It’s always an exciting moment when a new animation studio debuts its first feature film. It can tell us what the studio is capable of, and what to expect from it going forward. Disney, for instance, has continued to build its legacy off of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; Pixar brought us computer-generated animation with Toy Story; and Illumination created a legitimate cultural shift by unleashing little yellow Minions in Despicable Me.
Luck, now on Apple TV+, is the first movie from Skydance Animation. Skydance is keen on making a big impact in the animated world, bringing on the likes of eight-time Oscar winner composer Alan Menken and The Incredibles and Ratatouille director Brad Bird to work on future projects. There’s some serious pedigree here, and as the marketing for Luck informs us, the film comes “from the creative visionary behind Toy Story and Cars.” (One of these things is not like the other, but I digress.)
In specific terms, that means that Luck is produced by John Lasseter—the man often credited for being behind some of the most beloved animated films ever when he was the Chief Creative Officer at Disney and Pixar.
Why would you leave the world’s biggest animation studio to become Head of Animation at an entirely unknown entity, you may ask? It’s a good question, and an important one. Lasseter didn’t so much move on to a new and exciting opportunity so much as that his deplorable actions at his previous company forced his exit. In 2017, he took a leave of absence from Disney that, in June 2018, became a permanent departure. Both he and the company pointed to his “missteps,” a cutesy (and pretty gross) way of coming to terms with his tainted legacy full of sexual harassment, as the reason for his exit.
Defenders are quick to cite Lasseter’s legacy of incredible films when explaining their continued support of him. But those films didn’t make working for him any less of a toxic, miserable experience, according to some of his former colleagues. Lasseter’s reputation as an apparent genius eroded, and he became known for “grabbing, kissing, [and] making comments about physical attributes” in regard to his female co-workers. Animation on a scale like Disney’s and Pixar’s is an extremely collaborative experience, and when the person at the top of the chain is toxic, it spreads through the rest of the system like a virus.
People have argued for and against separating the art from the artist since what feels like the beginning of time, and deplorable people producing great work is unfortunately nothing new. It becomes especially hard to ignore when those very people after being exposed for their actions are offered cushy new powerful jobs. Lasseter is not the first—and likely won’t be the last—powerful white man to receive a comeback, remaining in a position of power thanks to his talents.
Curiously, these alleged gifts are nowhere to be found in Luck. While Lasseter isn’t credited for directing or writing the film, he’s a producer, and everything leading up to release suggests he’s played a big part in making Luck. Rest assured that even if you’ve never heard of John Lasseter before and tune in without a single preconceived notion, Luck isn’t any less of an unmitigated disaster. It’s a pale imitation of better movies, and an uninspiring, paper-thin snoozefest that turns its moderate runtime into a test of endurance.
The film follows Sam (voiced by Eva Noblezada), who might just be the unluckiest person there is. Sam is like the reverse of Midas, where everything she touches seems destined to fail. She spent her childhood longing for a family of her own, as she whiled away the days at the orphanage, only for her dreams to never reach fruition. Now that she’s old enough to live on her own, Sam is keen to help others—especially her young friend Hazel (Adelynn Spoon), who’s hoping for her own forever family. After a chance encounter with a black cat, it appears Sam’s fortunes may be about to shift after all.
After following the cat through city streets, Sam is shocked to find it speaking English. Not only was it speaking, but the cat was also opening a mysterious portal. With nothing to lose, Sam jumps through it, which brings her to the Land of Luck, a mystical place responsible for creating all the world’s good fortune. You see, turns out the cat is actually named Bob (Simon Pegg), and he may just be able to help turn Sam’s luck around—not only for her but for Hazel, too.
To do this, Bob and Sam will have to work together, navigating through the Land of Luck. Such a fantastical place is bound to be filled with endless creativity, fun characters, and vibrant color. The Land of Luck has plenty of lush green (because, you know, luck of the Irish), the exteriors are a pleasure to take in, and the unnecessarily convoluted mechanisms in place for travel are amusing. But the visuals rarely impress, instead often feeling like rip-offs of better designs. Heck, take one look at the Land of Luck, and it’ll remind you of Riley’s brain in Inside Out—minus any of that Pixar film’s pathos or creativity. Worse, the interiors, where most of the film takes place, are curiously corporate, unimaginative spaces that reflect the story itself.
Luck’s biggest downfall lies with its storytelling. There’s just so little going on in this threadbare adventure. Sam and Bob go from location to location searching for a lucky penny, cause some trouble along the way (because remember, Sam is unlucky), and ultimately work together to make things right and restore balance to the Land of Luck. It’s incredibly familiar territory for children and adults alike, and the script offers absolutely nothing to provide any sort of unexpected surprises. Without any intrigue or novelty, the film ultimately becomes a total chore to sit through.
When the plot is lacking in a big, family-friendly animation, inventive character designs and zany hijinks are often used to pick up the slack. Nothing of the sort is found here. The best kind of set piece Luck offers is an uninspired, out-of-place pop music number that was boring the first time it appeared at the start of the movie, and downright excruciating when the same song returns later. There are no stakes and no real motivations, beyond the incredibly generic story beats that Luck wrings again and again. I’m doubtful the film could even hold a child’s attention, as Luck comes off as a two-bit impersonation of better-animated films.
The characters, the beating heart of any animated classic, are generic and lifeless. Like the visuals, they often feel like disappointing imitations of characters from other, better movies. Droves of bunnies are lifeless, ugly Minion wannabes; Bob’s fur looks painted on, like he’s a victim of the uncanny valley; and the Dragon (Jane freaking Fonda) resembles a less memorable version of the dragon from Shrek.
There’s something deeply hollow at the core of Luck. It feels like a film on auto-pilot, hoping some nice colors and earnest voice work will be enough to distract from a hopeless script, muddy pacing, uninspiring characters, and a moral that’s been told infinite times, and each one better than this one.
If Skydance was banking on deflecting bad publicity by having Lasseter bring his alleged “creative visionary” to Luck and launch a hit, it was a terrible bet. If this film is any indication, Lasseter is completely out of ideas. Instead, he’s contributed to the worst movie of his career—and a runaway favorite for the worst animated film of 2022.