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 we can expect from it in the future. For example, Disney has continued to build its legacy based on Snowwhite 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 Skydance Animation’s first movie. Skydance is eager to make a big impact in the animation world, including eight-time Oscar winner composer Alan Menken and The Incredibles and Ratatouille director Brad Bird to work on future projects. There is a serious family tree here, and as marketing for Luck informs us, the film comes “from the creative visionary behind” Toy Story and cars.” (One is not the other, but I digress.)
In concrete terms, this means that: Luck is produced by John Lasseter – the man often credited as behind some of the most beloved animated films ever when he was the Chief Creative Officer at Disney and Pixar.
Why leave the world’s largest 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 move for a new and exciting opportunity so much as his deplorable actions at his previous company forced him to leave. In 2017, he took a leave of absence from Disney, which became a permanent departure in June 2018. Both he and the company pointed to his “missteps,” a cute (and quite crude) way to come to terms with his tainted legacy of sexual harassment, as the reason for his departure.
Defenders are quick to cite Lasseter’s legacy of incredible films when explaining that they continue to support him. But those movies 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 declined and he became known for his “grabbing, kissing, [and] make comments about physical features” regarding his female colleagues. Animation on a scale like that of Disney and Pixar 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 art from the artist since what feels like the dawn of time, and deplorable people producing great work is unfortunately nothing new. It becomes especially hard to ignore when those same people, after being exposed for their actions, are offered easy new powerful jobs. Lasseter is not the first – and probably won’t be the last – powerful white man to make a comeback and remain in a position of power thanks to his talents.
Strangely enough, these alleged gifts are nowhere to be found in Luck. While Lasseter is not credited with directing or writing the film, he is a producer, and everything leading up to its release suggests he played a big part in making it. Luck. Rest assured even if you have never heard of John Lasseter and tune in without a single bias, Luck is no less an outright disaster. It’s a pale imitation of better movies and an uninspired, wafer-thin snooze feast that turns the mediocre runtime into a test of endurance.
The film follows Sam (voiced by Eva Noblezada), who is arguably the unhappiest person out there. Sam is like the reverse of Midas, where everything she touches seems doomed to fail. She spent her childhood longing for a family of her own, while she spent the days in the orphanage, only to never make her dreams come true. Now that she’s old enough to live on her own, Sam is eager to help others, especially her young friend Hazel (Adelynn Spoon), who hopes to have her own family forever. After a chance encounter with a black cat, it seems that Sam’s fortunes are about to change after all.
After following the cat through the city streets, Sam is shocked to find that he speaks English. Not only did he speak, but the cat also opened a mysterious portal. With nothing to lose, Sam jumps through, which takes her to the Land of Happiness, a mystical place responsible for creating all the happiness in the world. You see, it turns out that the cat’s real name is Bob (Simon Pegg), and he may be able to help turn Sam’s luck—not just for her, but Hazel as well.
To do this, Bob and Sam will have to work together and navigate through the Land of Happiness. Such an amazing place will no doubt be filled with endless creativity, fun characters and vibrant colors. The Land of Happiness has plenty of lush greenery (because, you know, the luck of the Irish), the exterior is a joy to take in, and the unnecessarily complicated mechanisms for travel are amusing. But the images rarely impress, instead they often feel like scammers of better designs. Heck, take a look at the Land of Happiness, and it will remind you of Riley’s brain in Inside out— minus the pathos or creativity of that Pixar movie. Worse, the interiors, where most of the film is set, are curiously business-like, unimaginative spaces that mirror the story itself.
Luck’s greatest downfall lies in storytelling. There’s just so little going on in this well-worn adventure. Sam and Bob go from location to location in search of a lucky token, causing some trouble along the way (because remember, Sam is unlucky) and eventually working together to set things right and restore balance to the Land of Happiness. It’s incredibly familiar territory for kids and adults alike, and the script offers absolutely nothing to provide unexpected surprises. Without any intrigue or novelty, the film eventually becomes a total chore to sit through.
When the plot is lacking in big, family-friendly animation, inventive character designs and wacky jokes are often used to make up for the slack. Nothing like that can be found here. The best kind of decor Luck Offers is an uninspired, misplaced pop music track that was boring the first time it appeared at the beginning of the film, and downright unbearable when the same track returns later. There are no stakes and no real motivations apart from the incredibly generic story beats that Luck twists again and again. I doubt the movie can even hold a child’s attention because Luck comes across as a two-bit imitation of better animated movies.
The characters, the beating heart of every cartoon classic, are generic and lifeless. Like the visuals, they often feel like disappointing impersonations of characters from other, better movies. Thousands of rabbits are lifeless, ugly Minion wannabes; Bob’s fur looks dyed, as if he’s a victim of the eerie valley; and the Dragon (Jane freaking Fonda) resembles a less memorable version of the dragon from Shrek.
There’s something deep hollow at the core of Luck. It feels like a movie on autopilot, hoping a few nice colors and serious voice work will be enough to distract from a hopeless script, muddy pace, uninspiring characters, and a moral that has been told infinitely many times, and any better than this one.
If Skydance insisted on averting bad publicity by letting Lasseter be his alleged ‘creative visionary’ Luck and launch a hit, it was a terrible gamble. If this movie is any indication, Lasseter is completely out of his mind. Instead, he contributed to the worst movie of his career — and a runaway favorite for the worst animated movie of 2022.