbery, sometimes aggressively bland animation. The first project from John Lasseter since his ignominious exit from Pixar in 2017, its only remote echo of the animation powerhouse is the way the Land of Luck mirrors the Monsters, Inc. factory. Beyond that, it has more in common with D-grade animated efforts like Norm of the North and Pixies.
With Lasseter serving as producer, Walt Disney veteran Peggy Holmes in the director’s chair, and a release on Apple TV+, the streaming service continuing to emit a glow of prestige, Luck‘s makeup suggests adherence to the quality standard set forth by previous animated works that persistently challenge the medium’s capabilities. However, Skydance Animation’s feature debut never comes close to being anything more than trite. It’s crowded with lofty ideas and no established sense of logic, much less any real interest in its hard-luck protagonist.
That protagonist is Sam (voiced by Eva Noblezada, who also has a supporting role in Easter Sunday, released this same weekend), whose signature trait is having bad luck. That’s established within the first minute of the film, when Sam and Hazel (Adelynn Spoon), her young friend at the orphanage, are shooting a music video and Sam inadvertently stumbles and sends the whole makeshift set crashing down. She’s unlucky to the point where some kind of pox would be more justifiable: she’s annoyingly clumsy, can’t go two consecutive scenes without breaking something, and she makes the simplest tasks seem more difficult than building a Swiss watch.
Sam has also just turned 18, and having not been adopted, she’s forced out of the orphanage and into her own apartment. She starts a new job at a crafts store (her boss voiced by Lil Rel Howery), trying to navigate stocking and loading with her unshakeable bad luck. Her fortune changes when she comes across a life-changing lucky penny following a chance encounter with a black cat named Bob (Simon Pegg with a Scottish accent). After a full day of good luck, she naturally loses the precious coin in the toilet. She finds Bob and begs for a new one, although it’s not that simple.
Ultimately, Sam wants another coin to give to Hazel in hopes the good luck will lead her to getting adopted. Bob begrudgingly helps her with the tall order by dressing her up as a leprechaun and taking her to the Land of Luck, a secret world where leprechauns manufacture trinkets of good luck to send to the human world. The world — populated by dragons, unicorns, and other familiar creatures — is split into two halves, good and bad luck. The folks in the good luck realm all hop on elevators and magical staircases without a care for consequences. Why would they? They know luck favors them. Bad luck, on the other hand, is another rendition of hell, although its dwellers are intriguingly happy and content with their hard-knock life.
A good animated movie might’ve explored the toll bad luck and no family structure has taken on Sam. But Sam is devoid of any personality. She smiles and laughs off her misfortunes in most illogical fashion. It would be more credible to think a world such as the Land of Luck actually existed than to believe a young woman who has fallen through the cracks of foster care — not to mention plagued by a lifetime supply of bad luck — would be so damn chipper all the time.
Luck has no interest in exploring Sam in any meaningful way. Without tangible connection established between the viewer and the heroine, it only makes finding any profound revelations in the way luck is manufactured and disseminated in the human world that much more difficult. Bob tries to explain the innerworkings of this Wonka-esque factory with little clarity. Someone should’ve reminded the screenwriters that the target demographic generally likes to ask their parents questions during a movie. With convoluted exposition only leading to more questions, I suspect only very young children will be amused here, if only for the whiz-bang pacing. Or maybe more likely, they’ll mimic their parents and reach for the Roku remote long before the credits roll.
Lasseter’s stock has been down for years, and it’s going to take more than generic animation and unnecessarily elaborate concepts about aspects of life people don’t deeply contemplate to improve it.
NOTE: Luck is now playing in select theaters and streaming exclusively on Apple TV+.
Voiced by: Eva Noblezada, Simon Pegg, Adelynn Spoon, Jane Fonda, Whoopi Goldberg, Flula Borg, Lil Rel Howery, Colin O’Donoghue, and John Ratzenberger. Directed by: Peggy Holmes.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!