Directed by: Peggy Holmes
Distributed by: Apple TV+
Written by Patrick Hao
Part of the Pixar mythology was that in 1995, everything was riding on the reception and release of their first feature film “Toy Story.” Now, 27 years later, it’s hard to tell from the newly created Skydance Animation how much was riding on their debut feature “Luck.” On one hand, Skydance Animation already handicapped themselves by bringing instant scrutiny to their projects by hiring disgraced founder of Pixar and ex-CCO of Walt Disney Animation, John Lassetter to helm the studio. On the other hand, their first feature is debuting on Apple TV+, one of the dozens of streamers desperate for content (especially ones that appeal to children) and does not release viewership numbers. Skydance Animation does not have the same box office as “Toy Story” but considering that there is a major hole right now for a legitimate third competitor in the animation space after Disney and Illumination, “Luck” should be a mission statement for the ethos of the fledgling studio.
It is disappointing then that “Luck” is such a milquetoast, paint-by-numbers feature. The film follows the seemingly endless group of American animated features in which the only way to express abstract concepts seems to be by corporatizing them. Whether it be death, emotions, or childbirth, there is a seeming lack of imagination for American animators that cannot go beyond portraying abstractions as a corporate workplace (maybe says something about American animators).
This time, the abstract idea is luck. Sam (voiced by Broadway star Eva Noblezada) is the self-described unluckiest woman in the world. Yet, she is a fundamentally nice woman, who just aged out of a foster home, and whose only goal is to get her friend adopted. When she meets a black cat who drops a lucky coin, she suddenly experiences luck for the first time until she loses it. She seeks the cat, named Bob (voiced by Simon Pegg), who she discovers can talk and comes from the land of luck. Sam follows Bob to the land in which leprechauns, dragons, unicorns, and other mythological figures create and distribute good luck to the universe. A mishap ensues as you can imagine from placing the unluckiest person in the world into a world built on luck.
There are several things that work against “Luck.” Most egregious is how quickly the premise of the land of luck is wrung dry. A film like this really allows one to give credit to films like “Soul” or even “The Boss Baby” in its efficiency of world-building. Here, the premise is so ludicrous that it requires the film to pause every five minutes just to receive a new exposition from Bob. It makes even less sense what the film is ultimately trying to impart to its viewers.
Peggy Holmes, a veteran of DisneyToons Studio (the straight-to-video arm of Disney animation), directs the film with a workmanlike quality. “Luck” screams of a film that was written in a writer’s room and animated by a collection of people without cohesion. There is no identity to this film which makes it a rough first feature for the studio.
It took Pixar one film to establish its identity. For Dreamworks, it took one film, “Antz,” to establish themselves as a studio that is skewed towards edgier ironic humor that they didn’t perfect until “Shrek.” Even Illumination debuted with their franchise, “Despicable Me,” which they have been reverse engineering ever since. If “Luck” is Skydance Animation’s brand identity, then the animation studio might be in for a rude awakening.