Full disclosure: I don’t believe in chancebut I do believe “Luck” – David Ellison’s first backed feature toon Celestial dance animation —represents a force for good in the world. It’s not easy to develop both a pipeline and a project that could compete with Disney and DreamWorks. (And yet, it was the famous film that Emma Thompson quit in protest when the company hired former Pixar boss John Lasseter.) Although the new studio’s debut may not touch “Toy Story “is an auspicious start for a talented group of storytellers.
After Lasseter’s involvement, ‘Luck’ changed direction – and directors – to the choreographer-turned-director Peggy Holmes (which had two Tinkerbell movies under its belt, but nothing of this magnitude) and transitions to a plot full of cute supporting characters (singing pixies! dancing bunnies!). Yet the creative team never quite deciphered their promising subject matter, settling on a brave but unlucky 18-year-old orphan who journeys to the source of good and bad luck – a garish parallel world à la Willy Wonka where most of the film takes place – in order to collect a magical penny for her best friend Hazel.
In addition to not having her own “forever family”, Sam Greenfield (voiced by Eva Noblezada) is cursed with clumsiness, constantly losing things and wreaking havoc wherever she goes. Freak accidents have a way of finding her, as illustrated by the all too relatable (and therefore amusing) sequence of misadventures she endures on the first morning of her new job: Sam gets crushed between his mattress and the wall when his bed retractable breaks. locked in with her inside, then locks herself in the bathroom, drops her toast (jelly side, of course) and runs all the red lights on her way to work.
No wonder Sam considers himself the unluckiest person in the world. Except that Sam is alive, which sort of disproves his theory from the start. She has already won the biological lottery that resulted in her birth, and despite the countless embarrassing and/or painful setbacks she faces on a daily basis, she is not yet dead. That’s more than can be said for the poor lawn fatally struck by lightning or the unfortunate pedestrian flattened by a falling window air conditioner (these are not characters from the film, but counterexamples of the real life).
Once you factor in what a Sam klutz is, she might be the luckiest person in the movie: she has a great boss (in Lil Rel Howery’s Marv), a free apartment, and a denim jacket. classy green. Plus, there are entire sequences in which bad luck seems to work to his advantage. In short, we are dealing here with a false situation.
It might sound like nitpicking for a cartoon that’s meant to be frivolous and fun, except luck isn’t one of those phenomena that people around the world can agree on. Take the black cat, Bob (Simon Pegg), who becomes Sam’s ticket to lucky land. In most countries, black cats are a bad omen, but not in Scotland, which Bob calls home, or Japan, where Hayao Miyazaki’s classic “Kiki’s Delivery Service” was made. There they are a blessing. So which should it be? (Incidentally, Bob looks and moves a lot like Kiki’s svelte, saucer-eyed feline companion Jiji, which makes sense, given Lasseter’s love of Studio Ghibli.)
Obviously, the creative team had to make many choices, including the rather obvious one of eliminating religion and letting luck be the only force Sam and Hazel (Adelynn Spoon) believe in. If the girls came from a church-affiliated orphanage, they’d be praying to be adopted. Instead, Hazel collects lucky charms (look for pencil drawings of the iconic marshmallows above her bed) and hopes for the best. One day, Sam discovers a lucky penny left in the human world by Bob (lucky for her), loses it (unlucky), and follows Bob through a magical portal (lucky). Does the penny really help Sam in any of these situations?
By its own weird logic, the movie treats luck as a glowing green force that makes life easier for those who receive it, seemingly at random, from the land of luck, where pixies direct stuff to Earth and rabbits (enough lucky to still be tied to their feet) serve as adorable Minions from the movie. On the other side of this small planet is Bad Luck, inhabited by more troll-like creatures tasked with manipulating a more disastrous purple substance. Keeping the two elements in balance are a giant lucky pink dragon (Jane Fonda), the captain of her diligent pixie squad (Whoopi Goldberg), and a German-accented daffy unicorn named Jeff (Flula Borg, So Funny We need its spin-off right now), which largely behave as the story requires.
There’s something too simplistic and flippant about Kiel Murray’s screenplay, which is so preoccupied with the lucky penny-hunting plot that it bypasses the relatively clever observations about chance that make the opening so promising. If only the film had had more fun with luck itself – as “Deadpool 2” did, introducing the new notion that it might be the most useful superpower of all.
Instead, we’re stuck in the land of luck, which turns out to be a weirdly corporate place with gleaming buildings and floating elevators – the kind of over-polished CG amusement park, à la “Tomorrowland” of Brad Bird or so many Marvel Metropolises, where each building was designed on the computer by one person over a long weekend, instead of being designed to reflect several millennia of rich cultural heritage. (It’s a distressing trend in visual effects-driven films that alien worlds are designed to impress at first sight, rather than to reflect the people who inhabit them.) As a result, this is an area that we fleetingly sees and admires, but doesn’t really want to spend time exploring – like Netflix cafeterias or a rest room on Google’s campus.
But Sam wants her penny, and so we’re forced to follow her through a series of trial-and-error tasks to get it back. This means making friends with Bob (Pegg is great as a slow-to-thaw feline) and the locals of Bad Luck (including a bartender voiced by “Cheers” vet John Ratzenberger). You can see where it’s at from a mile away, as orphan Sam bonds with virtually everyone she meets – including the public. Whenever the movie runs out of ideas, Sam bursts into a spontaneous karaoke/dance version of Madonna’s “Lucky Star” (TikTok’s tyranny of popular entertainment once again). Your mileage may vary. “Luck”, as they say, is what you make of it.
“Luck” premieres exclusively on Apple TV+ on August 5, 2022.
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