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The ironically titled “Luck” marks the inauspicious return of John Lasseter, the former Pixar Animation chief who was ousted in 2017 from the company he co-founded over allegations of inappropriate workplace behavior. Now he’s back at Skydance Animation, serving as head of animation and a producer on “Luck,” which is streaming on Apple TV+.
But you don’t need to know any of that to realize this movie is a mess, and one of the worst of the year. It’ll be obvious from the start to anyone who isn’t a very small child. The character design is rubbery and off-putting, the dialogue is inane, the antics are forced, and the mythology is mind-bogglingly convoluted. Worst of all, there’s little magic in director Peggy Holmes’ tale of a trip to a magical land. Sure, there’s a cool contraption or clever mode of transportation here or there. But the characters who populate both this place and the real world are so woefully devoid of personality, it’s impossible to care about whether they ever achieve their needlessly elaborate goals.
The young woman at the film’s center is the blandest of all. Her name is Sam, and she’s voiced with steadfast perkiness by Eva Noblezada. Sam has bounced between various foster homes and orphanages her whole life in hopes of finding her forever family; now, at 18, she has aged out of the system and must live alone in a tiny apartment in her generically quaint town. Not that the script from Kiel Murray, Jonathan Aibel, and Glenn Berger is even the slightest bit interested in this young woman’s interior life, but how does Sam feel about this prospect? How does she feel about never having been adopted? It’s hard to be interested in how the story will shape her if we have no clue who she is at the start.
Life on her own is an even more of a daunting task for Sam than it would be for the average person, though, because she’s plagued by perpetual bad luck. This is her signature trait. We know this because her plucky young pal at the orphanage, Hazel (Adelynn Spoon), announces: “You sure have bad luck, Sam Greenfield,” when Sam turns their makeshift music video shoot (to Madonna’s “Lucky Star,” of course) into a fiasco. She’s clumsy, she drops stuff, she gets trapped in the bathroom, she can’t make the toaster work. A job at the neighborhood crafts store (where Lil Rel Howery provides the voice of her boss) provides further opportunities for chaos, but now they involve glitter, ribbons, and cacti. It’s all depressingly predictable.
But no matter the challenge or setback, Sam is sunny and upbeat. This is also depressingly predictable. Watching her stumble and bumble cheerfully through life makes you wish she’d let loose with an actual emotion from time to time. The film’s young viewers certainly could relate to such volatility.
Things start to look up, though, when a snarky black cat with a shiny penny accidentally leads her through a portal to the Land of Luck. Similar to the factory in “Monsters, Inc.”—the rare glimmer of Lasseter’s influence here—this is the secret place where leprechauns manufacture nuggets of good luck for random delivery worldwide: everything from finding good parking to falling in love. Characters stand around explaining the mechanics of this place to each other in scene after scene; you’ll still need a flow chart to understand it all.
But because she’s so freaking nice all the time, Sam doesn’t want good luck for herself. She wants to procure a lucky penny for Hazel, who’s on the brink of adoption. This leads to an overly complicated series of events in which Sam and her cat friend, Bob (Simon Pegg, doing a Scottish accent), sneak through various corridors and into labs, with Sam insisting that she’s Latvian, and that’s why she’s so tall compared to everyone else. It’s a joke that gets hammered ad infinitum, but it isn’t even remotely funny the first time. (This plot point did inspire a particularly clunky piece of dialogue—“I’m not a Latvian leprechaun, Gerry. I’m a human!”—which my son and I have been saying to each other around the house for days.)
With its whimsical creatures and colorful palette—as well as supporting characters like Jane Fonda’s fuchsia dragon and Flula Borg as a flamboyant German unicorn—“Luck” truly is best suited for small children with low standards. Older kids will be bored. Adults will find it especially dreary, even though there’s actually a relevant message in here about the merits of failure and the perils of lawnmower parenting, buried somewhere beneath all the sparkles and desperation.
On Apple TV+ today and available in theaters.
Eva Noblezada as Sam Greenfield (voice)
Simon Pegg as Bob (voice)
Jane Fonda as The Dragon (voice)
Whoopi Goldberg as The Captain (voice)
Colin O'Donoghue as Jerry (voice)
Lil Rel Howery as Marvin (voice)
Flula Borg as Jeff the Unicorn (voice)
John Ratzenberger as Rootie (voice)
Adelynn Spoon as Hazel (voice)