Producers: John Lasseter, David Ellison, Dana Goldberg and David Eisenmann Director: Peggy Holmes Screenplay: Kiel Murray Cast: Eva Noblezada, Simon Pegg, Jane Fonda, Whoopi Goldberg, Flula Borg, Lil Rel Howery, Colin O’Donoghue, John Ratzenberger and Adelynn Spoon Distributor: Apple+
Making a return to animated features after his forced separation from Pixar, the studio he’d been instrumental in taking to great heights, five years ago, John Lasseter, and his new studio Skydance Animation, stumble coming out of the gate with an oddly pedestrian fantasy that seems to teach that good luck is wonderful, but needs to be balanced by an occasional shot of the other kind. The film follows the Pixar playbook in many respects but without coming close to matching that studio’s best efforts.
An overabundance of good luck is certainly not a problem for Sam Greenfield (voiced by Eva Noblezada), a sweet but rather bland eighteen-year old who’s just aged out of the orphanage she’s long lived in without ever being fortunate enough to be adopted. She leaves behind a young girl named Hazel (Adelynn Spoon), for whom she hope to find the final lucky charm—a lost penny—that will ensure that she will find the “forever family” that Sam never did.
Off on her own, Sam proves distinctly unlucky, her klutziness overwhelming the first twenty-four hours in her new apartment and her initial day working at a flower shop under the guidance of preternaturally tolerant manager Marv (Lil Rel Howery). But her luck changes when she befriends a black cat on the street and finds a penny for Hazel on the sidewalk shortly afterward. Unfortunately, her clumsiness leads to its being flushed down a toilet before she can take it to Hazel.
Sam’s search for another coin leads to a reunion with the cat, who turns out to be a Scottish feline named Bob (Simon Pegg), an inhabitant of the Land of Luck, to whom the lost penny belonged; Bob is aghast at what Sam’s done, and blurts out his disdain—showing Sam that he can talk. She pursues him to a magical portal to his land, a place humans are forbidden to enter. But since Bob needs the penny to avoid being banished to the Land of Bad Luck by the domain’s stern security head (Whoopi Goldberg), he reluctantly joins forces with Sam to find a penny that both will benefit from.
The resultant plot convolutions are both complex and not terribly amusing. They involve travel to the reverse Land of Bad Luck, an upside-down version of the Land of Good Luck where a gregarious blobby bartender named Rootie (voiced by Lasseter’s own good-luck charm John Ratzenberger) holds court. They also necessitate Sam’s pretending to be an oversized leprechaun “from Latvia,” as Bob explains her size, so that she can fit in among the little green fellows that are important cogs in running the Land of Luck. One of them, Gerry (Colin O’Donoghue) is a buddy of Bob’s, and a genial guy who happily joins the unlikely duo in their quest.
The leprechauns, moreover, aren’t the only beings important in the Land of Luck. The place is also inhabited by an army of cute little bunnies who run computers, dress up in tiny hazmat outfits whenever they have to explore dangerous situations, and stop to do an impromptu group dance with Sam when she starts singing Madonna’s “Lucky Star.” There are also lots of pigs—a long-time symbol of good luck—whose precise functions aren’t made clear.
Commanding them all is the overseer of the Land, a pink dragon named Babe (Jane Fonda), who actually creates crystallized good luck, and her gonzo aide Jeff the Unicorn (Flula Borg, doing a thick German accent), who oversees some sort of machine that keeps the distribution of good and bad luck in balance.
It would be almost impossible—not to mention tedious—to chronicle the ups and downs of Sam and Bob’s quest. Suffice it to say that by the third act the very existence of the Land of Luck has been threatened by their interference and their responsibility for it revealed. But one need have no doubt that the problems will be surmounted through cooperation between the denizens of both luck realms, balance will be restored, and Sam and Bob—as well as Hazel—will wind up happy with their new lives.
Technically “Luck” is a solid piece of work, with visuals that are colorful even if they lack the jolt of imagination that would have made them truly memorable. (Fred Warter was production designer, and the cinematography was shared by Thomas Leavitt and Ferran Llàcer Álvarez.) But with a few exceptions the character animation is pretty nondescript (Sam and the other human figures are boringly rendered, and even Babe isn’t terribly impressive), and apart from Pegg, O’Donoghue and the wildly over-the-top Borg, the voice work is uncommonly drab. Noblezada is a particular disappointment, though it’s hardly her fault that Sam is portrayed in such thin strokes; but when even veterans like Fonda and Goldberg come off as wasted, one has to blame the script. At least director Peggy Holmes and editor William J. Caparella keep things moving along reasonably well, while John Debny’s score follows the usual pattern of italicizing every cute moment.
So Lasseter’s first post-Pixar feature resembles one of his former studio’s lesser efforts. Perhaps during his hiatus he’s just lost his lucky touch.